What Pregnancy Glow? Here's What Really Happened To My Skin When I Was Expecting

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
It’s 6am and I’m leaning into the bathroom mirror, unable to believe what’s staring back at me. Red, angry and erupting from my face like Vesuvius, it’s the mother of all spots. This is fitting because its arrival is down to the fact that I am about to become a mother.
The skin issues I thought I had left behind in adolescence (along with glitter makeup, a terrible side fringe and frequenting surf shops in a failed attempt to look like Marissa from The OC) have very much returned with pregnancy. But mountainous zits are not the only side effect my skin has suffered. Let’s also throw in redness, excess sweat, major eye bags and pores so big they resemble craters. Oh yes, I thought recently while watching a documentary about the Apollo 11 landings, the surface of the moon looks very familiar. Then there’s the hairiness. When I paid vast sums of money for laser hair removal on my bikini area, not to mention enduring the pain of six half-hour sessions in which it felt like the therapist was repeatedly putting a cigarette out on my nether regions, I definitely didn’t anticipate that getting pregnant would reverse much of her hard work.
None of this takes away from being grateful about becoming pregnant and I can’t wait to meet my daughter. I’m very aware that lots of women would do anything to be in this situation but I do feel that there’s a certain stereotype of pregnancy: a gorgeous, glowing, bouncy, blooming one, complete with perfect skin and hair. This is piling pressure on women like me who, however pleased they are to be expecting, certainly don’t feel their most delicious selves.
Comments range from "It’s weird that your skin’s worse" to "Do you think you’re at the glowing stage yet?" – the latter often accompanied by a sceptical look. I’ve heard it all over the past few months, especially once I entered the second trimester of pregnancy, aka the time when everyone tells you that you’re meant to be beautiful, energetic and gloriously glossy.
Photo courtesy of Sophie Hines.
Photo courtesy of Sophie Hines.
It’s certainly true that for some women, the so-called 'pregnancy glow' can be a real thing, as aesthetic and dermatology nurse Emma Coleman explains: "When you’re pregnant an increase in oestrogen and progesterone causes glands to secrete more oil than usual, and this can give the appearance of a 'glow'. Additionally, a woman’s blood volume increases by 50% when pregnant, which can cause an attractive blush due to the dilated blood vessels below the skin."
But while extra oil and a skin-flushing blood boost might be good news for some women, for others it’s less than ideal. Rocketing oil production, prompted by an increase in the hormone androgen, can cause acne, inflammation and clogged pores. Frustratingly, many topical skincare treatments used to keep acne at bay are not suitable for pregnant women. Personally the contraceptive pill was my number one route to spot-free skin, but is obviously not an option right now.
"You’ll need to stay away from traditional acne treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, retinoids and salicylic acid," advises Emma. "Instead, you can try a mask or cleanser with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)." I get my AHA fix through Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Facial Cleanser, £32, which I alternate with Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £43, for a deep, hot-cloth cleanse.
London-based dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk recommends incorporating azelaic acid into your routine to combat redness, inflammation and blocked pores, while facialist Kate Kerr also recommends a deep cleansing mask to ensure pores are free from oil and pore-clogging debris. Try something which contains oil-reducing clay, like Omorovicza Deep Cleansing Mask, £25. "Lots of acne products contain things that shouldn't be used when pregnant, though," reiterates Kate, "so be careful with those," – and always check the ingredients list.
Redness is another common complaint during pregnancy, caused by increased blood pressure as well as carrying extra weight from the baby. "A soothing anti-redness treatment can help with this, as well as a skincare regime that doesn’t contain harsh ingredients," says Emma. Personally I find La Roche-Posay's Rosaliac Anti-Redness Light Cream, £17.49, provides redness-reducing results I love, while Emma recommends the Supreme Berry Day Cream, £37.50.
What about my gigantic pores and newfound fur? According to Emma, this is also down to a spike in hormones, although she assures me that pore size tends to return to normal once the pregnancy is over. While my bikini area was most affected with excess hair, Dr Kluk says that hair growth in typical male sites, for example, the face, chest and belly, is common, too. Just like pores, though, the hair will usually return to how it was before pregnancy.
There are other skincare woes I’m yet to encounter. Melasma is common among pregnant women, and sees hormone-induced patches of hyperpigmentation appear on the face. "Melasma is characterised by symmetrical brown pigmentation on the face which occurs mainly in women," explains Dr Natalia Spierlings, medical director of Dermatica. "It is often due to changing hormones, especially during pregnancy, though the underlying reason for this is not completely understood." Although melasma is difficult to treat and often requires exploring multiple treatments (some of which might not be safe during pregnancy, for example, laser), sunscreen is a must. "The sun makes melasma worse," says Emma, "so wearing a broad-spectrum SPF 50 with both UVA and UVB protection can help. But for most women, the darkness fades after birth or breastfeeding."
Aside from my face, there are the stretch marks on my body. I’ve been religiously dousing my bump in Bio-Oil, £16.99, or Mama Mio’s deliciously named Tummy Rub Butter, £23.50, every night, and no marks have appeared yet, although I’m aware the third trimester could change everything. "Hydrated skin is more elastic, so drink lots of water and apply moisture to the area," advises Emma. "I recommend virgin coconut or shea butter."
Here’s the thing, though: you might still get stretch marks. It’s completely normal. And while you might be one of the lucky ones who leap from bed looking glowing and goddess-like during your pregnancy, I’ve realised it’s also very common to feel like me – happy that your tiny bundle of joy is on the way but slightly freaked out at the physical changes involved, and certainly not the most beautiful you’ve ever been in your life.
So if you’re pregnant and ever feel under pressure from the #soblessed brigade of Insta-mums, with their thick hair, glowing skin and perfect bikini-clad bumps, please picture me – hair scraped up, zit cream on, lying on my bed wearing men's pyjama bottoms while I grease up my belly – and know that you’re definitely not alone.

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