Women's Healthcare Topics

Pregnancy Can Cause a Lot of Different Skin Changes

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

What skin changes should I expect?

Your skin undergoes amazing changes when you're expecting. You can blame your crazy pregnancy hormones and the dramatic physical changes your body goes through for all the skin changes in pregnancy.

From the "glow" of pregnancy to those unwanted stretch marks, skin changes are a universal experience of all women.

Pregnancy Glow - Have friends or families commented on your pregnancy "glow?" While you may smile at these remarks, you should know that the pregnancy glow is more than just an expression. It's true.

During pregnancy, your skin retains more moisture, which plumps it up and smoothes out any wrinkles or fine lines you may have. This can actually make you look younger, and it improves your complexion. In addition, your skin may have a pinkish glow, due to the increased levels of blood circulating around your body. This extra blood may make you feel slightly flushed at times.

You can also blame your hormones for your pregnancy glow. The higher levels of hormones in your pregnant body causes your oil glands to go into overdrive, which may leave your face shiny and oily.

If you have the time, you'll want to wash your face several times a day with a gentle, dye-free and perfume-free cleaner. You may want to try rice paper, which comes in individual sheets, to soak up any extra oil you may have on your face.

Linea Nigra - The Linea Nigra is the most common skin change in pregnancy. It is the darken of a faint line (called the linea alba) that runs from your belly button to the top of your pubic hair. The line has always been there but not noticed because it was the same color as surround skin. During pregnancy the extra production of a skin pigment called Melantin darks the line. The line often becomes more apparent during the latter half of pregnancy and for most women will fade after childbirth.

Darkening of nipples and areola -The nipples and the skin around your nipples the “areola” becomes much darker during pregnancy. These changes are temporary and fade after childbirth. Darkening of Scars and Freckles - Scars and freckles will have a darker hue.

Mask of pregnancy - Have you noticed any blotchy, dark areas on your skin? If you do, then you have a skin condition called chloasma (also referred to as melasma). Up to 70 percent of all pregnant women will develop this condition. Chloasma is so prevalent that it's commonly called the "mask of pregnancy."

Chloasma gives you brown splotches of pigment that can appear on your forehead, cheeks, upper lip, nose, chin, jaw, and neck. Sometimes the patches of brown can take the shape of a mask, hence the nickname. Sun exposure will make the dark spots even more pronounced. Unfortunately, the "mask of pregnancy" will return with each future pregnancy.

This pregnancy symptom is caused by hormonal changes in your body. Your hormones temporarily increase the production of melanin – the natural substance that gives color to your hair and eyes.

The effects of chloasma will fade a few months after delivery, but they usually don't disappear completely. These dark spots are usually nothing to worry about, though they may be not anesthetically appealing.

In the meanwhile, if the brownish spots bother you, use makeup to cover them up. You can use yellow and white-based concealers underneath your makeup to give your skin a more natural tone. You can also reduce the appearance of chloasma by avoiding too much time in the sun. If you must be outdoors, protect your skin by using a high SPF sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.

Acne - If you thought acne was a thing of the past you may be surprised to find that acne during pregnancy is quite common. Most women find that their face breaks out similar to their puberty years.

Try to clean your face and neck regularly. Pimples will be much worse if the pores are clogged. Be sure to clean your face using a gentle cleanser and light moisturizer. Do not use acne medications unless you ask your doctor. You will be advised not to use a common acne medication, Accutane, as it can cause birth defects.

Vascular spiders -Vascular spiders are tiny red veins that show up under your skin around your eyes, neck; face; upper chest; arms; and hands. They actually look like tiny red spiders. They will fade in about 3 months after delivery.

Red palms -The palms of your hands will turn red during pregnancy. The coloration comes from the dilated blood vessels below the skin. The palms of your hand often itch because of the increase blood supply to them in pregnancy. The redness will fade after delivery.

Varicose Veins - Leg varicosities are common. They are tiny dilated blood vessels seen in the skin of the leg. The more blood that pools in the dilated vessels the worse they appear. You can try measures to decrease the pooling of blood by elevating your legs when sitting, compression with support hose, sleeping on your left side, and avoidance of long periods of standing or sitting.

Skin Tags -As your tummy grows larger in pregnancy, you may notice that you're starting to develop stretch marks – unattractive depressed streaks that appear across your skin. Some women develop stretch marks as early as the second trimester, however they are more commonly reported in the third trimester, when you gain the most weight. Between 50 and 70 percent of all pregnant women will develop stretch marks.

Skin Changes in Pregnancy.

Stretch Marks - When stretch marks start, they may look like pinkish or purplish lines on your skin. They will eventually become indented streaks with fine wrinkles. Stretch marks can appear anywhere that your skin stretches, but they are most common on your stomach, breasts, and thighs. Some women get pregnancy stretch marks on their lower back, hips, buttocks, and upper arms. Stretch marks will fade, but they never completely disappear.

Your skin is pretty elastic, but the hefty weight gain during pregnancy can be more than what the skin can handle. Stretch marks occur when your skin "over stretches" and starts to tear.

If you haven't yet developed stretch marks, there's no way to tell whether or not you'll develop them later in pregnancy. However, if you have a family history of stretch marks, you're pregnant with twins or multiples, or you've gained over the recommended weight gain, you are at higher risk of getting stretch marks.

Unfortunately, there's no foolproof way to prevent stretch marks. You will either develop them during pregnancy, or you won't. However, you can minimize your risk by gaining the recommended amount of weight for your body size, and keeping well hydrated.

You can also try rubbing lotions and creams into a circular motion all over your body. Massaging in a circular motion will help ease the tension that's been placed on the elastic layer of your skin, and may even increase blood flow to your problem areas – which will keep your skin more "stretchy" and potentially minimize the appearance of any pregnancy stretch marks.

Although stretch marks fade after delivery they can take a few months and up to a couple of years to fade. Unfortunately they do not go away completely. Currently, there are two on going trials for both the prevention and treatment of stretch marks. Both trials are showing promising results. One trial has shown promise in preventing stretch marks. The cream used in this trial contains Centella Asiatica extract, Vitamin E, and collagen-elastin hydrolysates. Further testing is necessary before the cream can be recommended in the prevention of stretch marks.


Doctor's Corner

Pregnancy Week by Week - Women's Healthcare Topics