Your belly’s not the only body part growing and changing during pregnancy. Here’s how pregnancy changes your skin in the next nine months…
Pregnancy brings more than an expanding waistline, strange cravings and a ride on an emotional roller coaster. You might also get thick gorgeous hair and rosy cheeks.
Or not. For some women, pregnancy delivers breakouts, discoloration, skin tags and varicose veins. It also may cause hypersensitivity, so you can’t use your favourite jewellery or beauty products.
The good news is that while many women experience these annoying changes, the problems will usually go away within weeks of delivery. Here’s a little taste of some of the common changes you may be in for.
What Causes Skin Changes During Pregnancy?
This may be the last thing you want to hear, but your pregnancy hormonal fluctuations are generally the culprit for much of what is going on with your skin. “Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels influence skin in all pregnant women,” says Judith Hellman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Hormones tell your pores to secrete excess oil, make you vulnerable to heat rash and susceptible to skin discoloration. On top of that, your immune system is suppressed, and your blood vessels are stretched to the max, creating perfect conditions for surface inflammation.
Women start to experience these changes at different times in their pregnancies, some as early as their first trimester. Oftentimes, your skin may look worse as your pregnancy progresses.
How Pregnancy Changes Your Skin
Almost 90% of all pregnant women experience stretch marks, so don’t feel like you’re alone in this malady. They appear as pinkish or reddish streaks along the abdomen and breasts and sometimes thighs. They’re the result of your body growing quickly. They’ll usually show up in the last three months.
After delivery, they’ll fade to silvery-white scars and be much less noticeable. No one knows how to prevent them, but you can help to head them off somewhat by exercising, gently exfoliating, and thoroughly moisturizing those at-risk areas as much as you can. Look for products that contain the antioxidant vitamin E and alpha-hydroxy acids, and massage the areas well while applying.
The increase in progesterone levels also triggers more “sebum (oil) production, causing breakouts,” explains Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This may particularly be true if you’re already prone to acne.
Keep a strict cleansing routine, washing your face two to three times daily. If you opt to use acne products, pay attention to ingredients. Avoid products with retinol, retinoids, and salicylic acid, as they may cause possible birth defects. Benzoyl peroxide is sometimes recommended, but it can be absorbed into the bloodstream as well, so it may not be worth the risk. Natural remedies like tea tree oil and lavender are viable alternatives, as well. “You can safely use lactic acid, tea tree oil or sulfur to treat acne,” says Melissa Schweiger, coauthor of Belli Beautiful: The Essential Guide to the Safest Health and Beauty Products for Pregnancy, Mom, and Baby.
The Mask of Pregnancy / Melasma / Chloasma
Nearly 50% of pregnant women will show some signs of the “mask of pregnancy,” or melasma. The increase in hormones causes your skin to produce more pigmentation, showing up as symmetrical dark splotchy spots most commonly seen on your forehead, nose, and cheeks. “Estrogen, progesterone and melanocyte-stimulating hormone” — which regulates skin color — “are highest during the third trimester,” explains Matthew Schulman, MD, assistant professor of plastic surgery at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. More melanin is produced, resulting in the hyper-pigmentation.
There’s not much you can do to prevent it, but avoiding the sun will help to keep it from worsening. When you’re out and about use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Darkened areas will probably fade within a few months after delivery, but for some women, this “pregnancy mask” can become permanent. Continuing to use sunscreen is essential, and there are some topical creams that may be used to lighten these areas.
For many women, their nipples and/or areolas will darken in color. These pigment changes tend to be permanent. Some women will develop a dark line running from their navel to their pubic bone, called a linea nigra. This pigment will usually disappear completely once you’ve had your baby.
Skin Sensitivities During Pregnancy
Not only are your stomach and emotions sensitive now, but your skin is, too. Perfumes may irritate your skin. Your skin may easily become red if you scrub or exfoliate.
Go easy on your skin. Many moms-to-be switch to unscented products and natural lotions and washes containing fewer chemicals. Avoid scrubs and exfoliants and opt for a soft, textured washcloth. “You certainly don’t want anything causing micro-tears on your skin,” says Schweiger. “The more cuts and wounds on your skin, the easier it is for chemicals to be absorbed into your bloodstream. Ingredients to stay away from in soaps and body washes include triclosan, parabens, and fragrance.” Not only are they irritating, but they could pose a health risk to your baby.
Skin tags are small, loose growths of skin attached to the body by a narrow base. They’re commonly found in high-friction spots like underarms, groin, under breasts, and at the base of the neck. They can appear in the second and third trimesters and are harmless. Dr. Schulman explains “during pregnancy, elevated levels of estrogen and progesterone stimulate the growth of the skin’s outer layers.”
Some may disappear after you give birth, and some may not.
Dry, Itchy Skin
Your growing belly is causing your skin to stretch and tighten, resulting in dryness and itching. You can help to alleviate this by drinking plenty of water, keeping your skin moisturized, and taking warm oatmeal baths.
In about one in every 50 pregnancies, a condition called cholestasis appears late in pregnancy. This results in severe itching, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and/or jaundice. Contact your doctor if you experience these things, as it may be a result of impaired liver function. The problem resolves itself after pregnancy.
Intense itching that spreads to your arms and legs with reddish, raised patches on the skin could be pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). Hormones are to blame here, too. It occurs in about one in every 150 pregnancies but will go away after delivery.
If you take good care of your skin through pregnancy, many of these problems can be lessened or alleviated altogether. The question is how.
How to take good care of your skin through pregnancy?
Maintain Healthy Weight Gain
The reason stretch marks are so common during pregnancy is that women gain weight faster than the skin’s elasticity can keep up. By keeping your body from changing too rapidly, you can allow your skin to grow slowly and avoid the dermis tears that fast weight gain can cause.
While there is no single approach that’s right for everyone, medical professionals recommend a general guideline of gaining 0.45 to 1.81 kilograms in the first trimester of pregnancy. The second and third trimesters are when steady weight gain is most important. Gaining 0.45 to 0.9 kilograms per week for the remainder of the pregnancy should provide the growing baby with the right amount of nutrients while maintaining a healthy weight for the expectant mother. Maintain a healthy diet and gain weight appropriately.
Care for Your Skin Internally
While most people need to drink more water daily, it’s especially important during pregnancy. In addition to developing amniotic fluid, producing blood, and delivering nutrients to the fetus, hydration helps combat stretch marks. Drinking plenty of water helps to hydrate skin cells, which keeps them soft and pliable. Soft skin isn’t as prone to stretch marks as dry skin. Avoid caffeinated beverages, which can increase your likelihood of getting stretch marks.
Increasing your vitamin C intake can also lessen your chance of stretch marks. Foods like strawberries, citrus, and peppers promote tissue and collagen production. This boosts your skin’s elasticity and strength. Vitamin D found in dairy, eggs, and omega-3 fatty acids can also help offset the effects of stretch marks. Be mindful of the nutrients in your diet and take care to provide your body the things it needs to be healthy and strong.
Apply Topical Creams
Since we know softer skin is less likely to experience stretch marks, it’s important to know how to hydrate skin. Consider applying moisturizing topical creams to the surface of a pregnant belly as part of your skincare routine. Although there’s no definitive research proving that such products work, moisturizing stretched skin areas can, at the very least, help with itchy, dry skin that often comes with pregnancy.
Ingredients to look for in a good moisturizer include:
- Hyaluronic acid: Created by the same cells that produce collagen, hyaluronic acid draws moisture to the skin’s surface and retains 1,000 times its weight in water.
- Coconut oil: This provides anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help to repair the skin’s barrier.
- Sugar beet root extract: Beets are chock full of sugars and polysaccharides that help moisturize the skin.
- Propanediol: Found in American corn, this is a moisturizing agent that hydrates the skin and helps to develop the skin’s natural barrier.
- Glycerin: Derived from palm oil, glycerin traps moisture in the skin, allowing cells to hydrate. This results in smooth, supple skin.
Choose the Right Skincare Products for Your Pregnancy
While our skin is designed to stretch with our growing bodies, too much growth too quickly can result in unsightly and uncomfortable skin effects. Snowperk understands that every woman’s skincare needs are different. We provide a variety of specially formulated skincare products made with natural and clinically proven ingredients you can trust. Let us help you create the skincare routine that’s best for you.
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