Thought you were done with blushing and breakouts? Think again. Between wild weather and even wilder hormones, your skin could be showing the strain. Rachel Ramsay has some gentle solutions to calm and soothe.
Blame the rapidly cooling weather, blame indoor heating, blame the little person growing inside you – chances are that if you’ve suddenly found yourself with some new kind of skin ailment: itchiness, dryness, a tomato-red reaction to a moisturiser you’ve used for 15 years – there’s probably
a good reason for it.
“Pregnancy can be very unpredictable when it comes to how your body is going to react,” says Auckland naturopath Annaliese Jones (naturalhealthcheckup.com). “Your immune system and hormones are changing rapidly, and for lots of women this can give the skin a sharp shake up.”
During pregnancy, a sudden assault of sensitivity can also be down to the fact that more blood is being pumped to the skin’s surface (blame those hormones again) or that the skin in a certain area – such as your stomach – has rapidly stretched and has therefore (just like a rubber band or piece of clingfilm would do under the same circumstances) become more delicate.
Even if you’re done and dusted with all the skin dramas you faced during pregnancy and your mind is now firmly occupied with feeding times, sleep whenever possible and loads of washing, be aware that the winter weather could still wreak havoc. Cool air and lack of humidity, combined with the constant to-ing and fro-ing between warm indoor spaces and the brisk outdoors, can irritate your skin, causing it to become more dehydrated and therefore more sensitive.
Out with the bad. If you’ve found yourself grappling with itchy, sore, dry or reddened skin, make it your first priority to take a long look through your bathroom cabinet, shower shelf and beauty bag. The list of potential irritants in mainstream cosmetics is long and there’s a good chance you’re slathering many of them on your skin in larger volumes than you realise.
Here, we present some of the main offenders. Keep in mind that with more than 84,000 cosmetic chemicals in use globally, it’s impossible to name and shame every irritant. Visit an ingredients database such as Environmental Working Group (ewg.org/skindeep) to check the ingredients in your products. But as a start, the ones to avoid are:
Fragrance The cosmetics industry is largely unregulated. It’s one of the reasons brands are able to declare “fragrance” or “parfum” as a collective term on ingredients lists, when really that word could be code for a toxic combo of more than 200 different artificial chemicals. It’s all in the name of intellectual property, or protection of a brand’s “secret formula”. Research has shown that the ingredient “fragrance” is the leading cause of cosmetic allergies.
Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate These ingredients are responsible for building the lather that makes your shampoo and body wash feel like they’re doing such a good job. Problem is, they strip your skin of its protective oils and can corrode the skin even when used in concentrations as low as one per cent.
Alcohols such as isopropyl palmitate, octyl palmitate, butylene glycol and propylene glycol Commonly used as conditioners, these alcohols have been shown to cause conditions such as dermatitis and hives.
Artificial colours such as Blue 1, Green 3, Red 27 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, CI (followed by a number) Many artificial colours are made using coal tar and may contain other heavy metal salts such as lead and arsenic. These ingredients can irritate sensitive skin.
Preservatives such as formaldehyde derivatives (look for words such as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15) or parabens such as ethylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben Found in many cleansers, shampoos, nail product, makeup and body washes, these ingredients have been known to cause harm to the immune system and allergic skin reactions.
Chemical ingredients in sunscreens such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate Choose a mineral formula that protects the skin with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide instead.
In with the good
Now that you’ve purged your cupboard of nastiness, it’s time for some serious mollycoddling. Pay attention to your symptoms and look for gentle, fragrance-free products (the shorter the ingredients list the better) that will help relieve them.
If your skin’s taut and itchy...
It might mean your cleanser is too drying. Switch to an oil cleanser or use a sulfate-free cleanser at night-time only.
If you have acne...
Many topical and oral acne medications are off-limits during pregnancy, so your best defence is a good offence: wash twice daily with a gentle soap-free cleanser, and apply a light oil-free moisturiser directly afterwards.
If you have scaly, rough patches of skin...
It probably means your skin’s moisture-trapping barrier needs a hand. Choose a fragrance-free emollient moisturiser.
If you have small red, possibly itchy bumps that aren’t acne...
This is probably an allergic reaction. Stop using any new products you’ve adopted in the past two weeks and apply a soothing treatment. Going forward, patch test any products before using them.
If you have a particularly odd rash...
Normally, newly sensitive skin during pregnancy is nothing to worry about, but if you’re suddenly confronted with particularly itchy hands and feet, or a red rash, it pays to visit your doctor.
- Troubleshoot sensitivity with these easy lifestyle tweaks:
- Put on an extra layer instead of dialling up the heater setting.
- Wear gloves when using household cleaners.
- Check the ingredients in your laundry products.
Use less detergent on items that are in direct contact with your skin for long amounts of time (such as bed sheets) and opt for a long rinse cycle to ensure all the detergent is washed away.
- Have warm (not hot) showers and apply a light body oil or moisturiser afterwards.
- Avoid harsh scrubs, brushes and loofahs which can cause micro-tears in the skin and increase sensitivity.
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