Skin Changes During Pregnancy

Pregnancy Skin Care

Now that you are pregnant, you may begin to see many changes in your skin. You may see changes such as a sudden glow on your face or pinkish, reddish streaks on your stomach. Not every pregnant woman will experience all the same skin changes. Below is a list of common skin changes during pregnancy:

Stretch Marks Prevention

Stretch marks are one of the most talked-about skin changes that can occur during pregnancy. Almost 90% of pregnant women will experience stretch marks. Stretch marks appear as pinkish or reddish streaks running down your abdomen and/or breasts.

Exercising and applying lotions that contain vitamin E and alpha-hydroxy acids have been said to help in the prevention of stretch marks. These remedies have not been medically proven to have a direct effect on stretch marks, but it never hurts to try. If you find that nothing is working for you, take comfort in knowing that these streaks will fade to silvery faint lines after delivery.

Mask of Pregnancy

“Mask of pregnancy” is also referred to as melasma and chloasma. Melasma causes dark splotchy spots to appear on your face. These spots most commonly appear on your forehead and cheeks and are a result of increased pigmentation.

When you become pregnant your body produces more hormones, which causes an increase in pigmentation. Nearly 50% of pregnant women show some signs of the “mask of pregnancy.” These skin changes should fade after your baby is born.

Pregnancy Mask Prevention

To prevent “mask of pregnancy” from happening to you, you should wear a good sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 whenever you plan on being outside. You can also wear your favorite ball cap to protect your face from the sun. Your skin is extra sensitive, and exposure to the sun increases your chances of these dark spots showing up on your face.

Pregnancy Glow

When you are pregnant your body produces 50% more blood, resulting in more blood circulation through your body.  This increase in blood circulation causes your face to be brighter.

Your body is also producing a fair amount of hormones that cause your oil glands to work in overdrive, leaving your face shiny. Both of these things can result in the “pregnancy glow” you have heard of.  If your skin becomes too oily you can use an oil-free cleanser to clean your face. Other than that, do nothing but smile!

Pimple Breakouts and Acne

If you have a problem with acne already, your acne may become more irritated during pregnancy. The extra hormones in your body cause your oil glands to secrete more oil, which can cause breakouts.  You should keep a strict cleansing routine. You can start with a simple over-the-counter face soap. It is a good idea to use fragrance-free soap to avoid nausea.

Cleanse your face every night and every morning. Washing your face more than this can cause your skin to become dry.
Next use an astringent to remove any remaining oil. Stay away from any acne medicated astringents; they may contain acne medicine that is not recommended for pregnant women.

Finally, follow this procedure with an oil-free moisturizer.  If you find that you are having problems with acne, consult with your health care provider on acne treatment during pregnancy.

Varicose Veins:

Varicose veins are bulky bluish veins that usually appear on the legs during pregnancy. This happens because your body is compensating for the extra blood flow that is going to your baby.

Varicose veins can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Unfortunately, if you have a family history of varicose veins, you may be prone to get them during your pregnancy. The good news is that you can take measures now to prevent or decrease the symptoms.

What can I do?

To prevent or decrease symptoms, you should:

  • Avoid standing for long periods of time
  • Walk as much as possible to help the blood return to your heart
  • Always prop your feet up on a stool when sitting
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time
  • Wear support stockings
  • Get enough vitamin C (this helps keeps your veins healthy and elastic)
  • Sit with your legs higher than your head for at least half an hour a day
  • Avoid excessive weight gain

Spider Veins

Spider veins, also known as spider nevi, are minute, reddish blood vessels that branch outward.  These spider veins are also caused by the increase in blood circulation.

They will usually appear on the face, neck, upper chest and arms. Spider veins do not hurt and usually disappear shortly after delivery. Spider veins appear more often in Caucasian women than in African American women. Increasing your vitamin C intake and not crossing your legs can help minimize spider veins. Spider veins may also be hereditary, in which case there is nothing you can do to prevent them.

Fortunately, these will most likely fade shortly after delivery. Laser treatment can also be done to help remove any spider veins that have not faded away.

Dry Itchy Skin During Pregnancy

As your belly grows, your skin stretches and tightens. This causes very uncomfortable dryness and itching. If you begin to experience severe itching late in your pregnancy, possibly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue and/or jaundice, you should contact your doctor.

This could be a sign of cholestasis, which is related to the function of the liver. Your doctor may take blood tests to verify if you are experiencing cholestasis. Cholestasis occurs in about one in every 50 pregnancies and is not a problem after pregnancy.
If the itching is intense and spreads to your arms and legs, it could be pruritic urticarial papules and plagues (PUPP). PUPP occurs in about one in every 150 pregnancies. PUPP is itchy, reddish, raised patches on the skin that will go away after delivery.

To help alleviate your dry itchy abdomen, you should keep your abdomen moisturized. You can also use an anti-itch cream such as calamine lotion to help provide more relief.

Cholestasis can be treated with medications. To help alleviate PUPP your health care provider can prescribe oral medicine and anti-itch creams. Try taking a nice oatmeal bath to help relieve some of the discomforts.

Linea Nigra

Linea nigra is the dark line that runs from your navel to your pubic bone. This is a line that may have always been there, but you may have never noticed it before because it was a light color. During pregnancy, this line darkens.  This is possibly caused by the imbalance in hormones. It usually appears around the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy.
There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening, but after your pregnancy, this line will fade.

Skin Tags

Skin tags are very small, loose growths of skin that usually appear under your arms or breasts.  After pregnancy, your skin tags may disappear. If they do not disappear, there are ways to remove them.

Darkening of Freckles, Moles and Other Areas of Your Skin

Increased hormones cause changes in your skin pigmentation. You will notice that areas with dark pigmentation, such as freckles, moles, nipples, areolas, and labia, can become even darker.  There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening. If you notice that a mole or freckle changes in appearance or shape, you should contact your health care provider.

These darker areas can remain darkened after pregnancy. The change in pigmentation can be noticeable, but not drastic.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:
Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 56.