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Your pregnancy skin: changes and discomforts

A combination of growth, stretching and hormonal imbalances can run wreak havoc with your skin during pregnancy

Posted: 28 October 2009
by Maria Muennich

Your body undergoes tremendous changes during pregnancy, and your skin is no exception. Most obviously, the skin over your abdomen stretches as your bump grows and you may have darkening of the skin in certain areas, like the nipples, around the nipples, and a dark line running down your tummy, the linea nigra. But there are many other changes, often uncomfortable ones, to which your skin is susceptible during pregnancy, not least those caused by changing levels of hormones affecting the balance of oil and sweat production by skin glands. You might be affected by all or none of these skin discomforts, but the good news is that in many cases there are some simple steps that you can take to help improve matters.

    Dry skin - If the skin's glands don't produce enough oils to keep the stretching skin moisturised then you may have uncomfortably dry skin. Moisturising regularly will help, as will avoiding drying products like harsh cleansers and non-moisturising bath and shower gels. If you do like a soak in the bath then try using some bath oil, rather than foaming bath, to seal in, rather than lose, moisture for the skin. You're probably also not drinking enough water, so check your intake is at least 8 glasses of water a day. And no, caffeinated drinks don't count towards the total!

    Itchy skin - If you have dry skin you'll probably have itchy skin as well. But itching can also occur without dryness and usually starts on the tummy, often spreading across the body. This is a very common pregnancy complaint and when there is no rash with itching there's not usually any reason to worry, but do make sure you mention it to your doctor just in case: the itching could be a symptom of a rare pregnancy-related liver condition called Cholestasis that, when untreated, can lead to premature birth and, very rarely, stillbirth. You may find that itching is eased by following the same guidelines as for dry skin, and massaging the affected areas may also help.

    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. Most rashes don't pose any risk to yourself or your baby, although they may be accompanied by uncomfortable itchiness. These rashes are often reactions caused by an allergy (see below) or auto-immune response to the pregnancy and common types are: Priuritic urticarial papules of pregnancy (PUPP), Prurigo of pregnancy and Papular dermatitis of pregnancy. However, rashes can also 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.

    In the cases of rashes and itching that pose no danger to you or your baby (the vast majority), your doctor will be able to prescribe a treatment that is safe to use in pregnancy. Keeping the affected skin well moisturised can help and many women find calendula cream or calamine lotion useful to calm itchiness. If gentle approaches don't work and the itchiness is severe then your doctor may prescribe a skin cream containing cortisone.

    Sensitive skin - Stretching and thinning of the skin in pregnancy can make it generally more sensitive than usual. Existing skin conditions, like dermatitis, eczema, may worsen, or you may find that you're newly sensitive to certain household products or perfumes. It may be clear what's causing irritation, or it may not. If it's not obvious then consider what skin irritants you use around the house that may not have caused a problem before. Harsh chemicals in cleaners, perfumes, air fresheners, washing powders and so on may all be irritating your skin. You can try switching to non-biological washing powders, avoiding products containing alcohol (put perfume on your clothes rather than your skin, for example) and using natural and gentle cleaning products and cleaning gloves for sensitive skin where possible.

    Non-natural fibres in clothing may also be a problem for some women - from almost the first moment of my first pregnancy I couldn't bear to wear any bra that wasn't 100% cotton, for example, the slightest hint of polyester or elastane was enough to send me into an un-ladylike scratching frenzy.

    Oily skin and spots - Just as skin can be very dry during pregnancy, so it can also become very oily. If the glands become blocked with excessive oil production then you may get more spots than usual. We know it's not exactly what you had in mind when you thought of pregnancy 'blooming', but it is quite common none-the-less.

    A common mistake in dealing with oily skin is to over-cleanse with frequent washing and harsh cleansers, such as those containing alcohol. This will just strip the skin of its natural oils and so prompt even more oil production - the opposite of what you want to achieve. If you have spotty pregnancy skin then don't wash your face more than two or three times a day and use only very gentle cleansers. There are plenty more tips for coping with oily pregnancy skin here.

    Your diet can also impact on the oiliness of your skin, so be sure to get a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink lots of water.

    Acne - If you suffered from acne before pregnancy then you might find that it clears up when your pregnant as your hormonal balance changes. Unfortunately though, you might also find that it remains or even grows worse, and for some women acne becomes a problem in pregnancy where it wasn't before.

    It's preferable to avoid all oral acne medications in pregnancy, due to the risk of them affecting the fetus. If the acne is having a marked impact on your quality of life, some topical treatments may be safe to use, but you should consult your doctor before trying anything. If you can, it's best to simply follow the guidelines for coping with oily skin, above, and check you're getting a well-balanced diet with plenty of water.

    Redness and spider veins - During pregnancy you have 50% more blood flowing around your body than usual. For many women this gives them the pink pregnancy bloom so often talked of, but if you usually have spider veins or red patches on your skin then they're likely to become more obvious than usual. Extremes of temperature will affect blood flow to the surface of the skin, so it will help to avoid them. Apart from that there's not much you can do about these marks and patches except to drink plenty of water. After birth things should return to normal as blood flow decreases.

    Chloasma / discolouration - The changes of pigmentation around the nipples and the linea nigra aren't the only pigmentation changes that can affect pregnant women. Increased production of melanin can result in dark patches of skin on the face and neck for light-skinned women and lighter patches of skin for dark-skinned women. Exposure to sunlight can make this pigmentation more obvious, so if it bothers you then make sure your daily sunscreen has a relatively 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 'stretchmarks'. 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. Stretchmarks are more likely if they run in the family, if you put on pregnancy weight very quickly, rather than gradually, or if you have quite dry skin.

    Contrary to the claims on assorted tubes and pots of anti-stretchmark potions, there's no concoction guaranteed to either prevent stretch marks, or to get rid of them where they appear - it's largely a matter of luck. However, keeping the affected areas well moisturised and massaging the area regularly will help to maintain moisture and elasticity, and so may lessen the impact of any stretchmarks that do appear.

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complaints, rash, discomforts, irritation, pregnancy, skin, allergy, reaction, itch

Discuss this story

Hi, i am just 6 weeks pregnant.. is it normal to eat a lot.. i feel dizzy if i don't.. do u think its beacuse I'm older (31 years)and do u think i can still have intercourse with my husband.. is it too early or will my baby be safe if i do.. which position you reckon won't affect my baby.

Posted: 28/06/2007 at 15:01

Sure eating a lot isnt a problem, just try to make sure what youre having is healthy. Probably not to do with your age, more likely that baby is taking lot of nutrition from you at the moment for early development so you need more 'fuel'.

Having intercourse wont damage the baby in any position, but you may find certain ones uncomfortable if you have sore boobs etc. Just experiment to find what works best for you both lol.

Em x 28+1

Posted: 28/06/2007 at 15:11

Hi Jenny, just wanted to say try all the positions you can now , because when you and your baby start to grow , it's not that easy to find a good one? well i think so im 33 weeks and they is only so much you can do.
Have fun x x x

Posted: 28/06/2007 at 17:03

hi im not sure whether im pregnant or not because i feel like i am. im 16 years old and havent had a period but i have a lil pouch on my belly and i feel really sick at night time and in the morning. I have done a test at 3 weeks but if i am pregnant then im 8 weeks gone. Also ive put on 2 pounds and eating quite alot. i havent been to the doctors yet i just wondered if anyone could offer me any advice?

Posted: 15/09/2007 at 18:33

hi, im 24 weeks pregnant and at high risk of premature labour. My last pregnancy, i went into labour at 28 weeks but medication slowed down my contractions until I finally gave birth at 32 weeks. Now that im pregnant again Im worried about every little niggle and dont know what I should be feeling and whats normal at this stage. I think I keep getting braxton hick contractions in the evenings. Could anyone tell me when its normal to feel these contractions in a second pregnancy.

Posted: 28/01/2008 at 13:32

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