Pregnancy plays havoc with your hormones, which means your skin is in for a tough time. The hormonal changes in your body can cause skin cracks, acne and blemishes. The skin on your face will feel drier than usual. The skin around your eyes, nose, cheeks, navel, armpits and inner thighs will darken, especially during the second trimester; but fortunately these should disappear in a few months after you’ve delivered. During the second and third semesters, the hormonal imbalance causes brownish or greyish patches on the cheeks and forehead in about 70% of the women. This is called the ‘mask of pregnancy.’ Exposure to sun increases the risk of developing the mask of pregnancy, and it is more noticeable in the areas exposed to sun. Luckily, this too fades away after delivery for most women.
Due to fat cells piling up in your abdominal region along with your hips, thighs and breast, your skin over stretches. This leads to stretch marks and these will remain your pregnancy souvenir for life.
Acne is another skin problem you might have to deal with when you become pregnant. As expected, this is a result of overproduction of oil due to an increased level of hormones. Your back, chest and shoulders might end up being affected in addition to your face but fortunately, all this will disappear once your pregnancy advances.
One irritating issue you might notice is itching, that too in places that is extremely hard to scratch like your soles and palms. There is usually no rash or lesions with this itching.
Papilloma or skin tags appear in the skin folds of the neck, underarm, groin region and just below the breasts. These are fleshy outgrowths and are usually painless and harmless, but could turn out to be an aesthetic problem.
You might also notice a dark line that runs from your navel to your pubic bone. This is called the ‘Linea Nigra’ (or black line) and its intensity will vary based on your skin tone. It is not related to sun exposure, and there is no way to avoid it even if you don’t go out in the sun. You generally will see it in the second trimester and as time passes, it will darken in colour.
Caring for your Skin
Stretch marks sadly cannot prevented; but you could wear garments that provide good support for the breasts and abdomen during the pregnancy months.
Cover up while out in the sun to protect from excess pigmentation and use a sun-screen with SPF 30 on sunny days to reduce melanin production. Since the body doesn’t absorb the sunscreen, it is safe to use while pregnant. Vitamin C also helps with excess melanin production, and many skin products now are fortified with vitamin C, which are safe to use. Unfortunately, none of these will treat the pigmentation issues.
Skin tags that usually appear with pregnancy disappear after your baby arrives but those that do not will need to be surgically removed. In the meantime, wear loose clothes so as to not irritate the skin tags. Also, keep the area of skin tags dry as possible. After delivery, if you plan to get them removed, make sure it is done by an expert to prevent regrowth.
Linea Nigra is harmless, except from an aesthetic viewpoint. For some women, this line will darken as their pregnancy progresses while for others it will remain white or invisible. You may not see it during all your pregnancies either. Be reassured it will disappear gradually after you deliver.
For women who have acne during their pregnancy, a good cleansing regimen should be enough. Take care to avoid harsh products that act as an abrasive and are not advised for blocked pores. Acne medications are not advised during pregnancy because of safety issues. Never step out into the sun without your sunscreen if you have acne. Please consult your doctor for topical antibiotics that are safe during pregnancy if you have severe acne.
If you have no other accompanying problem like fever or a secondary rash with your itching, then simply bathing daily in lukewarm water followed by skin massage with a body lotion and/or natural oils should help you manage through your pregnancy. When the itching sensation cannot be managed with this routine, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out more serious possibilities.