pregnancy myths

The truth about hair dye, stretch marks,the 40-week glow and more

Pregnancy brain is widely acknowledged to render otherwise brilliant minds incapable of recalling where the car keys are, when the staff meeting is or how, exactly, to do single-digit addition. Another symptom is a sudden susceptibility to old wives' tales. Here's a classic: Any pregnant woman who looks good must be having a boy because girls rob their mothers of beauty. (Though we hate to dignify such absurdity with a response, consider the legions of Fit Pregnancy cover models who've given birth to girls.) To keep you from falling prey to other pregnancy beauty myths, we've compiled and refuted the top five. Read on, then let the truth set you free ... to highlight your hair, take baths and more.

The MYTH } You're sure to have 40 weeks of a gorgeous glow

THE Reality } First, let us clarify: The glow itself is far from mythic. "Increased blood volume can give you rosy cheeks, slight swollenness can soften your features, and an abundance of estrogen can lengthen your hair's growth phase so you don't shed as quickly," explains Robin Ashinoff, M.D., head of cosmetic dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "The fact that you're probably happier than usual doesn't hurt, either," she adds.

But the same hormone surge that gives one woman a full, glossy mane may give someone else morning sickness and an attendant queasy look. The good news is that the glow is easy to fake. New York makeup artist Barbara Fazio suggests an all-over dusting of bronzer or a dot of rosy blush blended into the apples of your cheeks, plus a hint of shimmering shadow applied to the inner corners of your eyes.

The MYTH } You have to grin and bear breakouts for the next nine months

The Reality } While certain acne medications are unsafe for pregnant women (Accutane causes birth defects, as may its vitamin A-derived cohorts Retin-A and Renova), other remedies are fine, says New York dermatologist Arielle Kauvar, M.D. "Regular use of an extremely gentle facial scrub can help with blackheads and whiteheads," she says, "as can pore strips." Doctors may sanction other treatments on a case-by-case basis, but with caution.

"Besides what we know about Accutane-associated birth defects, there's not much information on the safety of acne treatments during pregnancy," says Beth Conover, M.S., an Omaha, Neb., genetics counselor and nurse practitioner who is a board member of the Organization of Teratology Information Services. "And while we believe that the sparing application of certain low-dose, low-absorption acne preparations is OK for pregnant women, there's no way to say that it's 100 percent risk-free." The bottom line: If you've got mild, occasional acne, wait it out. But if the breakouts reach an uncomfortable level, ask your doctor about the supervised use of low-risk topical treatments (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or erythromycin, to name a few).

The MYTH } Applying the right product can prevent stretch marks

The Reality } Here's the entire list of things that can prevent stretch marks: enviable genes. Not that we're discouraging the use of stretch-mark creams—they tend to be great moisturizers and belly-itch relievers. "But if you're genetically predisposed to get stretch marks, there's no scientific data suggesting that anything you put on your skin will change that outcome," says Ashinoff.

The only other factor that might help prevent the stripes in question? "Avoiding excessive weight gain so that your abdominal wall doesn't stretch as much," says OB-GYN Connie L. Agnew, M.D. "Unfortunately, that's easier said than done—and it's still no guarantee against stretch marks."

The MYTH } You shouldn't take baths during pregnancy

The Reality } Hyperthermia—an unusually high body temperature—can be caused by prolonged exposure to heat and has been associated with miscarriage and certain birth defects. So the ban on bathing during pregnancy didn't come out of left field. But avoiding hyperthermia and other pregnancy-related bath dangers is easy, says OB-GYN Connie L. Agnew, M.D.

In fact, she recommends that pregnant women spend more time in the tub. "A warm bath is great at easing the aching backs and joints—not to mention the stress—that pregnant women commonly experience," she says. Her precautions:

> If the water makes you perspire, it's too hot to soak in. Anything cooler is fine.

> Don't use thick bath oils—they can make the tub dangerously slippery. Also avoid detergent-heavy bubble baths, as they can parch your already sensitive—and probably itchy—skin. The happy medium: a gentle,

moisturizing foaming bath.

> Once your belly starts to get big and unwieldy and your center of gravity shifts, have something or someone to grab onto when you exit the tub.

The MYTH } Hair color is off-limits until delivery

The Reality } Most OBs will tell you that highlights, which are painted on and unlikely to be absorbed into your scalp, are perfectly safe. And many doctors, including Connie L. Agnew, M.D., director of maternal-fetal medicine at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., say that temporary, semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes are safe as well. "The concerns were related to older, harsher and now defunct colorants," Agnew says. Still, without concrete proof that all hair-color products are 100-percent safe, conservative doctors tell expectant moms to avoid anything but highlights.