Skin Changes During Pregnancy and the Best Ways to Treat Them
When a woman is pregnant, her skin changes with so many things. Sometimes it’s more than having a healthy glow. Many moms-to-be might not be so happy about things like stretch marks, dark spots, acne, or breakouts. They may ask if these changes are normal? Are they permanent?
Bryce Desmond, MD, dermatologist for Intermountain Healthcare, explains why there are skin changes during pregnancy, proper skin care, what changes are normal during pregnancy, and when to see a doctor or dermatologist.
“Many changes occur in the skin during pregnancy,” Dr. Desmond said. “Most are considered normal and do not affect the health of the mother or baby.”
Some skin changes are due to changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy. There is a change in the predominant hormones, progesterone, during pregnancy. For most skin changes, healthcare professionals aren’t sure of the exact cause.
The most common skin change is hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin in certain areas. Dark spots and plaques are caused by an increase in the body’s melanin, a natural substance that gives skin and hair color.
The body can also start producing increased pigmentation due to hormonal change during pregnancy. This can involve the face causing chloasma or melasma, also known as the “mask of pregnancy”. It can be very distressing for women as it can cause severe discoloration and is more common on the face. It can stay for life.
“If brown spots or sunspots develop, be sure to protect yourself from the sun as this can prevent it from getting worse,” Dr. Desmond said. “Using a sunscreen with a high SPF that contains ferric oxide (iron) protects the skin from visible light to help with melasma.”
After childbirth, dark spots on the skin usually return to their normal pigment after a period of several months. However, some dark spots may never fade.
Another type of hyperpigmentation is the linea nigra. It is a line that appears on the abdomen from the pubic bone to the navel or even the breastbone. It may look unsightly but tends to fade after birth.
Darkening of the armpits may also appear, and moles may darken or change. Hormones are to blame in these cases. Know the ABCD of skin cancer and see a dermatologist if you notice any of the types of changes.
Many women have acne during pregnancy. Some people already have acne and notice that it gets worse or better during pregnancy. Other women who have always had fair skin may develop acne during pregnancy.
Some tips for treating acne:
- Wash your face twice a day with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser and warm water.
- If you have oily hair, shampoo daily and try to keep your hair away from your face.
- Avoid picking or squeezing acne sores to lessen any scarring.
- Choose oil-free cosmetics.
- Prescription treatment may be required. Consult your doctor or consult a dermatologist to see what is safe. Many topical acne treatments are safe during pregnancy.
Pregnant women should not take the oral acne medication Accutane or generic isotretinoin as it can cause serious fetal harm. Topical versions with Retin A should also not be used during pregnancy, according to Dr. Desmond.
Before or after pregnancy, birth control pills can cause acne.
The most important ingredient to avoid in skin care during pregnancy are retinoids. This family of drugs, often found in anti-aging creams or serums, is considered “category X”. This means that they are well known to cause birth defects. There are many over-the-counter retinoids and even these should be avoided during pregnancy.
Stretch marks are indented ridges that often appear on the abdomen, breasts, hips, buttocks, and thighs. They are caused by stretching of the skin and are common during the second and third trimesters.
Stretch marks are more likely to occur with rapid weight gain, with twin pregnancies, or in women who are already obese. These often occur later in pregnancy as the fetus develops and grows. Stretch marks are a form of rapidly expanding scar tissue in the skin.
Generally, these are unsightly scars. Using a heavy moisturizer can help keep your skin soft, and aggressively moisturizing the abdomen can help offset the risk of stretch marks.
Coconut Oil or Organic Oil, Palmers Cocoa Butter, and Vitamin E Oil can moisturize the skin to minimize the risk of developing stretch marks.
Most stretch marks fade after the baby is born, but they may never disappear completely.
“If you develop a rash near the stretch marks, you may want to see a dermatologist,” Dr. Desmond noted. “It’s called PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy). It is a rash that begins in the striae or stretch marks in the third trimester and is more common in twin pregnancies. It’s horribly irritating. It can be so intrusive that early delivery may even be recommended.
While there may be some changes that many pregnant women don’t like, there’s the good looks that many rave about.
The healthy glow may not be physiological, but it could be due to increased blood volume during pregnancy. Increased circulation can make skin healthier and brighter. Hormones can make sebum production more prominent – and skin can glow or sparkle. Also, some skin conditions, such as rosacea, acne, or eczema, may disappear during pregnancy.
When to See a Dermatologist for a Skin Condition When You’re Pregnant
When you are pregnant, there are really two patients: mother and baby. The needs of the baby may be more relevant.
Some skin changes are considered pathological or abnormal and could affect the health of the mother or the baby. Some rashes can affect the health of the mother and, more concerning, some rashes can impact the health of the baby.
It’s important to be seen by a board-certified dermatologist if you have any of these conditions:
- Blisters around the navel. This can have an impact on the morbidity or mortality of the baby.
- A rash with a large oval or circular patch on the chest, back, or torso – Pityriasis rosea. Usually it starts out as a large patch, then after 3-7 days smaller versions develop into a Christmas tree pattern. It can be linked to a viral infection. It is usually asymptomatic.
- Severe itching of the palms of the hands or soles of the feet may be due to cholestasis of pregnancy – liver disease where bile acids in the liver are blocked. It causes severe itching on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet and can spread to the trunk. It occurs in the third trimester but disappears after delivery. This can lead to premature birth or other problems.
For more information, visit https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/dermatology/conditions/ or find a doctor in the Intermontagne region at https://intermountainhealthcare.org/services/dermatology/.
About Intermountain Healthcare
Based in Utah with sites in seven states and additional operations in the western United States, Intermountain Healthcare is a not-for-profit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,800 employed physicians and providers. of advanced practice, a division of health plans with more than one million members called Select Health, and other health services. By helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare using evidence-based best practices to provide consistently high quality results at sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Health Care.