Treats & Tricks

Natural remedies for soft, clear skin this winter

Every winter, your biggest beauty challenge is to keep your skin moisturized and protected. Not only are the sun’s rays damaging to the skin this time of year, but with the presence of artificial heat, in addition to less moisture in the air, your skin also can become dry. Now that you’re pregnant, it’s even more crucial to limit sun exposure and keep your skin hydrated. The combination of hormonal changes and winter weather can cause your skin to become severely dry and itchy, even darker in spots.

Don’t be tempted to slather on the first moisturizer or sunscreen you find. During pregnancy, your skin may be sensitive, and many doctors recommend using natural products that contain few or no chemicals. Look for products that list herbs such as calendula (marigold flowers), lavender (flowers), mint (leaves) and chamomile (flowers). They’re mild and won’t strip the skin of its natural oils. Also, many tend to be fragrance- and color-free, which can prevent irritation.

“Herbal products are wonderful to use during pregnancy,” says Phyllis Hogan, a clinical herbalist and ethnobotanist in Flagstaff, Ariz. But be sure to check with your physician before you do so. Just as you should avoid the use of harsh commercial products such as Retin A, or those containing alpha-hydroxy acid, lactic acid or retinols (dermatologists haven’t determined their effects during pregnancy), there are certain herbs you should stay away from as well, such as arnica and pennyroyal.

With this in mind, here is a safe and gentle beauty regimen that will help you prevent and treat uncomfortable skin during pregnancy.

Dry Skin

Whether it occurs all over or only in spots, dry, itchy skin is common throughout pregnancy. “It may be caused by the increase in hormone levels during pregnancy or the stretching of the skin to accommodate your growing body,” says Diane Berson, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

The best way to soothe dry, itchy skin is by applying a rich daily moisturizer.

Bathing also can take its toll on your skin. Joseph Bark, M.D., author of Your Skin: An Owner’s Guide (Prentice Hall, 1995), recommends bathing every other day, if possible, taking a bath, not a shower. “Baths are better than showers, as they are less drying to the skin, and less of your natural oils are removed,” he says.

Bark also suggests using warm, not hot, water. Aside from stripping your skin of its natural oils, hot water can be dangerous for the baby. Once your body gets used to the water temperature, don’t increase the heat. “The hotter the water, the more oil you’re removing from the skin,” he says. And make it snappy. “Get in, get clean, and get out. Long soaks are drying to the skin.”

Some soaps can dry out your skin. “Use a mild cleanser or superfatty soap,” Berson says.

After bathing, Bark advises applying a rich bath oil to damp skin and gently patting dry. “The oil forms a protective layer on your skin to keep the water from evaporating,” he says.

For severe itching, Berson suggests soaking in a milk or oatmeal bath.

Sun Protection

It may be cold outside, but the sun can be intense during winter, reflecting off snow and ice — even through your car’s windshield. Many women forget to use sunscreen this time of year, but it’s especially important to make it a part of your daily beauty ritual while pregnant.

“Your skin may be particularly sensitive to the sun during pregnancy,” Berson says. Use a hypoallergenic moisturizing sunblock with an SPF of at least 15 that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that’s chemical-free but still contains titanium dioxide. Although it’s a chemical, the skin doesn’t absorb it.

Unprotected sun exposure can increase your chances of developing melasma. Also known as “mask of pregnancy,” this darkening of the skin is caused by hormones that boost your body’s melanin production.

Fortunately, this condition is temporary and usually fades once the baby is born. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about it now. Creams that contain the bleaching agent hydroquinone aren’t recommended for pregnant women.