Pregnant Skin: Your Guide to the Changes and Challenges

Pregnant skin glows — or so the cliche goes. And indeed, for many women, being pregnant does make the skin look healthier, rosier, and more glowing. Doctors don’t know for sure what causes that pregnancy glow — or why some women have it and others don’t — but they suspect it has to do with the physiological changes that accompany being pregnant.

Hormonal changes in pregnancy produce more skin oils, which reflect the light and make skin look brighter. A pregnant woman’s blood circulation rate increases by 50%, which can make the skin look rosy and flushed.

But the physiology of pregnant skin isn’t all glow. Here’s a quick guide to some of the changes and challenges pregnant skin can face:

Acne. Unfortunately, the same hormonal changes that cause pregnant skin to glow can also trigger acne flares. On the other hand, some women with stubborn adult acne find that pregnancy actual clears the skin. That’s a good thing for people who use medications like Accutane to control acne, as these can’t be used by women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant because of risks to fetal health.

Stretch marks. As the skin of your abdomen and breasts stretches during pregnancy, you may see pink or red lines of stress develop. Many over-the-counter topical remedies claim to prevent or erase stretch marks, but none has been shown to be medically effective. Moisturizers may make you feel more comfortable as your skin stretches.

Pigmentation changes. You may notice that the central line of skin below your navel darkens during pregnancy. In some women, especially those with darker skin tones, pregnancy causes melasma, a darkening of the facial skin across the nose and cheekbones in a mask-like pattern (thus melasma’s common name, “the mask of pregnancy”). Pigmentation changes during pregnancy are also linked to hormonal fluctuations. Your skin will also be more vulnerable overall to UV damage, so be sure to use a full-spectrum sunscreen and avoid sun exposure.

Itching and rashes. If you have sensitive skin, pregnancy may make you more — or less — susceptible to irritation. Ongoing or pre-existing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis may get worse, get better, or stay the same during pregnancy. (The interactions among the body’s complex systems are subtle and complicated; everyone is different.) Two itchy issues can affect pregnant skin in particular. Itchy, red palms and soles of the feet can be a sign of chlolestasis — a potentially serious complication that requires immediate medical attention. You may also develop an itchy, raised rash that begins in stretch marks on your lower abdomen. Called PUPPS (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques), this condition usually develops in the third trimester and is most common in first or multiple pregnancies. PUPPS is not dangerous, but the itching is severe; a dermatologist or your OB can help you find relief.

Allergies. Existing skin allergies may be made worse or, paradoxically, alleviated by pregnancy. Because pregnant skin can develop sensitivities and allergies to products you had no problem with in the past, choose hypoallergenic and fragrance-free skin care products, soaps, and shampoos.

The good news is that all of these challenges to pregnant skin can be addressed with help from your doctor. Most usually resolve with delivery, or very soon after. For stubborn melasma, acne, stretch marks or other pregnancy-related conditions like spider veins or skin tags, your dermatologist has a wide range of treatments available.

If you’re pregnant, congratulations! Contact us at Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena and we’ll help you guard your glow!