Tackling uncomfortable hair and skin problems caused by pregnancy.

After months of excitement and planning, the baby is finally here. During the nine months leading up to birth, a woman experiences many changes as her body prepares for her newborn—some of which are less than desirable. New moms who face discomfort and self-consciousness from stretch marks, thinning hair, varicose veins and the like can be pointed to your personal care section for some natural help.

Returning Hair and Skin to their Finest

Thinning hair. Stocking your store shelves with biotin-infused shampoos and conditioners, for example, is useful for women who experience hair loss during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Topical biotin is said to be appropriate for such women because it strengthens hair and supports re-growth. Silica, too, is well-researched to benefit those with thinning hair.

Varicose veins. Pregnant women and new moms may feel self-conscious about the appearance of varicose veins on the legs. These blue, sore, swollen and sometimes painful veins may form because of softening of the muscular walls of the veins, coupled with excess weight gain during pregnancy. Antioxidants are said to be helpful on this front. For example, vitamin E cream may help with the skin’s elasticity and repair and prevent varicose veins from forming (2). And, one industry company uses vitamin P (rutin and a blend of citrus bioflavonoids such as hesperidin), plus herbal extracts (horse chestnut, grapeseed extract and others) to aid circulation and address varicose vein problems (3).

Much research supports the use of OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidins) from grapes and French maritime pine bark to “strengthen blood vessels and maintain a healthy venous system, thereby reducing risk of venous insufficiency in the legs” (4). In various well-conducted trials, taking these antioxidants in supplement form had a positive effects on vein tone, leg edema, weakened vein walls and more, thanks to their ability to support blood vessel walls, decrease blood vessel permeability and improve vein function.

Hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids (enlarged and painful blood vessels around the rectum) are an unwelcomed aspect of childbirth, but stinging nettle is a well-known therapeutic that may reduce this condition (5). Stinging nettle packs a powerful punch, as it is especially nourishing to the adrenal glands, and proves to be invaluable for stress and physical and/or emotional issues. This herb is also high in calcium and vitamins A, C, D and K (5). St. John’s wort also is said to provide relief from hemorrhoids, so be sure to keep creams with this ingredient within customers’ reach.

Dark spots. Nursing moms may notice the appearance of dark spots on their skin because of the exorbitant amounts of estrogen produced by the body during pregnancy and breastfeeding. “More than 90 percent of pregnant women will get these dark areas. Women with darker skin tones may notice them more” (6). Preventing dark spots may be a matter of covering up when in contact with direct sunlight, which can exacerbate blemish formation. Likewise, slathering on a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 is recommended.

Acne. It is not uncommon for women to experience acne while pregnant. Zinc, however is an ingredient that can provide relief. Controlling oil production, removing dead cells and unclogging pores may help prevent pimples, so look for skincare products that help on this front with ingredients like tea tree oil, willow bark, rosewood and lavender (7).

Stretch marks. Nearly all pregnant women get stretch marks from weight gain during pregnancy, which is exactly why it is important to keep skin supple and hydrated with natural creams and lotions. Cocoa/shea butter creams have long been used to keep skin supple as it stretchs, thus preventing stretch marks (8).

Vitamin B-enriched creams are gaining popularity because they also help to give skin a youthful glow and hydrate the skin’s cells, producing a great skin tone, all of which may have changed during pregnancy (1). For example, niacin is a useful ingredient in creams for retaining moisture. And, it contains anti-inflammatory agents, which can provide comfort for dry, cracked and irritated skin. “In higher concentrations, it can also work as a lightening agent to even out blotchy skin tone “ (1).

Hyaluronic acid (HA) definitely is not a one-note nutrient; when taken as a supplement, it is excellent for lubricating joints so the elbows, fingers, knees and toes move freely as they should. Research indicates that when used topically, HA keeps skin cells together and helps skin to look smoother and feel supple (1). WF

1. C. Bouchez, “Nutrients for Healthy Skin: Inside and Out,” www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/skin-nutrition, accessed Sept. 3, 2009.
2. T. Hudson, Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (Keats Publishing, Lincolnwood, IL, 1999).
3. Reviva Labs, www.revivalabs.com, accessed Sept. 15, 2009.
4. i.BioCeuticals, “Summary of Key Scientific Studies: Leg Veins,” Company Literature.
5. S. Perri, “Tonic Herbs for Pregnancy,” www.hpakids.org/holistic-health/articles/137/1/Tonic-Herbs-for-Pregnancy, accessed Sept. 8, 2009.
6. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Skin Conditions During Pregnancy (Washington, D.C., 2008).
7. “Banishing Teen Angst about Nutrition,” WholeFoods Magazine, 32 (9), 58–62, 86 (2009).
8. Mothering Magazine, www.mothering.com/jessica-archive, accessed Sept. 9, 2009.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Nov. 2009