While you're busy building the miracle of life inside your body, you will likely deal with some side effects of pregnancy: morning sickness, gas, heartburn, increased urination. As decidedly unpleasant as these symptoms are, many women know to expect them. But what surprises many women are the number of ways their skin changes—and I'm not just talking about that mama-to-be glow.
As a dermatologist and a mom, I get a lot of questions about how pregnancy affects a woman's skin and hair, and about what remedies and treatments are effective and safe.
Here are 6 ways your skin might change while you're rocking that baby bump:
1. You might break out.
The deal: Some women are blessed with flawless, glowing skin during pregnancy, but others notice that they have more breakouts than they did as teenagers.
Unfortunately, the same androgenic hormones that are supporting the miracle of life lead to this acne. This flare tends to occur during the first trimester, when hormones surge the most, and is less common later in pregnancy. So if you don't develop acne during the first trimester, it may never become an issue. You may be likelier to develop pregnancy-related acne if you notice acne flares during your period.
Try this: Although many prescription and OTC acne medications are not safe to use during pregnancy, there are some pregnancy-safe ingredients, such as lactic acid, tea tree oil and sulfur. I often recommend the Belli line of products for my pregnant acne patients. If the OTC options aren't cutting it, there are a couple of prescription medications that are pregnancy category B and safe to use during pregnancy. Remember, retinoids and salicylic acid are no-no's during pregnancy. It's always best to discuss you pregnancy skin care routine with your dermatologist, especially if you are planning to use any acne medications.
2. You'll enjoy thicker, fuller hair (but be prepared for some to fall out later).
The deal: Your changing hormones can also affect you hair. Many women notice thicker, fuller hair on their heads during pregnancy. The increase in hormones, especially estrogen, causes your hair to remain in the growing phase so that it grows more and sheds less.
While you're admiring your luscious lucks, you might notice that you also happen to have more body hair, which is due to the increase in androgenic hormones. You can safely wax, tweeze or shave.
It's best to avoid chemicals (bleaches and depilatories) as they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and the effects on the growing fetus are unknown. I don't recommend laser or electrolysis, because the hormones that can cause excess pigment during pregnancy increase the risk of pigmentary issues after these type of cosmetic procedures. Although it is widely known that most women have thicker hair during pregnancy, some experience increased shedding or hair loss. This is likely related to hormones as well, but it's best to discuss it with your doctor because there are other potential causes, such as poor nutrition, medications and some diseases, like thyroid disease.
3. You can preempt those dark patches with sunscreen.
The deal: During pregnancy, many women notice new dark patches or existing brown spots, moles or scars getting darker.
The hyperpigmentation is due to an increase in estrogen levels that in turn stimulates an increase in melanin, or skin pigment. Sun exposure can further darken the pigment. One of the first changes often noticed is darkening of the skin around the nipples (areolae). The underarm and genital skin can also darken. The pigmented line running down the belly from the belly button is known as linea nigra. The most cosmetically concerning pigmentary issue associated with pregnancy is melasma, also known as chloasma or “mask of pregnancy." Up to 70% of women develop this condition during pregnancy. It appears as brown blotchy patches most commonly on the cheeks, forehead and upper lip, but can also affect the chin and nose. Often the increased pigment fades a few months after delivery, but in some women it does not.
Try this: Thankfully, there are treatment options available, but I recommend pursuing these after pregnancy. The most important thing you can do during the pregnancy is use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that contains physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
4. Stretch marks are a normal part of pregnancy.
The deal: Stretch marks, or striae, are another skin issue that arises during pregnancy. They are caused by a combination of physical stretching and hormonal changes on the skin's elasticity that occur during pregnancy. Up to 90% of women develop them by the third trimester, most often on the abdomen and breasts, but also on the thighs, buttocks and arms. Initially they appear as pinkish-purple lines or bands, and although they may never disappear they do tend to fade and become less noticeable with time.
Try this: If you are bothered by the appearance of stretch marks, there are laser treatments available that can help improve their appearance after baby is born.
5. You'll notice some blood vessel changes.
The deal: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause blood vessels to dilate, proliferate and become congested, leading to a number of changes. Many women notice spider veins not just on the legs but also on the face, neck and arms. Redness of the palms, hemorrhoids, vulvar varicosities, swelling and facial flushing are just a few of the other changes.
Try this: Many of these vascular changes regress postpartum, so often no treatment is required.
6. Some women experience rashes + sensitive skin.
The deal: While some moms-to-be are dealing with acne, others are battling dry, sensitive skin or rashes. Oftentimes dry, sensitive skin can be managed at home with gentle skin care.
Try this: If you have a rash, it's best to get it checked out since there are specific rashes that can occur during pregnancy that may even put the baby at risk.
The miracle of life brings with it a number of skin changes. Thankfully, most are just nuisances and not serious, but be sure to bring up any skin concerns or questions you have about treatments with your doctor, especially if you're not sure about them. Whatever happens, just know: New motherhood looks gorgeous on you!