Pregnancy Skin: Glowing, Stretching, Darkening, and More
Pregnancy can have a big impact on your skin. If you are lucky, you will get that famous glow. However, many women experience some unpleasant changes in their skin during pregnancy, including darkening often called the mask of pregnancy (melasma) or a dark line stretching from the pubic area to the lower chest. Other changes include stretch marks, visible blood vessels, and reddened palms.
Many pregnant women will experience skin color darkening. Hormonal changes are the culprit. This hyperpigmentation is usually in areas that are already heavily colored, including the nipples and areola, armpits, and genitals. Possible changes related to darkening include the following:
Mask of Pregnancy
Melasma and chloasma are the medical terms for this condition. This condition usually causes dark, splotchy spots on the face. Hormones and ultraviolet (UV) rays together cause the facial darkening. Women should protect their skin from UV rays by applying sunscreen. Choose a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher. You should also wear a hat with a brim wide enough to cover your face. If melasma lingers after delivery, visit your dermatologist.
The official name for the dark line some pregnant women develop from their pubic area to their lower chest is linea nigra. The good news is that it almost always fades after delivery.
If you are prone to acne, your skin may be more prone to breakouts in the first 3 months. This is because the extra hormones made during pregnancy may cause your body to secrete more oils, thereby leading to breakouts. After the 3rd month, the skin tends to clear.
To combat acne, cleanse your skin routinely. Use an over-the-counter, fragrance-free face soap. Wash your skin in the morning and at night.
Discuss all acne products you are thinking of using with your doctor before using them. Accutane, an oral drug for cases of severe cystic acne, should never be taken if pregnancy is a possibility, because it is known to cause serious birth defects.
Blood Vessel Growth
Blood circulation increases during pregnancy, and can cause the following changes in your skin:
If your palms become pink or red, do not be alarmed. It is simply a visible sign of increased blood flow and will disappear after delivery.
These visible blood vessels are most common on the face, neck, and arms. Most disappear after delivery. If they persist after a few months after delivery, visit your dermatologist. They may treat your spiders with laser surgery. In the meantime, make-up may disguise the problem.
You could develop enlarged veins on your legs during pregnancy and they may remain after delivery. Luckily, doctors have a variety of treatments to recommend following the birth of your child. Here are some things you can do to prevent varicose veins or to decrease symptoms:
- Do not stand for long periods of time.
- Walk as often as you can. This will help with blood circulation.
- Do not sit for long periods of time.
- When sitting, prop your feet up on a stool.
- Wear support stockings.
Sorry. No matter what kind of cream or lotion you slather on, if you are going to get stretch marks, you will get them. Stretch marks are a break in the elastic tissue of the skin. They occur most often on the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and hips.
Eventually, long after childbirth, stretch marks may fade and become less noticeable. If you have not learned to live with yours after your baby has been weaned, talk to your dermatologist, who may treat them with laser therapy or with a prescription topical treatment.
When to See Your Dermatologist
Moles may enlarge or darken during pregnancy and return to normal after delivery. However, watch for signs of melanoma. Do not hesitate to have your doctor check suspicious growths. If any moles change significantly, a biopsy should be performed.
There are also some rare skin conditions unique to pregnancy. See your doctor for any rash symptoms, including:
- Itchy red bumps
- Severe general itching
- Blemishes similar to acne on your buttocks, arms, or legs
American Academy of Dermatology
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Skin changes during pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/skin-changes-during-pregnancy. Updated July 2015. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Treatments of common complaints in pregnant women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114465/Treatments-of-common-complaints-in-pregnant-women. Updated February 1, 2016. Accessed May 30, 2017.
Tunzi M, Gray G. Common skin conditions during pregnancy. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(2):211-218.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 7/10/2015