You’ve probably heard about the pregnancy glow — that naturally dewy, perfectly flushed face that’s supposed to accompany a growing bump. And while yes, it is a real thing (thank you hormones and extra blood flow), it’s not a guarantee for everyone. More than that, it’s also not the only change to skin that can occur.
Ashley Jenkins, MD, a dermatologist at MU Health Care, discussed some common symptoms she sees among patients and ways to treat them. Expecting a new arrival herself, she understands what it’s like to deal with all of the changes, some more glamourous than others, that pregnancy brings and hopes to put your mind at ease.
Many women experience a dark line, known as linea nigra, that shows up on their stomach sometime during the first or second trimester. We actually all have the line, but usually don’t notice because it remains colorless until pregnancy. The reason: extra hormones. They can cause your body to produce a larger number of melanin, the compound responsible for the color of your skin’s appearance. It can be a bit strange to see it, but don’t worry too much. The darkened line typically goes away a few months after delivery.
The extra melanin can also cause brown patches to appear on your cheeks, forehead, nose and chin. While it may throw a wrench in your makeup routine, melasma is simply a cosmetic issue and poses no health risk. The patches usually fade after delivery, but may take up to a year to fully go away. If it doesn’t disappear, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a cream to help. Since UV rays can trigger melasma, make sure you’re always wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+ for added protection.
As you make your way through the later stages of your pregnancy, you may start to notice stretch marks on your belly, thighs and even your breasts. The actual color of the mark depends on the color of your skin, but they can appear anywhere from red, purple, blue black or brown. A family history of stretch marks can make you more likely to experience them yourself, but they can also appear due to rapid weight gain and stretching of skin (not always easy to avoid when building a human). You can moisturize affected areas daily throughout your pregnancy as well as after to minimize stretch marks and help maintain your skin’s elasticity.
As if a growing belly wasn’t uncomfortable enough in the third trimester, you can add itchy skin to the mix. Something called the PUPPP rash, or more formally the pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy rash, can appear in the stretch marks of the stomach. It can also spread to other areas of the body such as the legs, breasts and thighs. Although a bit cruel in nature, the key to getting through the itchy PUPPP rash is not scratching. Oatmeal baths and topical treatments can provide temporary relief but nothing makes it go away except giving birth, and even then, it can still take a few weeks to disappear.
Another common itchy skin condition is eczema; however, this one tends to be hereditary. Eczema is characterized by dry, itchy, red and sore skin. In severe cases it can leak fluid. To tame symptoms, keep your skin moisturized at all times by applying moisturizer immediately after your shower and avoiding harsh soaps and cleaners. Loose clothing can also help. Eczema may go away after you give birth, but in some cases, it will linger.
Thought you were done with acne is high school? Surprise! The fluctuation of hormones during pregnancy can leave your skin more blemished than usual, bringing you back to those teenage glory days. On the flip side, some women who had bad acne prior to pregnancy actually noticed improvements to their skin during pregnancy. It’s pretty much a toss-up whether your hormones will be kind to your skin, and it varies with each pregnancy. One important note is that you can’t use Accutane, bleaching creams or other retinoids during pregnancy, but it’s okay to use products with salicylic acid for treatment. If you wear makeup to cover up the acne, there aren’t many restrictions, but you should choose fragrance-free, gentle products when possible.
No matter which conditions you experience, people will probably still tell you that you’re glowing. They aren’t lying. Even if it’s not that dewy look you expected, there’s always the glow of your inner-self shining with anticipation and joy for the new arrival to your family. Do your best to take care of yourself and seek help from your doctor or OB/GYN if any of these symptoms become too difficult to manage.
Next Steps and Useful Resources
- Read more about the conditions we treat on our Dermatology page. If you have a skin condition that needs attention, check with your doctor to see if a dermatologist can help.