Skin Changes in Pregnancy

pregnant-bellyWhile we all expect certain things to change about our body during pregnancy—we will gain weight, our bellies will grow larger, our breasts will change—some physical changes may come as a surprise.  For some of us,  our skin changes, our feet grow, our hair changes, or other seemingly non-reproductive related changes transform our bodies.  Today, we’ll take up common changes to the skin that may occur during pregnancy.

 Itching

Skin itchiness can be common in pregnancy and can affect the abdomen, breasts, hips, thighs, and/or back.  This is often due to the skin stretching to accommodate your growing baby.  Also, increased sweating and decreased bowel function may cause the skin to work harder to eliminate toxins.  This affects the liver (responsible for processing toxins and an increased hormonal load), which may cause the skin to itch.  Itching may also be related to stress.

 Things that may help relieve itchiness include:

  • Using mild or no soap and avoiding skin irritants in beauty products.
  • Using a loofah or body brush may stimulate the skin and clear away dead cells.
  • Exercise will help get your circulation going, helping to get to the root of what causes the skin to itch
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Ensure you are getting Essential Fatty Acids in your diet, which can improve moisture and reduce inflammation.
  • Cocoa butter and coconut oil are great moisturizers and can aid with stretch marks too
  • Calendula oil can reduce itching and irritation

The pregnancy “glow”

Not just an old wives’ tale, the pregnancy glow is actually a physiological phenomenon.  Pregnant mamas carry an increased blood volume, which causes the cheeks to take on a blushed appearance.  Increased oil gland secretion also gives the skin a waxy luster.

The mask of pregnancy

Some women develop patches of skin discoloration known as chloasma sometime in the second trimester.  These spots, often brown or yellowish, appear on the face, particularly on the upper cheeks, nose, chin and forehead.  This skin change in pregnancy is the result of pregnancy hormones (estrogen and progesterone) stimulating melanin (skin pigmentation) production in an uneven fashion, giving the appearance of a blotchy tan.  Darker skinned women and brunettes may also develop dark circles around the eyes because of this change in melanin production.  While this skin change cannot be prevented, limiting sun and other UV exposure can help lessen the effects.

Acne

For some women, they notice their skin improves in pregnancy, while for others it is the opposite.  If you notice an increase in breakouts, you may want to consider the following:

  • Avoid abrasive scrubs or exfoliants; pregnant skin is too sensitive for these
  • Opt for milder, oatmeal-based facial scrubs
  • Do not use Accutane or Retin-A, which can cause serious birth defects.

A small percentage (about 1%) of women experience itchy, red, acne-like breakouts on their belly, thighs, bottom, and limbs.  This tends to stop and go throughout the second half of pregnancy and typically resolves soon after birth.

 Linea nigra

For women who are not aware of this possible pregnancy skin change, it may come as a surprise when a faint line begins to appear vertically down the belly and grows darker and darker as the weeks go on.  This line is known as the linea nigra and is common in pregnancy due to hormonal changes.  It can grow from the belly button downward, or upward, or both.  It is sometimes straight and sometimes meanders a bit!  This line typically fades within the first months following birth.  Some people speculate that this line appears as an evolutionary “route marker,” helping newborns navigate their way to the breast after birth.

Along those same lines, the areola and nipples also darken in color during pregnancy, perhaps to create a contrast babies are most adept to see when newly born.  Some women find that their areolae remain a bit darker than they were before pregnancy.

Skin tags

Skin tags, caused by hyperactive growth in a superficial layer of skin, can develop in pregnant women, much to their surprise.  These tiny polyps are harmless and are often found where skin rubs on skin or clothing, such as the armpits, inner thighs, neck folds, bra line, and other areas.  These often disappear in the months following delivery, though they can be removed if they are bothersome.

Moles and Freckles

Many pregnant women notice that existing moles, freckles and birth marks grow bigger or darker during pregnancy.  New moles may also appear.  While this may just be part of pregnancy for you, be sure to consult with a dermatologist if moles seem particularly dark, raised, or have irregular borders.

Red palms and soles

Called palmar erythema, redness and itchiness of the palms and soles of the feet may occur in pregnancy, as early as the first trimester.  This is not a harmful condition.

Heat rash

Pregnant women are more vulnerable to heat rash caused by overheating, dampness from excess sweating, and the friction of skin against itself or clothing.  Heat rash is characterized by a reddish, pimply, irritated appearance of the skin and commonly strikes in the breast creases, the inner thighs, and the armpits.

Spider veins

Some women notice the development or increased visibility of spider veins, small squiggly purple or red capillaries just below the skin, during pregnancy.  These can develop on the limbs or the torso and are caused by pregnancy hormones.

It’s also common for spider veins to appear on the face or in the whites of the eyes during delivery due to intense pushing.  These are called nevi and often disappear sometime after birth.

If you have questions about skin changes in pregnancy, be sure to discuss with your midwife at your next appointment.