During your pregnancy, many changes can occur on your skin. These changes are related to the surge of female hormones (estrogen and progesterone) to the skin pigments, blood vessels, glands and your immune system. These changes can be physiological or present as skin disorders.
The following are seen during pregnancy and improve after delivery.
You will notice that the color of the nipples, genitalia skin and the centre of your tummy darken. Pr-existing freckles and “moles” darken. A dark blemish can appear on your cheeks, forehead, nose and chin called melasma (“pregnancy mask”).
Here, the melanin deposits are increased in the superficial and middle of the skin. Fortunately, the pigment resolves after delivery.
Many women normally have a faint white line (called linea alba) running from their navel to the center of the pubic bone. In the second trimester, this linea alba may darken to be visible. This line is now called linea nigra. In some women the line extends upward from the navel as well. The linea nigra is darker in darker skinned women and usually lightens several months after delivery.
There is another condition with localized pigmentation on the armpits and groins called acanthosis nigricans whereby the skin is thickened and dark.
The stretching and distension of the tummy causes the skin to split. These split lines are called striae gravidarum.
These are purplish wavy lines, which appear on the tummy, breasts, thighs and groin. After delivery, they become paler in colour but the striae remain as permanent scars.
Blood Vessel Changes
Changes related to blood vessels appear as redness of the palms known as palmar erythema of the legs, vascular lumps on the gums, and “spider nevi” or proliferation of blood vessels on the face and chest.
The increased volume of blood also causes the cheeks to take on an attractive blush because of the many blood vessels just below the skin’s surface. On top of this redness, the increased secretions of the oil glands give the skin a waxy sheen. Many see this as the “pregnancy glow”.
An increase in the varicose veins may occur in the vulva and vagina at the end of second or third trimester. This may cause a sensation of “heaviness” in the groin.
Hair and Nail Changes
You seem to have a bigger volume of hair on your scalp. This is because the increased estrogen supports a longer life cycle of your hair. Unfortunately, the increased hair is shed after delivery, and most women are quite upset by the hair lost, which are seen as clumps on the basin as they shampoo their hair. The loss can last three to six months.
In addition, hair can increase on your face, back and legs. Your nails can become brittle and split at the ends.
Acne during Pregnancy
Most women sweat more as their sweat glands become more active. Especially in the third trimester, the oil glands become active and you can develop pimples or acne.
Skin Rash during Pregnancy
The skin becomes very itchy and this is distressing. It is due to the impaired transport of bile to the liver and the bile circulates in your body.
Some skin diseases get worse during pregnancy. These are eczema, psoriasis, acne, and lupus erythematosus and candidia (fungal) infection of the vagina.
Tips on Skin Care during Pregnancy
Use a broad spectrum sun block on your face each day, to prevent the pigment from further darkening. Avoid the hot sun.
While mild soap is recommended during pregnancy, moisturizing soaps are better. Do not use bubble baths or scrub your skin daily.
A moisturizer with a sun block is helpful. The SPF factor or sun protective factor needs to be at least 15 to 20.
The tummy needs an enriching physiological moisturizer and be supported with special maternity panties. Most women continue to wear their normal panties but these don’t support the distending skin. The splits would be less, if these special maternity panties were worn. You need to exercise to keep the abdomen muscles strong. Exercise also reduces stress incontinence. This is a condition where urine leaks out when you cough or sneeze hard. Seaweed wraps and massages are not proven to help.
Keep your body clean, as you will feel sweaty and hot but limit baths to once a day only. Keep your hair clean with a daily mild shampoo.
See your doctor if you have bad eczema, as you may need steroid creams but a low potency will have to be prescribed as steroids may thin your skin, if applied in excess.
Ensure you take vitamins and calcium. Some types of psoriasis get worse with low calcium in your body.
Bad acne can be treated with antibiotic lotions, for example, erythromycin or clindamycin lotions. Do not use tretinoin (Retin-A) cream during pregnancy, as it is known to cause multiple malformations in the baby.
Reduce intake of foods with a lot of yeast if you have fungal genital infection, like pau, wheat noodles or cakes.
Have adequate sleep. Adequate exercise helps the skin to glow. Cosmetics are kept to the basics like sun block, moisturizer, mild cleansers.