Do you find yourself standing in front of the mirror, wondering what happened to your skin? Maybe you’ve noticed new lines, or perhaps some puzzling dark spots seemed to have popped up overnight.
Whether you’re currently expecting or looking curiously forward before you expand your family, skin changes during pregnancy are a totally normal part of the journey.
Type of skin changes during pregnancy
Arguably the most famous of all the pregnancy skin changes, stretch marks, also known as striae gravidarum, are almost inevitable. About 90% of women will find themselves sporting stripes by the seventh month of their pregnancy.
Your skin has three main layers, and that middle layer, the dermis, is to blame for stretch marks. Between healthy weight gain and an expanding bump, your skin needs to expand somewhat rapidly to accommodate your changing body. When this happens, tears form in the dermis, and deeper skin layers peek through to the surface.
Interestingly, the presence of stretch marks on your thighs decreases the risk of getting them during pregnancy.1Risk factors of striae gravidarum
However, certain factors increase your risk of stretch marks during pregnancy.
- Your mother had stretch marks during her pregnancy.
- Elevated body mass index before pregnancy
- Stretch marks on your breasts
- You gain weight rapidly during your pregnancy.
Minimizing the appearance of stretch marks
Stretch marks are virtually impossible to prevent, especially if you have genetic relatives who donned the stripes during their pregnancies.
With that said, some studies have shown that applying a cream containing onion extract, hyaluronic acid don’t let the name scare you, and Centella asiatica extract may minimize the appearance of stretch marks.2Farahnik, B., Park, K., Kroumpouzos, G., & Murase, J. (2017). Striae gravidarum: Risk factors, prevention, and management. International journal of women’s dermatology, 3(2), 77-85.
When it comes to weight gain, you want to aim towards slow and steady and try to avoid rapid spurts as much as possible. Talk to your OB provider about how to eat a well-rounded diet that will support collagen development and overall wellness. You will want to be sure you are getting enough zinc, protein, and vitamins C, D, and E.
And finally, try to stay active. I know, easier said than done, but exercises like walking, swimming, or yoga can help regulate weight gain.
There are plenty of creams on the market that can help reduce stretch marks’ appearance by way of moisturizing ingredients and vitamins. Among my favorites is Bio Oil’s Skincare Oil, as it contains plenty of vitamin E and doesn’t leave a greasy film in its wake.
For stubborn stretch marks that just won’t fade, talk to a dermatologist about microdermabrasion, laser treatments, or chemical peels.
About 40% of women will experience some form of acne during their pregnancy, even those who previously had clear skin their whole lives. Pregnancy-related acne often occurs during the first trimester and can last throughout your pregnancy.
As your hormone levels rise, your skin will naturally begin to produce more oils. This increase in natural oils can cause clogged pores, which in turn can lead to breakouts reminiscent of your high school days.
- Having a history of acne
- Experience flares of acne during the start of the menstrual cycle
Be sure to keep up with your skincare routine, including
- Cleansing with a gentle face wash
- Removing your makeup at the end of the day
- Avoiding heavy cosmetics that might further clog your pores
It can be tempting to knock those breakouts back with your usual methods of over the counter creams or prescription medication, but you should not do this.
The best way to treat pregnancy-related acne is through good hygiene habits, such as
- Washing your face no more than twice a day and patting dry with a clean cloth
- Not touching your face in any way
- Keeping your hair washed to help control an oily scalp
- Changing your pillowcases often
- Not popping or picking at any pimples
- Using earphones when talking on the phone to avoid pressing your phone against your skin
- Never rubbing or itching at your face
- If the above doesn’t work, speak with your OB provider about topical medications like antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid3Kong, Y. L., & Tey, H. L. (2013).Treatment of acne vulgaris during pregnancy and lactation. Drugs, 73(8), 779-787.
You should avoid
- Retinoid creams
- Hormone therapies
While less common than acne, itchy hives can be an irritating issue during pregnancy. Worse yet, hives that are part of an anaphylactic reaction can be catastrophic for mom and baby.4Sarna Sensitive Anti-Itch Moisturizing Lotion
All the expected culprits can cause pregnancy hives, including bug bites, animal dander, foods you are allergic to, and chemicals that have previously caused adverse reactions for your skin.
Since you are exposed to regular medical care in pregnancy, you may discover an unknown allergy to medication or latex. If the hives are associated with any symptoms like intense itching, swelling of your throat, or difficulty breathing- call 911. If the reaction is less severe and you can safely swallow, take an antihistamine like diphenhydramine.
A history of allergies.
Minimizing Hive Flareups
You should avoid ingesting or coming into contact with things that generally trigger your allergies as much as possible. Furthermore, you should
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid any excessive rubbing.
- Shower in warm, not hot, water.
- Practice good stress management.
- Don’t scratch at your skin.
- Keep your skin moisturized.
For severe cases, contact your doctor before taking any over-the-counter antihistamines.
For a soothing home remedy, try a relaxing oatmeal bath or apply aloe vera to ease any itchiness.
Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP, can appear during the third trimester and is sometimes mistaken for hives. It frequently starts on the abdomen but may then spread to the arms or legs. PUPPPS presents with raised red patches that can have a splotchy, rash-like appearance and initially show up on stretch marks. These bumps can be extremely itchy.
PUPPPS is likely caused by the rapid skin-stretching that occurs in the later months of pregnancy, but may also be related to hormonal changes.5Matz, H., Orion, E., & Wolf, R. (2006). Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy: polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PUPPP). Clinics in dermatology, 24(2), 105-108.
- Rapid weight gain.
- Caucasian ancestry.
- Pregnant with multiples.
- Experiencing your first pregnancy.
Minimizing the Risk for PUPPPS
Unfortunately, there is not much to be done in the way of prevention.
Thankfully, PUPPPS will clear up on its own shortly after you birth your baby. To help alleviate symptoms, you can try oatmeal baths.
- Regularly moisturizing
- Cool compresses.
When dealing with severe itching and discomfort, you can talk to your doctor about trying:
- Topical steroid creams
- Anti-itch lotion like Sarna
- Oral steroid pills
Eczema is characterized by rough, red bumps that are itchy and may have visible pustules, eczema can appear anywhere on the body.
Certain people may have a genetic predisposition that doesn’t allow their skin to retain moisture as efficiently as unaffected individuals. Triggers, such as harsh chemicals, rough materials, and pollutants, can easily irritate the skin and cause the scaly, irritating patches for which eczema is known.
Having eczema pre-pregnancy
Minimizing Eczema Flareups
Although eczema isn’t preventable, you can help decrease the chances of a severe outbreak by
- Maintaining low stress
- Moisturizing regularly
- Avoiding scratchy clothing
- Staying cool to reduce sweating
- Using gentle soaps, shampoos, and detergents
- Using a humidifier in your home
Most eczema flares are easily controlled through medicated ointments or by simply using a quality moisturizer.
Treatment options are more limited during pregnancy.6Weatherhead, S., Robson, S. C., & Reynolds, N. J. (2007). Eczema in pregnancy. Bmj, 335(7611), 152-154. For severe outbreaks, you can contact your doctor, who might provide a pregnancy-safe steroid cream.
UV light therapy has also shown promise at getting those uncomfortable patches under control.These sessions are performed several times per week until symptoms improve or resolve. Speak to a dermatologist to see if this is appropriate.7Bown, S. G. (1983).Phototherapy of tumors. World journal of surgery, 7(6), 700-709.
Often seen as a spider web of blue, red, or purple lines, varicose veins commonly occur on the legs during pregnancy. They can cause throbbing, itchiness, a heavy feeling in the affected limb, and swelling. Some women experience a significant level of pain. Fun fact: hemorrhoids are a form of varicose veins. (Okay, maybe not that fun.)
While your blood volume will increase dramatically during pregnancy, the amount of blood that flows from your legs upwards actually decreases, and additional pressure is put on your veins.
- A sedentary lifestyle.
- Standing for long periods.
- Having a genetic history of varicose veins.
- Constipation (for hemorrhoids.)
Minimizing the risk of varicose veins
While not always preventable, you may be able to avoid or minimize existing varicose veins by
- Wearing flat, comfortable shoes.
- Not sitting or standing in one position for prolonged periods.
- Sleeping on your left side.
- Wearing compression hosiery.
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fiber and vitamin C.
- Elevating your legs when sitting.
- Staying hydrated.
- Avoiding excess sodium.
- Remaining active.
Varicose veins that sprung up during pregnancy will likely resolve themselves a few months after you have given birth. You can ask your doctor about surgical options for stubborn veins that just won’t go back to normal.
Appearing as a vertical line that is up to half an inch wide and travels over your belly into your pubic area, this mark usually makes its appearance in the 5th month of pregnancy.
Exactly why this distinct line appears in 90% of pregnancies remains a mystery. Some think that humans always have that line on our torsos and that pregnancy merely makes it stand out. Another possibility is that a melanocyte-stimulating hormone is responsible for causing this pigmented line.
- Exposure to sunlight
- A darker skin tone (increased melanin)
Minimizing the Appearance of Linea Nigra
Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing this skin condition. With that said, some women swear by unproven home-lightening remedies such as
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Milk of magnesia.
- Lemon juice.
Don’t worry about lightening this line at home. Your best bet is to wait for this one out. Most cases resolve on their own post-baby.
In the meantime, avoid bleaching creams and exposing your belly to direct sunlight.
Often referred to as the mask of pregnancy, this skin change manifests itself in brown facial patches on the cheeks, forehead, nose, or chin.
Though thought to be rooted in hormonal changes, doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes these skin patches to form.
- Darker skin tones.
Minimizing the appearance of Melasma
Due to the likelihood of hormones causing this skin change, there is little that can prevent or lessen its occurrence.
When caused by pregnancy, Melasma generally resolved itself. If it seems to be lingering, you can speak to your doctor about treatments such as
- Topical creams or ointments.
- Laser therapy.
- Chemical peels.
Your skin will go through a lot during your pregnancy. From that beautiful pregnancy glow to the frustrating breakout, it’s important to remember to love your skin regardless of what it’s going through. After all, you’re nurturing the growth of a new, beloved family member; and that is always beautiful, stripes, splotches, and all.