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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Common Skin Changes During Pregnancy

With all the changes taking place inside your body as a result of your pregnancy, it should come as no surprise that you might see some changes on the outside, too (other than the baby bump!). While many people think that pregnancy only produces negative side effects for the skin and body, knowing what to expect and how to care for your skin can help make the next nine months just a little less stressful. And don’t worry. It’s not all bad!

What kind of changes can occur?
  • Stretch marks (striae) – This is a form of scarring that occurs when the dermis is stretched beyond its limit or during drastic hormonal changes. They appear on the skin as pink, purple or red streaks and normally fade over time, resulting in shiny white or gray lines. For more information on stretch marks and preventing them, check out our blog post on the subject here.
  • Skin darkening (pregnancy mask) – It is common for pregnant women (especially women with darker complexions) to develop blotchy areas of darkened skin. These patches may be caused by hormonal changes that stimulate a temporary increase in your production of melanin, the substance that gives color to your skin, hair and eyes. New patches may appear and current spots may worsen with sun exposure.
    • Fixes: Protect your skin by using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day and avoid sun exposure as much as possible during pregnancy. Wash your face twice daily using gentle oil-free and soap-free cleansers. For more information on facial cleansers, read our blog post here.
  • Pregnancy glow – This isn’t just an old wives’ tale. The increased volume of blood causes the cheeks to take on an attractive blush. Increased secretions of the oil glands give the skin a waxy sheen, which also make your skin appear to glow.
  • Acne breakouts – More than half of pregnant women experience problems with acne during their pregnancy. An increased level of hormones and retention of fluids that can contain toxins are often the root cause of the breakouts. Always tell your dermatologist if you’re expecting, as some acne drugs should not be used during pregnancy.
    • Fixes: Like with other problems, washing your face gently twice a day with oil-free and soap-free cleansers will reduce existing breakouts and help prevent more from occurring. Avoid using harsh chemicals, vigorous scrubbing or cleansing too often as this can remove natural oils from your skin, making it produce excess oil to compensate.
  • Varicose and spider veins – During pregnancy, the extra blood in your body and growing uterus can cause your veins to expand. Varicose veins are often blue, red or flesh-toned in color, usually appearing on the thighs, backs of calves, buttocks or on the inside the legs. Varicose veins may look like clusters of veins surrounded by thin red capillaries, known as spider veins. Spider veins are similar, but appear smaller and closer to the surface of the skin.
    • Fixes: Exercise regularly and try to maintain your recommended weight to ensure healthy blood flow. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time. While sitting, elevate your feet when possible and don’t cross your legs or ankles.
  • Itchy abdomen – As your bump grows, the expanding skin becomes moisture-deprived, leaving it uncomfortably itchy.
    • Fixes: Don’t scratch as this will only cause further skin irritation. Cocoa butter, lotion or even petroleum jelly will help provide your skin with the necessary moisture it needs as your skin expands. Too many baths and overheated water can also strip your skin of moisture, and will often make skin itchier. Stick to short showers in warm water. Taking an oatmeal or baking soda bath can help moisturize skin while easing itching.
  • Linea nigra – This is a dark line running from your belly button to pubic bone. It was there prior to your pregnancy, but you probably didn’t notice it because it was the same color as your skin. The same increase of melanin that is responsible for darkened skin spots causes this line on your belly. This will more than likely fade to its normal color after delivery.
  • Red palms and soles – This condition is caused by an increase in estrogen and blood volume, but will disappear after you give birth.
  • Eczema – Eczema, or dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition or rash that is hereditary and can be triggered by exposure to environmental allergens, chemicals, detergents, yeast and metals. Pregnancy tends to either make you experience more flare-ups or go into remission, but there’s no way to tell which will happen to you.
    • Fixes: Moisturize your skin gently and frequently. Again, sticking to short showers in warm water (instead of long, hot baths) will help your skin retain its moisture. 
  • Heat rash and chafing – This is caused by hormones, sweating and friction from skin rubbing against itself or clothing. Symptoms are usually found under the breasts or on thighs.
    • Fixes: To combat a heat rash, avoid further friction from scrubbing the skin with loofahs or sponges. You may also try applying cornstarch to your skin after you shower. Wear loose-fitting, natural fiber clothes. Breathable fabric like cotton is best. Tight clothing may cause chafing, heat rash or itchy skin.
  • PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy) – The PUPPP rash is relatively uncommon, found in just one of every 150 pregnancies. It is usually found on the abdomen, but can spread to the thighs. While PUPPP is annoying, it is benign and poses no threat to your baby.
    • Fixes: As previously stated, oatmeal or baking soda baths may help sooth itchiness. Applying a cold compress may also help relieve itching.
  • Sensitive skin – Surging hormones make skin more sensitive to substances and materials that might not normally affect you. These may include sunlight, heat, detergents, chlorine and even certain foods. Your stretching belly is usually the most sensitive spot, but you may also experience sensitivity on your hips, thighs and buttocks.
  • Changing keratin levels – Keratin is a structural component of your skin, hair and nails. During pregnancy, keratin levels are affected, but everyone experiences these changing levels differently. Some women’s hair and nails may become shiny and luxurious, while others may get greasy and oily. No matter which change you experience, it will most likely return to normal after giving birth.

General skin care during pregnancy
  • Stay hydrated by drinking 64 ounces of water each day to make skin appear smoother and brighter.
  • Maintain a healthy diet. For more information on foods that promote skin health, read our blog post here.
  • For extremely itchy and irritated patches of skin (from PUPPP, heat rash or eczema), a dab of calamine lotion should temporarily ease itching.
  • Consult your doctor or dermatologist before taking any skin-related medications or steroids, or applying anti-itch creams.

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