When you are pregnant, your body — including your skin — goes through a lot of big changes. Learn about some of the most common ways that your skin changes during pregnancy, so you’ll know what to expect when you're expecting.
Many pregnant women experience a “glow,” redness or pinkish hue to their skin. This is the result of increased hormones. The extra estrogen causes glands to produce more oil, which can lead to the appearance of a shine or glow. Your body also increases the production of blood by around 50% during pregnancy. The additional blood flow can make the vessels in your face appear more prominent, giving your skin a healthy glow. For similar reasons, some women also notice redness on their palms during pregnancy.
The Linea Nigra
Many pregnant women see a dark line vertical that extends from pubis to umbilicus, or the belly button to the pubic area. This typically appears during the second trimester. This is the Linea Nigra, which is usually there but gets darker and more pronounced as a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Typically, this line fades gradually on its own after giving birth.
Other Pigment Changes
The Linea Nigra isn’t the only example of hyperpigmentation that can occur during pregnancy. Some women experience darkening of the skin on the face and neck. This is called melasma or the “mask of pregnancy.” The condition usually improves on its own after pregnancy but can sometimes linger. Your dermatologist can diagnose and treat it if needed after you have finished breastfeeding.
Some women also experience darkened areolas during pregnancy. This is natural and occurs to help newborns find the nipple for breastfeeding.
Some moles can get bigger and darker during pregnancy. You may even develop new ones. Any new moles that appear during pregnancy are usually harmless and generally disappear after the baby is born.
“The darkening of moles during pregnancy is normal and does not increase the risk of melanoma in pre-existing lesions,” says Dr. Kathryn "Celeste" Durham of U.S. Dermatology Partners of Fort Worth - South Hulen.
Most women are all too familiar with stretch marks or “stria.” These lines and grooves in the skin can occur on any area that has stretched due to rapid weight gain or growth. During pregnancy, stretch marks are common on the breasts and abdomen. Collagen is a protein that makes your skin more elastic, and stretch marks appear when the skin doesn’t have enough collagen to keep up. Hormone surges during pregnancy can also weaken skin fibers and contribute to the formation of stretch marks.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent stretch marks, and once they appear, they are usually here to stay,” says Dr. Durham. “But laser treatments can improve the appearance of skin after the baby is born.”
Acne and Skin Tags
Acne can worsen or develop during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, as hormones continue to surge. Many acne medications — even over-the-counter treatments — are not safe to use during pregnancy. Before using any acne treatment, consult with your dermatologist.
Skin tags, which are small, soft, flesh-colored skin growths, are also more likely to occur during pregnancy. They are the result of hyperactive growth on the outer layer of skin and typically appear on skin surfaces that rub together such as the folds of the neck, armpits or beneath the breasts. These growths are harmless and can be easily and safely removed by your dermatologist after your baby is born.
Many different types of rashes can appear during pregnancy. Most of the time, they are harmless, but in some cases, they can be dangerous. To be safe, have your dermatologist check any rash that appears during your pregnancy.
Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PEP) or pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is one of the most common rashes, occuring in about one out of every 150 pregnancies. This extremely itchy, red rash causes bumps on your abdomen that can quickly spread to the rest of your body. It is most common among first-time mothers or those carrying multiples. It typically resolves on its own about a week after delivery.
“Though PUPPP is benign and there is no risk to the baby, you should always check with your dermatologist to rule out other, more dangerous rashes and skin conditions,” Dr. Durham says.
Varicose Veins and Hemorrhoids
Varicose veins and hemorrhoids — both forms of swollen, twisted veins — are a common malady for pregnant women, especially during the third trimester.
“Increased blood volume combined with the pressure of a growing fetus on the circulatory system, pushing on the large blood vessels in the pelvis, can cause veins to enlarge and swell,” says Dr. Durham. “Varicose veins are a result of the veins in the legs swelling, where hemorrhoids occur when rectal veins enlarge and swell.”
Standing or sitting in one position for long periods can make both varicose veins and hemorrhoids worse. One way to combat swelling in lower extremities is to wear compression socks daily.
Thicker Hair? Not Really.
On average, women shed around 100 hairs each day. Though it may seem like your hair is getting thicker and fuller when you are expecting, you are not actually growing more hair; you’re just shedding at a slower rate than you normally do.
At any given time, between 85% and 95% of hair is actively growing. Your remaining hair is in a "resting" stage. This resting hair eventually falls out and is replaced with new hair. During pregnancy, estrogen levels are higher, which prolongs the growth phase and reduces the amount of shedding.
After giving birth, hair growth and the shedding cycle typically returns to normal. In some cases, postpartum hair follicles switch into a shedding mode, also known as telogen effluvium, and you may lose extra hair. This typically resolves within five months, but the condition can last as long as 15 months after your baby's birth.
To learn more about the common skin conditions and changes associated with pregnancy, make an appointment today with one of our board-certified dermatologists.