Even if you’ve never really thought much about the condition of your skin, becoming pregnant may change all that. Your face may take on an entirely different “glow”; tiny veins may start appearing on your cheeks and chest and, for some reason, you feel as if you’re revisiting your adolescence when pimples start appearing out of nowhere. Don’t feel you’re imagining all this.
Skin changes during pregnancy are common and although most of them can be grouped into the category of normal, it’s still useful to have some understanding of what causes them and what you can to limit them.
What causes skin changes during pregnancy?
The general culprit is hormones, in particular, increases in oestrogen and progesterone. During pregnancy, these are the primary hormones which cause the widespread changes which are necessary to support a baby towards maturity. Their levels and secretion cannot be controlled or influenced in any particular way by a pregnant woman.
MASK OF PREGNANCY
Another name for this is a “butterfly mask” because it commonly looks like butterfly wings have spread across the cheeks. It can also extend up to the forehead, the nose and chin. The correct name for the mask of pregnancy is actually Chloasma and the cause is an increase in the melanin production in the dermal layers of the skin.
Melanin is responsible for the colour of our skin and women with darker or olive skin tend to be more affected by Chloasma. Many women also find their moles become darker during pregnancy as well, due to the overall increase in Melanin production. But it’s important to monitor any changes in the colour, shape and general appearance of moles. To be on the safe side, it’s worthwhile monitoring any mole changes and to check with your GP and your maternity care provider.
For most women, chloasma fades within 3-6 months after the birth of the baby. In some women it takes longer.
There is no specific treatment for the mask of pregnancy because, like most skin changes during pregnancy, once the baby is born and a mother’s hormone levels return to normal, it tends to fade. But it is important to avoid sun exposure because this may make it worse.
Wear a broad brimmed hat, rub in a broad-spectrum sun block and avoid being out in the sun between 10am-3pm. Don’t forget that winter sun can be just as detrimental as summer rays.
What else will get darker when I’m pregnant?
It’s hard to say but in many women there is an increase in the colour of:
Their labia and cervix. Not that most women are aware of changes in the colour of their cervix or even labia for that matter, but hormones do cause a change all the same.
Freckles and moles may also appear darker but if you notice any change in the shape or a freckle or mole or are worried, then it’s important to have this checked by your GP and maternity care provider just to be on the safe side.
You may also notice your nipples becoming darker and a line spreading from your belly button down towards your pubic region. This is known as Linea Nigra. This generally appears within the second trimester, from around the fourth-fifth month. At first you may think it’s a stain from wearing dark pants or a need for a little more diligence when it comes to bathing. But Linea Nigra can’t and won’t wash off.
Most women have heard of this but are at a loss to explain what it actually means. During pregnancy there is an increase in circulating blood volume to almost 50% more than normal. All this blood causes the face to appear redder and generally ruddier. These factors, combined with the increase in oil production (sebum), adds to a slightly shiny appearance to the face; hence the term pregnancy glow. Although you may feel you are far from glowing when you are pregnant, particularly in the middle of summer, it is one of those terms which people generally feel is a positive and nice thing to say; a compliment when perhaps they don’t really know what else to say.
So, if someone tells you you’re glowing, then be polite and thank them, it’s generally said in a positive manner.
There is no specific treatment for pregnancy glow. You and your baby actually need that increase in overall blood volume to keep your little one oxygenated and well looked after. And as for the oil? You could try using an oil free cleanser if you feel your skin has become too oily and consider what moisturiser you’re using as well.
You may need to change your usual cleanse/tone/moisturising routine and products, even if you’ve been loyal to the same brand for years.
Stretch marks are caused by the underlying skin tissues tearing as they stretch and grow. Pink, red or purple stripes commonly appear over the breasts, hips, buttocks, abdomen and anywhere the collagen and elastin fibres of the skin have been damaged.
Although many creams and lotions promise results, the truth is that, for the majority of women, stretch marks fade in their own good time. There have been some significant advances in the technology and development of lasers for the treatment of stretch marks. However, these can be costly and rebates are not covered by Medical Aids. Check with your GP and maternity care provider to see if you qualify for referral to a dermatologist who specialises in stretch mark removal.
Although most creams and oils don’t do much to avoid stretch marks forming, Bio Oil is one product which has a lot of scientific evidence to back up its claims.
Extra hair growth on the face and body
It’s not uncommon for women who are pregnant to notice extra hair appearing at different places on their body. Around the nipples, the pubic area, the armpits and the legs can all contribute to a more hirsute appearance. Try not to be alarmed, it’s just another one of those things which you can put down to hormonal influence and skin changes during pregnancy.
You’ll find that once your baby is born that your body hair returns to its normal appearance. If you need to, consider extra waxing, threading, shaving or general depilatory treatments if you feel self-conscious.
Until your pregnancy, you may have only associated skin tags with the elderly or your great aunt. In fact, the thought of carrying around some extra “bits” of skin may seem somehow quite revolting. But fret not, like so many other skin changes during pregnancy, skin tags are best viewed as one (or two, or three) of “those things”.
But if you’re struggling to know what they are, here’s a description. Skin tags are very small little nodules of skin which are attached to surrounding skin. They are around the size of a grain of rice and are pink or sometimes brown. They are harmless and non-painful – but skin tags can rub and be irritating especially if they are under a bra strap or in an area of friction. They generally crop up in the region of the armpits and underneath the breasts.
Treatment for skin tags
Don’t be in too much of a hurry to have your skin tags removed. In most women, they disappear all by themselves without any specific treatment, but you will need to wait until after your baby is born. If not, then speak with your GP and maternity care provider about getting them tied or diathermied (surgically burnt) off.
Avoid using any chemical or plant-based products for wart or skin tag removal – many are contra-indicated during pregnancy. If a particular skin tag is really troubling you, speak with your maternity care provider about getting it tied off. This is a simple procedure whereby a piece of cotton (or similar) is tied tightly at the base of the skin tag so the circulation “feeding” it is cut off. After a few days the skin tag shrinks and eventually drops off.
Other options are to have them frozen off or using a chemical based compound. But this is only after the baby is born and when recommended and supervised by a doctor.
PIMPLES AND ACNE
Although extra sebum production is responsible for that lovely “glow” that pregnant women can have, it’s also the culprit for outbreaks of pimples. The saying “a little goes a long way” certainly applies to sebum, where a bit is a good thing but too much is really, well, too much. Skin changes during pregnancy aren’t always welcome and this is where pimples and acne fit in.
If you feel you’re revisiting your adolescence, you’re not the first pregnant woman to experience this. Again, you can put all the blame for your pimples down to pregnancy hormones. An increase in oestrogen and progesterone causes sebum production to go into hyper drive which means that blocked pores become more common. Even the most scrupulous hygiene practices are unlikely to help and you’ll need to be careful about what treatments you use.
Treatment for pimples and acne
Some topical cleansers and pimple creams are contra-indicated for use in pregnancy, so you’ll need to be careful and read the manufacturer’s recommendations before you use anything specific.
Mild cleansers will be fine so look for products with a pH which matches the skin’s usual balance (from 4.0-7.0).
Avoid picking, squeezing or fiddling with spots because this can lead to infection and ultimately, scarring. You could use an exfoliant wash in the shower a couple of times a week and an oil free moisturiser which does not block the pores.
You may also experience pimples and blackheads on your chest, back and upper arms. Try using a loofah or body brush to cleanse the pores and keen them free of sebum blockage. Also try using oil free make-up on your face or if you can, go without. The less clogging of your pores the better.
A very small percentage of pregnant women develop a condition known as Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy, otherwise known as PUPP. This is characterised by very itchy and red, raised lumps over the abdomen, upper thighs, bottom, arms and legs. This tends to occur towards the second half of pregnancy but like most other skin conditions, disappears once the baby is born.
A word of caution – acne lotions and creams which contain Retinoids or Retinols (Vitamin A) are not recommended for use during pregnancy. Check with your maternity care provider and/or a pharmacist before using any acne treatments.
RED PALMS AND SOLES ON THE FEET
You may be surprised to know that an old trick of palm readers is to be able to detect pregnancy even in the very early stages. This is not a demonstration of being able to tell the future as much as picking up on the reddened lines on a pregnant mother’s palm. This engorgement of blood occurs on the soles of the feet as well, but it generally doesn’t continue past the first trimester.
DRY SKIN DURING PREGNANCY
Though it’s common for pregnant women to experience an increase in their skin’s oil production, some women find the opposite is true. Their skin becomes dry and almost devoid of moisture causing them to feel itchy and uncomfortable.
Treatment for dry skin during pregnancy
There’s no secret to the solution here; moisturise, moisturise and moisturise again. The best time to do this is when your skin is still warm and slightly moist from the shower. Most moisturisers work in the same way by holding the skin’s moisture within the cells and limiting water loss through evaporation.
There’s a huge range to choose from but essentially, most moisturisers will do the same job.
For women who have eczema, pregnancy can exacerbate symptoms. Red, dry, itchy and scaly skin patches may need more attention when it comes to moisturisers.
Avoid long hot showers and wearing artificial fibres next to your skin. Sitting in front of a heater and overheating in bed can also lead to a worsening of eczema symptoms. The best way to avoid eczema flare-ups is to maintain the skin’s integrity and hydration in the first place.
You may never have had any problems with skin reactions until you’re pregnant. But now you may find your skin reacts to soaps, moisturisers, deodorants even your usual shampoo and conditioners. This change is generally due to hormonal influences, but just why some women are affected and others perfectly fine is a mystery.
Sometimes the culprit is perfumes and preservatives, colours and dyes. So, if you are affected by skin sensitivity, keep your skin cleansing and moisturising routine simple and mild.
What you can do about skin changes during pregnancy
Feel confident that nearly always, any skin changes resolve after the baby is born.
Be careful about what treatments you use and, if in any doubt, check with a doctor, pharmacist or your maternity care provider. Read labels, check claims and do your own research until you are satisfied you are making a well-informed decision.
Don’t compare your pregnancy experience with other mothers. Every pregnant woman is unique.
Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. This combination of factors always helps when it comes to any skin conditions. Keeping your skin hydrated will help puff out your skin cells and improve your general appearance.
Increase your dietary intake of essential fatty acids, found in oily fish, avocados, olive oil and fresh fruits and vegetables.