I have two children, and with both pregnancies, the side effects were pretty minimal. My back pain was manageable, and my feet never swelled. I remained active until my 39th week. I also had a relatively quick and easy delivery. I can count the number of pushes each child took on a single hand. (I know, I know. I’m that mom.) But the postpartum period was different.
With my firstborn, I experienced severe postpartum depression. With my second, I had postpartum anxiety, and my hair came out in heaps. On multiple occasions, I even clogged the shower drain.
I also got postpartum acne, which — strange as it sounds — upset me. The sudden appearance of dozens of raised dots shook me to my core.
Now, if I’m being honest, I don’t know why. I’m a low-maintenance gal. I rarely wear makeup, brush my hair, or deep cleanse my face. I loathe “high-end” things and drugstore dry shampoo is my BFF. I also don’t care what others think. (Seriously. On a “good” day I wear primer, powder, and stain-free sweats. That’s it.) But the sudden appearance of acne sent me into a tailspin.
Between the bags beneath my eyes and pink blemishes on my face, I didn’t recognize who I was.
I tried dozens of over-the-counter creams, cleansers, and products. I wore masks and tried spot treatments, and I got two facials, during which time a “technician” informed me the problem was allergy-based. She told me to cut dairy from my diet and, if that didn’t work, carbs. But after a week of my life sans cheese, nothing changed. My pasta- and parmesan-loving ass was grumpier, but the small dots remained.
Postpartum acne is relatively common. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it is one of the most common skin changes expectant parents face, and the reason is simple: hormones.
“During pregnancy, there are large fluctuations to your hormone and progesterone levels,” Dr. Emmanuel Loucas, the founder of Loucas Dermatology & Laser Center in New York City, explains, and these fluctuations can affect your skin.
“Progesterone stimulates the production of oil in your skin which can clog your pores and hair follicles with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells instead of being shed—a process can lead to acne.”
Experts don’t know why some individuals experience postpartum acne and others do not. They also don’t know why said effects vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. (Dark circles aside, my skin looked fab after the birth of my daughter.) But genetics may play a role.
“Some people are genetically predisposed to acne,” Loucas explains, “and if there are large surges in progesterone during pregnancy, they may be more predisposed to have postpartum acne.”
As for what you can do about postpartum acne, well — in truth — not much, especially if you are breastfeeding. I mean, you can try the aforementioned cocktail of designer and drug store products, but hormonal acne is a fickle bitch. I threw $40 to $70 down the drain for months. Plus, you should cut yourself some serious slack. You just carried, grew, and birthed a tiny human. Acne or not, you are a goddamn goddess. However, if you aren’t breastfeeding and/or if you have access to health insurance, your options are a bit more varied (should you choose to treat your acne at all).
“The choice of treatment of postpartum acne can depend on whether the mother is breastfeeding,” Loucas says. “If they aren’t breastfeeding, we can use a regimen — oral and topical — that’s appropriate for your skin type. If the mother is breastfeeding, we often use topical medications only, specifically those that deemed safe during pregnancy… like as clindamycin lotion and azelaic acid.” Often, postpartum acne generally clears up on its own, as progesterone levels drop, and that was the case with me. My cheeks looked like an over-ripened tomato for months on end but eventually the dots disappeared too.
But regardless of where you are in your postpartum journey or what you look like, know this: No one notices the “imperfections” you do. No one cares. Because you are beautiful. You are powerful, and you are gracious and generous. You are amazing. So take solace, sweet mama. While you may not look like yourself (and you certainly don’t feel like yourself), you can and will find the “me” in Mommy.
Oh, and those pesky pimples will go away too.