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  • Pregnancy Skin: Glowing, Stretching, Darkening, and More

    IMAGE Pregnancy can have a big impact on your skin. If you are lucky, you will get that famous glow. However, many women experience some unpleasant changes in their skin during pregnancy, including darkening often called the "mask of pregnancy" or a dark line stretching from the pubic area to the lower chest. Other changes include stretch marks, visible blood vessels, and reddened palms.

    Darkening

    Many pregnant women will experience skin color darkening. The book, Total Skin, by Dr. David J. Leffell, it suggests that hormonal changes stimulate skin darkening. This hyperpigmentation is usually in areas that are already heavily colored, including the nipples and areola, armpits, and genitals. Possible changes related to darkening include the following:

    Mask of Pregnancy

    Melasma and chloasma are the medical terms for this condition. This condition usually causes dark, splotchy spots on the face. Hormones and ultraviolet rays together cause the facial darkening. Debra Jaliman, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, urges women to faithfully use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. "Since you can't change your hormone levels, you should protect yourself against ultraviolet light," she says. Choose a sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher. You may also want to consider wearing a hat with a brim wide enough to cover your face. Many dermatologists suggest avoiding bleaching creams during pregnancy. If melasma lingers after delivery, visit your dermatologist.

    Belly Line

    The official name for the dark line some pregnant women develop from their pubic area to their lower chest is linea nigra. The good news is that it almost always fades after delivery.

    Acne

    If you are prone to acne, says Dr. Jaliman, then "during the first three months, your skin may be the worst it's ever been." This is because the extra hormones made during pregnancy may cause your body to secrete more oils, thereby leading to breakouts. After the third month, she says, the skin tends to clear.
    To combat acne, cleanse your skin routinely. Use an over-the-counter, fragrance-free face soap. Wash your skin in the morning and at night.
    Barbara R. Reed, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, believes over-the-counter acne creams and lotions are fine for pregnant women. Some prescription creams and lotions are also safe. However, she cautions, "Stay away from oral drugs if you can."
    Discuss all products you are thinking of using with your doctor before using them. Accutane, an oral drug for cases of severe cystic acne, should never be taken if pregnancy is a possibility, because it is known to cause serious birth defects.

    Blood Vessel Growth

    Blood circulation increases during pregnancy, and can cause the following changes in your skin:

    Reddened Palms

    If your palms become pink or red, do not be alarmed. It is simply a visible sign of increased blood flow and will disappear after delivery.

    Spider Veins

    These visible blood vessels are most common on the face, neck, and arms. Most disappear after delivery. If they persist after a few months after delivery, visit your dermatologist. She may treat your spiders with laser surgery. In the meantime, make-up may disguise the problem.

    Varicose Veins

    You could develop enlarged veins on your legs during pregnancy and they may remain after delivery. Luckily, doctors have a variety of treatments to recommend following the birth of your child. Here are some things you can do to prevent them or decrease symptoms:
    • Do not stand for long periods of time.
    • Walk as often as you can. This will help with blood circulation.
    • Do not sit for long periods of time.
    • When sitting, prop your feet up on a stool.
    • Wear support stockings.

    Stretch Marks

    Sorry. No matter what kind of cream or lotion you slather on, if you are going to get stretch marks, you will get them. "There's no prevention," Dr. Jaliman explains, "because stretch marks are a break in the elastic tissue (of the skin)." She adds that no one can predict who will get these pinkish lines, which occur most often on the breasts, abdomen, buttocks, and hips.
    Eventually, long after childbirth, stretch marks may fade and become less noticeable. If you have not learned to live with yours after your baby has been weaned, talk to your dermatologist, who may treat them with laser therapy or with the prescription topical treatment.

    When to See Your Dermatologist

    Moles may enlarge or darken during pregnancy and return to normal after delivery. However, watch for signs of melanoma. Do not hesitate to have your doctor check suspicious growths. Dr. Leffell says that if any moles change significantly (e.g., size or shape), a biopsy should be performed.
    There are some rare, yet serious, skin conditions unique to pregnancy. See your doctor for any rash symptoms, including:
    • Blisters
    • Itchy red bumps
    • Severe general itching
    • Blemishes similar to acne on your buttocks, arms, or legs

    RESOURCES

    American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org

    American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists http://www.acog.com

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada http://www.sogc.org/index%5Fe.asp

    Dermatologists.ca http://www.dermatologists.ca/index.html

    References

    Leffell DJ. Total Skin. Hyperion; 2000.

    Skin changes during pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/skinchanges.html. Updated March 2007. Accessed August 18, 2011.

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