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Treating common pregnancy skin conditions

Treating Common Pregnancy Skin Conditions - Parents Canada

Some moms-to-be have that enviable “glow”, but for many women, pregnancy wreaks havoc on the skin. Here, an expert shares safe solutions for some common issues.

Woman skin mirror - treating common pregnancy skin conditions


Also known as “the mask of pregnancy”, this hyperpigmentation appears as a patchy dark discoloration on the upper cheeks, nose, forehead, or chin. Dr. Shannon Humphrey, medical and cosmetic dermatologist and mother of three from Vancouver B.C., says two factors contribute to the appearance of melasma in pregnancy: circulating hormones and sun exposure.

Safe Solutions: “Prevention is easier than treatment,” says Dr. Humphrey. Avoid sun damage by wearing hats and staying out of the midday sun. Both mineral-based and chemical sunscreens can be used in pregnancy. Melasma usually clears up after baby arrives, and post-pregnancy treatments include the use of creams with skin-lightening ingredients like hydroquinone.

Stretch Marks

These lines, usually starting out red and eventually fading to white, “largely develop related to genetic predisposition,” says Dr. Humphrey, and are not connected to amount of weight gain or number of pregnancies.

Safe Solutions: “To a certain degree these will remain permanent,” says Dr. Humphrey. (Sorry!) Though postpregnancy options are limited, she says a vascular laser may help with the discoloration, and new fractionalablative lasers that are being developedmay help by remodelling the collagen.


Again related to hormones, “the incidence of acne in pregnancy is somewhat unpredictable,” says Dr. Humphrey. “Some women who’ve never had acne get it, and for some women, their acne actually clears up during pregnancy.”

Safe Solutions: Fortunately, there are some safe over-the-counter products to treat pregnancy acne, containing benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid, and your practitioner may prescribe a topical antibiotic. Women suffering from inflammatory acne (red pustules) can also consult their dermatologist about blue light treatment.


Eczema presents as a red, inflamed, itchy rash. This can appear for the first time during pregnancy, or in women who are already predisposed.

Safe solutions: Regular use of a heavy moisturizing cream can help treat active eczema and prevent new inflammation, and anything drying to the skin, such as hot showers, should be avoided. You can also ask your doctor if a topical steroid might be helpful. “Though there haven’t been many studies on their use during pregnancy, the benefits may outweigh the risks.”

Pregnancy skin tips

  • Be sun-safe.
  • Keep moisturized and choose products with safe-for-baby ingredients like Vitamin C.
  • Avoid ingredients like salicylic acid, retinol and Vitamin A derivatives (often used to combat acne or aging skin) and topical lighteners such as hydroquinone until after Baby arrives.
  • Save cosmetic treatments such as microdermabrasion and chemical peels for after baby (While some variations may be safe, “Less is more during pregnancy,” says Dr. Humphrey).
  • Check out the comprehensive Motherisk website at motherisk.org


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.

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