9 pregnancy skin changes

Common pregnancy skin conditions and how you can tackle them, from stretchmarks and colour changes, to acne and itchy skin

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When you’re pregnant, your skin can go through some major changes. Your fluctuating hormone levels can affect the balance of oil and sweat production by skin glands, and your rapid growth can also stretch skin.

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Acne

If you had acne before pregnancy then you might find that it clears up when your pregnant as your hormonal balance changes. However, you might also find that it gets worse. Even if you didn’t have acne before you were pregnant, it may appear.

If you get acne in pregnancy

  • Try to avoid all oral acne medications in pregnancy, due to the risk of them affecting your unborn baby.
  • If the acne is affecting your quality of life, some topical treatments may be safe to use, but consult your doctor before trying anything.
  • Check you’re getting a well-balanced diet with plenty of water.
  • Don’t over-cleanse with frequent washing and harsh cleansers, such as those containing alcohol. This just strips your skin of its natural oils and leads to more oil production.
  • Only use very gentle cleansers and don’t wash your face more than two or three times a day.

Dry skin

If the skin’s glands don’t produce enough oils to keep the stretching skin moisturised, you may have uncomfortably dry skin.

To ease dry skin

  • Moisturise regularly.
  • Avoid drying products like harsh cleansers and non-moisturising bath and shower gels.
  • Try bath oil, rather than foaming bath products, to seal in, rather than lose, moisture in the skin.
  • Make sure you’re drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. Caffeinated drinks, like coffee, tea and cola, don’t count towards this total!

“I have never had a major problem with dry skin, but when I got pregnant, after about 12 weeks I got patches of really dry skin on my arms,” says Sandy, 36, mum to Finn, 2.

“I wasn’t sure about what lotions would be safe in pregnancy so I just used extra virgin olive oil on those patches after I’d had a bath. I also made sure that we slept with the windows open at night because I really noticed that my skin got especially dry once the radiators were on. Warm and snuggled in bed I was fine, while the air was just that bit fresher and less dry.”

Itchy skin

Itchy skin can go hand-in-hand with dry skin. However, itching can also occur without dryness and usually starts on the tummy, often spreading across the body. This is a very common pregnancy complaint.

When there’s no rash with the itching there’s not usually any reason to worry, but do mention it to your doctor just in case. The itching could be a symptom of a rare pregnancy-related liver condition called obstetric cholestasis that, when untreated, can lead to premature birth and in rare cases stillbirth.

To ease itchy skin

  • Moisturise regularly.
  • Avoid drying products like harsh cleansers and non-moisturising bath and shower gels.
  • Try bath oil, rather than foaming bath products, to seal in moisture.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Drinks with caffeine in them, like coffee, tea and cola, don’t count.
  • Put cold flannels over your bump – this will help soothe the itching.
  • Use a non-scented soap to wash your skin and a mild moisturising lotion to soften it to avoid irritants.
  • Use a mild, fragrance-free laundry detergent and rinse your clothes twice to make sure you’re bump isn’t being further irritated.

Rashes

Rashes, not caused by an underlying skin condition, are particularly common in the final trimester of pregnancy and usually clear up within a few weeks of birth.

Some rashes can be due to infections such as Rubella, Toxoplasmosis and Herpes. You should let your doctor know about any rashes or itching in pregnancy for a proper diagnosis.

Most rashes don’t pose any risk to you or your baby. These rashes are often reactions caused by an allergy or auto-immune response to the pregnancy.

Common rashes

  • Priuritic urticarial papules of pregnancy (PUPP)
  • Prurigo of pregnancy
  • Papular dermatitis of pregnancy

If your rash and itching poses no danger to you or your baby, your doctor will prescribe a treatment that’s safe to use in pregnancy.

To ease your rash

  • Keeping the affected skin well moisturised.
  • Calendula cream or calamine lotion can ease any itchiness.
  • If gentle approaches don’t work and the itchiness is severe, your doctor may prescribe a skin cream containing cortisone.

Sensitive skin

Stretching and thinning of the skin in pregnancy can make it more sensitive than usual.

Existing skin conditions, like dermatitis or eczema, may worsen. You may find you’re suddenly sensitive to certain household products or perfumes.

If it’s not obvious what’s causing the irritation, consider what skin irritants you use around the house. Harsh chemicals in cleaners, perfumes, air fresheners, washing powders may all be irritating your skin.

To ease your sensitive skin

  • Switch to non-biological washing powders.
  • Avoid products containing alcohol.
  • Put perfume on your clothes rather than your skin.
  • Use natural and gentle cleaning products.
  • Use cleaning gloves.
  • If non-natural fibres in clothing, like polyester or elastane, seem to be the problem and make you want to scratch, opt for 100% cotton clothing and underwear.

Oily skin and spots

Skin can become very oily in pregnancy. If the glands become blocked with excessive oil production you may get more spots than usual.

Don’t over-cleanse with frequent washing and harsh cleansers, such as those containing alcohol if you have oily skin. This will just strip your skin of its natural oils and prompt even more oil production.

If you have spotty pregnancy skin don’t wash your face more than two or three times a day and only use very gentle cleansers.

Your diet can also impact on the oiliness of your skin, so make sure you have well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink lots of water.

Redness and spider veins

During pregnancy you have 50% more blood flowing around your body than usual. If you usually have spider veins or red patches on your skin then they’re likely to become more obvious than usual. After birth things should return to normal as blood flow decreases.

Temperature extremes, from very hot to very cold, affects blood flow to the surface of your skin, so it can help if you avoid them.

There’s not much you can do about redness, red marks and patches and spider veins except to drink plenty of water.

Chloasma /discolouration

During pregnancy your skin pigmentation can change. Your nipples may appear darker.

The linea nigra – a dark line running vertically down your stomach – may appear.

Increased production of melanin can result in dark patches of skin on the face and neck if you’re light-skinned, or lighter patches of skin for if you’ve darker skin.

Exposure to sunlight can make this pigmentation more obvious, so if it bothers you then make sure your daily sunscreen has a high factor of protection or avoid sun exposure.

Stretchmarks

When your skin stretches it may lose elasticity to the extent that you get thin red stretch marks. The skin of the abdomen, breasts, thighs and buttocks are most often affected.

If you do get the marks they will slowly fade after the birth and you’ll probably eventually be left with light silvery marks.

There’s no cream, oil or moisturiser guaranteed to prevent stretchmarks, or to get rid of them. However, keeping the affected areas well moisturised and massaging the area regularly will help to maintain moisture and elasticity, and could lessen the appearance of any stretchmarks that do appear.

Read more about looking after your skin during pregnancy:

Natural skincare for your pregnancy skin

Can stretchmarks be avoided?

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How your breasts change in pregnancy 

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