We all hope for that pregnancy ‘glow’ that leaves our skin looking fresh and radiant. The reality of stretch marks, dark patches, red spots, dry, itchy skin and a face full of pimples leave many pregnant women feeling far from glowing. Find out what causes these common pregnancy induced skin conditions and what you can do about it.
We all hope to leave pregnancy free of them, but most of us are not so lucky. As your belly, breasts, buttocks and thighs stretch to accommodate the extra weight, your skin must stretch with it. Often times these purple marks will appear after a fast growth phase. Avoiding rapid weight gain through a well balanced diet and physical activity will help to minimize your risk. “Using a daily moisturizer may help prevent stretch marks from coming on,” says Dr. R. Mahler, dermatologist. After delivery, the marks will begin to fade to a pale colour and some may even become unnoticeable.
Early on in pregnancy, hormone levels rise, which leads to an increase in production of a natural skin oil called sebum. This, in turn, causes blocked pores, which are responsible for acne. First trimester breakouts are extremely common and hard to treat as many of the usual acne medications are off limits in pregnancy. “Topical tretinoids, oral tetracycline antibiotics, and hormone therapy such as the birth control pill should be avoided while pregnant,” says Dr. Mahler. “Luckily, topical benzyl peroxide with or without the addition of a topical antibiotic is a possible treatment option while pregnant. Speak with your physician before starting anything yourself.”
Pregnancy mask (Chloasma)
If you are a sun-worshipper, this unfortunate side effect of pregnancy should be on your radar. Melanin, which is responsible for dark pigmentation in skin, is stimulated by elevated hormone levels in pregnancy. When your skin is exposed to sunlight, dark patches can appear all over your body, especially your face. This ‘mask’ often lightens after pregnancy but may not go away completely. The same mechanism may cause a line from your pubic bone to your belly button called the linea nigra. “The best way to avoid this is frequent application of sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater when outdoors,” says Dr. Mahler. “If the facial discolouration is not gone a few months after delivery, speak to your physician about treatment options. They may recommend a bleaching cream or a topical tretinoid.”
Dry, itchy skin
Mild rashes and increased sensitivity of the skin can be quite normal in pregnancy, especially in areas that are stretching the most such as the abdomen. Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is a common disorder in pregnancy. A rash begins around the belly button and spreads out, causing intense itching. PUPPP is not harmful to Mom or Baby, but can be extremely irritating and may require a prescription steroid cream if the itch gets bad enough. “Although itchiness in pregnancy can be normal, see your physician if it become severe,” advises Dr. Mahler. “In rare instances, intense itching, especially of the hands and feet, late in pregnancy can be a sign of cholestasis of pregnancy. If untreated, it can be dangerous to both you and your baby.”
Spider nevi, spider veins and varicose veins
As estrogen levels rise, red, spider-like markings may start to appear, especially on your face, neck and chest. These are called spider nevi. They are caused by dilated blood vessels close to the skin and will seem to disappear when you put pressure on their centre. They’re not harmful, and luckily they do go away after delivery. They should not be confused with spider veins, however, which unfortunately are chronic. Spider veins usually appear on the lower extremities and are caused by blood pooling from veins with poor flow. Varicose veins are just a larger version of spider veins. “There are excellent treatments for spider veins and varicose veins; however, they generally come at a cost. Wearing compression stockings during pregnancy will help with any discomfort you have from them, and may help prevent their onset,” says Dr. Mahler. Always speak to your physician before starting any medication, even if it’s topical. Remember, skin blunders during pregnancy are common so you’re not alone! If you follow this advice, you’ll get your glow back soon enough.
Originally published in December 2013.