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What are the common skin changes during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, women notice changes in their skin, hair and nails. These commonly include:

  • Melasma (brown patches on parts of the face)
  • Dark spots on breasts and inner thighs
  • Stretch marks
  • Acne
  • Varicose veins
  • Spider veins
  • Linea nigra (dark line from navel to pubic region)
  • Hair growth changes
  • Nail growth changes

Why do these changes occur during pregnancy?

Altered hormone levels during pregnancy may be responsible for some of these changes. Dark spots and melasma could be due to an increase in melanin, a natural pigment, during pregnancy. It is unclear why other changes take place.

Why do stretch marks occur during pregnancy?

Stretch marks are reddish lines that occur on the abdomen, buttocks, breasts and thighs as your belly grows and your skin stretches during pregnancy. They are usually seen by the end of the third trimester. They usually fade after pregnancy but do not completely go away. A moisturizer may be recommended to soften the skin but it does not really prevent or lessen stretch marks.

Can acne worsen during pregnancy?

Most women experience worsening acne during pregnancy. Women with clear skin can also develop some acne while pregnant.

How is acne treated during pregnancy?

To treat your acne during pregnancy you should:

  • Wash your face twice daily with lukewarm water and a mild cleanser.
  • Avoid squeezing or picking acne lesions which can cause scarring.
  • Shampoo everyday if you have oily hair and keep your hair away from your face.
  • Use cosmetics that are oil-free.

What acne medications are safe during pregnancy?

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter products that contain the following ingredients which are safe during pregnancy:

  • Topical salicylic acid
  • Topical benzoyl peroxide
  • Azelaic acid
  • Glycolic acid

Are prescription medications for acne safe during pregnancy?

Prescription medications such as oral tetracyclines, isotretinoin, topical retinoids and hormonal therapy are not safe for use during pregnancy as they can cause birth defects.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins are tiny red veins that become visible on the face, arms, legs and neck during pregnancy, possibly due to hormonal changes and increased blood supply. Spider veins usually fade after pregnancy.

Why do varicose veins develop or worsen during pregnancy?

The pressure of the growing uterus can hinder blood return from the legs causing leg veins to become swollen, blue and sore. These are called varicose veins and may also develop on the vulva, vagina and rectum. Rectal varicose veins are called haemorrhoids. Most varicose veins go away after pregnancy.

How can I avoid varicose veins?

You may not be able to stop varicose veins from developing but you can ease soreness and swelling and prevent them from getting worse. The following measures are recommended:

  • Make sure you move around from time to time and do not remain seated for long periods.
  • Raise your legs up on a footstool or couch as often as you can.
  • Do not keep your legs crossed for long periods.
  • Eat high fibre foods and drink plenty of fluids to avoid constipation which can worsen varicose veins.
  • Wear compression stockings.

What changes in the hair do women experience with pregnancy?

Hair usually grows faster and thicker during pregnancy. It may sometimes grow in unusual places such as on the face, chest, arms and abdomen. This usually returns to normal six months after pregnancy. Three months after childbirth, women usually notice some hair loss due to returning hormone levels and hair growth and fall cycles.

How does pregnancy affect your nails?

Some women experience faster nail growth while others complain of weak nails that split or break easily. These too resolve after pregnancy.

What are some of the other skin conditions that can occur during pregnancy?

Other skin conditions that are not so common include:

  • Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques (red bumps and hives)
  • Prurigo (Tiny itchy bumps on the skin that increase in number)
  • Pemphigoid gestations (blisters on the abdomen)
  • Intrahepatic cholestasis (A liver condition with itching on the palms and soles but no rash)
The University of Western AustraliaST John of God Health CareGlengarry Private Hospital