New York Pregnancy is supposed to be a beautiful time in a woman's life: She's happy, she's glowing.
But sooner or later, she'll also start to notice the stretch marks and dark spots on her skin and the roots peeking through the hair that she used to color.
One would think that in this age of high-tech beauty potions, there would be quick fixes for all these maternity woes. Unfortunately, though, pregnant women often are advised to avoid the beauty products that have the most effective active ingredients, such as retinols and bleaches.
"I encourage people to go to their ob-gyn (obstetrician-gynecologist) and ask about all the products they use and any they might use," says Dr. Lydia Evans, a consulting dermatologist for L'Oreal.
The most critical time to avoid damaging products is the first trimester because the fetus is the most vulnerable, Evans explains, but, luckily, most of the skin problems that women are anxious to cover up don't come until a little further into the pregnancy.
Some of those potential problems are oilier skin and acne, more hair growth on the face and neck, and pigmented areas, such as the nipples, get darker.
Most of these go away once the baby is born, but, unfortunately, stretch marks are more or less permanent. "There's not much we can do," Evans, herself a mother, says. "There is some suggestive work with lasers, but what helps the most is keeping the skin well-moisturized during the pregnancy. At least it won't hurt."
Some natural emollients that can be used on stretch marks include wheat germ, jojoba oil, shea butter, vitamin E and lavender extract, which some herbalists say regenerates skin cells.
Leslie Blodgett, CEO of Bare Escentuals, producer of mineral-based cosmetics, says women look to the company's foundation to help hide hyperpigmentation -- commonly called pregnancy mask -- because the makeup is all natural.
Self-esteem normally is the driving force behind pregnant women's eagerness to cover up the dark skin that often appears on the cheekbones and nose, Blodgett observes, but pregnant women also are more interested in living a healthy lifestyle. "These women are eating more veggies, drinking their milk, yet a lot of liquid foundations they might have used have the sort of chemicals they are trying to avoid," she says.
During the 40 weeks of pregnancy, many women who up until this point had relied on the cosmoceutical products that blend the latest beauty trends and cutting-edge science instead turn to centuries-old herbal products.
"Herbs are gentle and are nourishing. The Chinese say it's what's inside that makes the outside," says Michael McIntyre, a Chinese herbalist living in England who consults for the Te Tao hair and body product lines.
For eczema -- inflamed, red patches of skin that often develop during pregnancy, since they're a side effect of overheated blood -- McIntyre says an ointment made of fresh chickweed, sunflower oil and beeswax will soothe the skin.
There even are some all-natural hair-color treatments, though they won't dye hair with the deep hues many women are used to from chemicals.
For brown hair, McIntyre says walnut oil can be used to enrich the color in combination with tannic dark tea and tree bark, both of which help protect the hair, and rosemary, which acts as a conditioner.
Redheads can use products with henna or dyer's madder, a red "dye" made from plants that also is used to color cloth and wool, according to McIntyre.
And for blondes -- who usually are more used to using coloring products -- chamomile will intensify natural highlights and lemon juice has a natural bleaching agent.
What to avoid
Just like with chemical dyes, natural coloring agents seep into the hair shaft and the scalp, McIntyre says, but with the natural agents, the women will be getting the benefits of the herbs, such as the soothing properties of chamomile.
But Thora Klein-Girbaud, international training and education manager for Jurlique, a beauty company that grows its own herbs on a 50-acre farm in Australia, warns that not every all-natural product is suitable for a pregnant woman.
For example, clary sage, which relaxes muscles and is used to alleviate premenstrual symptoms, should be avoided during pregnancy because it promotes menstrual discharge, Klein-Girbaud says, though it can be helpful during labor.
The oils from basil, cinnamon and thyme also stimulate reproductive organs, and pregnant women should stay away from them, she says.
Lavender, however, should be a staple in the bathroom cabinet of any expectant mother since it's an effective moisturizer and can relieve stress, headaches, muscle aches and acne, Klein-Girbaud says, and mothers then can use lavender on children suffering from heat rash by adding some oil to their bath.
Chamomile also has a place in the nursery, she adds. Making a compress with strong tea and a little chamomile extract and putting it on a baby's tummy should help control colic. "Chamomile for many centuries has been used to soothe the central nervous system," Klein-Girbaud notes.