7 Ways Your Skin Changes During Pregnancy

Have you noticed any changes to your skin during your pregnancy? I bet you are wondering if those changes are normal. Or maybe you are a newly-minted mama-to-be and are curious to know what common skin changes may be waiting for you up ahead.

I’m sure you have plenty of questions as your bundle of joy grows, bringing along with them a lot of changes to your body.

We will take a closer look at the seven most common skin changes you may experience during pregnancy to find out how to keep your skin healthy and happy as your baby grows.

We hope this article will give you a better idea of what to expect and what you can do to minimize discomfort and fear during this special time in your life.

Table of Contents

    1. Stretch Marks

    You have probably heard of stretch marks already. They are one of the most common skin changes women experience during pregnancy.

    During my first pregnancy, I made it to my 40-week due date with nary a stretch mark. I thought I was getting away scot-free! Flash forward 11 painfully overdue days later, and my belly had stretched well beyond its capacity, resulting in a number of painful-looking red stretch marks across my rounded abdomen!

    Stretch marks can happen to anyone! However, have you ever looked into the science behind why and how they form?

    The science behind stretch marks is simple. Think of a rubber band — it stretches and shrinks as you tug and pull on it. During pregnancy, your skin experiences something similar, with rapid stretching and pulling as your belly grows bigger.

    According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the collagen and elastin which support your skin ruptures during the stretching process (1). A scar then forms as the skin heals. This scar is what we call a stretch mark.

    What They Look Like

    At first, stretch marks can appear dark purple or red. Eventually, most women find the color fades away, leaving a white depression on the skin. Mine faded over time, leaving colorless “tiger stripes” that I consider to be a badge of honor and wear proudly!

    Can I Prevent Stretch Marks?

    The best way to minimize your chance of getting stretch marks is to support your skin’s elasticity.

    You can do this by keeping your skin hydrated and moisturized. Shea body butter creams enriched with vitamins, such as Burt’s Bees Belly Butter, are the most popular and are often specifically formulated with your growing belly in mind.

    It is also important to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy. Rapid weight gain and weight loss stretches and shrinks the skin. Your belly is already expanding.

    Talk to your doctor about what is an ideal and healthy weight for you during your pregnancy.

    Of course, while all of the above may help, the number one determining factor when it comes to getting stretch marks is genetics (2). nfortunately, if your mother or grandmother got them, you may be predisposed to get them!

    Unpreventable

    No skin care regimen or product can prevent stretch marks. If stretch marks are already appearing on your body, don’t stress: nearly 90 percent of women get a form of stretch marks during their pregnancy (3).

    How Do I Treat Stretch Marks?

    Many women not only dislike the appearance of stretch marks but experience itchiness as well.

    Here are two main treatments for stretch marks during pregnancy:

    1. Use a moisturizing cream with hyaluronic acid or tretinoin. Studies show both are effective in reducing the appearance of stretch marks (4).
    2. If your stretch marks become raised, red, and itchy, you may have pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy also known as PUPPPS (5). They most often appear during your third trimester. Take cool baths and wear loose clothing for at-home relief. If this doesn’t help, try bathing with Epsom Salts or oatmeal. If the rash persists, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream.

    After pregnancy, you can also pay a visit to your dermatologist. Laser treatments and chemical peels are sometimes used to reduce the visibility of stretch marks. However, despite what many products and services claim, stretch marks are permanent.

    2. Linea Nigra

    Linea nigra refers to the dark line that appears vertically across your belly during pregnancy and is also known as “the pregnancy line.” In general, it stretches from your pelvic area to your belly-button. For some women, the linea nigra may extend up to the rib cage.

    While no clear cause for linea nigra exists, it is likely connected to the extra estrogen in your body during pregnancy, which can stimulate skin-darkening hormones (6).

    In fact, the linea nigra often exists before pregnancy as the linea alba, a nearly imperceptible white line that simply darkens as more melatonin is produced during pregnancy.

    Does Linea Nigra Go Away?

    For most women, linea nigra goes away within three months of giving birth. If you find yourself bothered by the sight of it, make sure you avoid getting sun on your belly. Getting any sort of tan can darken the linea nigra further.

    Does Linea Nigra Predict Baby’s Gender?

    An old wives’ tale claims the linea nigra can predict your baby’s gender (7).

    According to this old tale, if you have a linea nigra that extends from your belly button to your pubic bone, you’re having a girl. If the line goes above your belly button toward your rib cage, you’re having a boy.

    There is no scientific evidence to support this claim, but it is fun to think about nonetheless!

    3. Melasma

    Is your skin becoming noticeably darker during pregnancy, especially on your face? You may be experiencing melasma, or “the mask of pregnancy.” It is also known as chloasma.

    Between 50 to 70 percent of women experience melasma during pregnancy. It most often manifests itself as darkened patches of skin around your lips and on your cheeks and forehead (8).

    Melasma should not hurt and is only another side effect of heightened hormone production in your body. If a darkened bit of skin starts to burn, itch, or peel, it may not be melasma and you should talk with your doctor.

    Can I Get Rid of Melasma?

    The best way to get rid of and prevent melasma is to limit your exposure to the sun and apply sunscreen daily. You will also want to use gentle skincare products and makeup.

    Melasma generally resolves itself within the first few months after giving birth. However, a topical bleaching cream called hydroquinone is commonly used to aid the process.

    4. Dry Skin

    During your first trimester, you may experience dry skin. I know I was constantly slathering my skin with lotion to combat the dryness and itchiness my stretching skin was experiencing during pregnancy.

    What causes dry skin during pregnancy? There are two main reasons (9):

    1. Your body is adjusting to all of the new hormones being produced at a high rate. For some women, the skin produces less oil which leads to dry, itchy skin.
    2. Your body is sending lots of nutrients to your growing baby. The water that benefited you and kept your skin soft will also now be directed away from you and toward your little one.

    If your dry skin seems extreme or causes you pain, visit your doctor for guidance and professional treatment.

    Treating Dry Skin During Pregnancy

    Outside of topical moisturizers and lotions, the best way to treat dry skin during pregnancy is by drinking lots of water. Water will not only ensure your skin stays hydrated, but it can also help you with a number of other pregnancy woes.

    Drinking eight to twelve glasses of water a day can help prevent and alleviate many symptoms including (10):

    We suggest getting a fun water bottle like this one. It not only helps you keep track of your water intake, but it also helps you track your pregnancy right on the bottle.

    Pro Tip

    During the summer, make sure to drink a few extra glasses of water. Dehydration can be dangerous for both you and your baby. During your final trimester, dehydration can even cause preterm labor.

    5. Acne

    One in two women will experience acne during their pregnancy (11). As with most of the skin changes on this list, hormones are once again the culprit. Whereas dry skin appears due to a decrease in skin oil production, pregnancy acne is caused by an overproduction of oil.

    Are Acne Treatments Safe During Pregnancy?

    Unfortunately, many of the common treatments for acne are not recommended for pregnant women.

    You should avoid any acne medications, washes, or creams that contain prescription-strength medicine.

    Some experts also suggest avoiding over-the-counter products with salicylic acid, but if you have used it during pregnancy- don’t panic. Studies show that the absorption is limited and it is unlikely to cause your baby harm (12). However, it’s best to avoid it, unless you are using it under the recommendations of a healthcare provider who knows that you are pregnant.
    Headshot of Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

    Editor's Note:

    Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

    How to Treat Pregnancy Acne Safely

    Hygiene is one of the best ways to treat pregnancy acne. Here are a couple of basic tips:

    • Wash your skin twice a day with a gentle cleanser.
    • Dry your face by patting the skin, not rubbing.
    • Avoid overwashing your face — it may actually increase oil production.
    • Launder your pillow cases frequently.
    • Try not to touch your face.
    • Do not pop your pimples.

    You should see your pregnancy acne clear up in the months after you’ve given birth. If the acne persists, visit your local dermatologist.

    6. Varicose Veins

    Your veins pump nutrient-rich blood to your heart. Sometimes, veins become weak or damaged and blood begins to pool inside, causing them to swell. These engorged veins are known as varicose veins.

    Varicose veins can be seen from beneath the skin and often look dark blue or purple in color. They most often appear in the legs.

    Varicose veins can occur during pregnancy when the increased pressure from the uterus restricts blood flow to the legs. The blood pools and the veins swell, often causing pain, itching, and cramping.

    How Do I Treat Varicose Veins?

    A common treatment for varicose veins is compression stockings. They are a special type of hosiery or sock that aims to improve your blood circulation.

    There are many different styles of compression stockings. Some cover the feet, some only go up to the knee, and others are simply tubes that wrap around the calves. Your OB provider can provide insights on what type of compression stocking will work best for you.

    Make sure to stay off your feet and elevate your legs regularly if you are experiencing varicose veins. When you are on your feet, blood pools more easily in your limbs. As your belly grows larger, it becomes harder and harder for the blood to circulate back up to your heart.

    7. Pregnancy Glow

    At first, it may seem like all of the skin changes to your body are uncomfortable or unsightly. Take heart! Many women experience “pregnancy glow” and it is just as good as it sounds.

    Pregnancy glow causes your face to become plump, firm, and bright. According to the American Pregnancy Association, this appreciated phenomenon occurs due to an increase in blood flow (13). As the blood circulates, your skin takes on a more radiant appearance.

    Generally, pregnancy glow arrives during your second trimester.

    A Note on Pregnancy Skin Regimens

    Most women are well-informed about skin care and know a lot about how to wash their skin, which products to use, and about at-home remedies for skin problems.

    However, when you become pregnant, a whole host of factors need to be taken into account. Before you introduce any new products or make changes to your skin care regimen, check with your healthcare provider. They can give you insights on how to manage all of your skin changes during pregnancy.

    This fun video goes over some basics of choosing safe skin care products:

    Makeup Tips for Pregnant Ladies

    You are doing something wonderful by carrying your baby. As your body changes and skin problems occur during pregnancy, it can be easy to become discouraged. This is especially true when many of these skin changes are out of your control and simply need to be waited out.

    No woman should feel pressured to doll herself up during pregnancy, but if you’ve got the energy and want to use makeup to boost your confidence, here are a few tips from a mom who knows:


    Skin Changes & Pregnancy

    As a Certified Nurse-Midwife, I see pregnant women all the time who find it difficult to feel beautiful when pregnant. The skin changes, feeling constipated and have a bowling ball pressing on their bladder cast doubt on what they think about themselves. It is critical to work to embrace the new you! You are a strong, beautiful woman who is growing your sweet baby and these changes are normal. Hold space for your emotions during this tumultuous time, but understand that you and your body are amazing.
    Headshot of Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

    Editor's Note:

    Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM

    We understand how frustrating it can be to see your skin change so much during pregnancy. We hope this article provides you with some answers and ideas on how to get through it. If you found this article helpful, we hope you will share it with other moms who could use the information.

    What skin changes did you experience during pregnancy? We want to know! Share your ideas and tips in the comments below.

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