What are Pregnancy Skin Conditions?
During pregnancy, the woman’s body goes through many physical changes, some of which affect her skin. Many expectant moms experience skin conditions, or a worsening of existing skin conditions during their pregnancy. During pregnancy, the body produces a significant amount of hormones and has a higher blood flow through the blood vessels. This gives pregnant women their characteristic “rosy glow” but also other skin conditions that are not as complimentary to her appearance. These include blotches on skin, higher amount of acne, spider angiomas, dark spots on breasts, nipples and inner thighs, stretch marks, linea negra, spider and varicose veins among others. Many of these skin conditions are considered normal during pregnancy and usually disappear soon after birth when the hormones and blood flow settle back to pre-pregnancy levels.
Common Pregnancy Skin Conditions and How to Treat Them
1. Varicose and Spider Veins
Spider veins (spider angiomas) are thin, small red veins that appear on the face, neck and arms whereas varicose veins are enlarged veins that appear on the lower part of the body – namely legs, vulva and rectum. The former is caused by pregnancy-induced hormonal changes and the latter by increased weight gain and uterine pressure during pregnancy. Both spider and varicose veins revert to normal appearances after delivery of the baby.
TREATING VARICOSE AND SPIDER VEINS
Spider veins, if they persist after pregnancy can be treated with lasers.
The effects of varicose veins can be kept to a minimum by taking these precautions –
• Limiting periods of standing and sitting to ensure pressure doesn’t build up in veins
• Not crossing legs if sitting for long periods
• Keeping legs elevated when seated or lying down to reduce pressure on veins
• Using pressure socks or support hose to evenly distribute pressure on legs
2. Striae Gravidarum (Stretch Marks)
Stretch marks appear as pink-purple lines or bands around the belly, the upper thighs, buttocks and around breasts during pregnancy – about 90% of all women gain stretch marks during pregnancy. Their appearance is linked to stretching of the skin around these areas of the body due to the growth of the foetus pushing out the skin as well as hormonal changes affecting the skin’s elastic fibres. Stretch marks rarely disappear completely after pregnancy, although they do mostly shrink considerably after delivery.
TREATING STRIAE GRAVIDARUM (STRETCH MARKS)
Some stretch marks can be treated with laser therapy after pregnancy. Prescription creams and moisturising lotions that keep the skin hydrated and supple during pregnancy can help alleviate the symptoms. However, stretch marks can’t be removed completely even if they can have a reduced appearance.
Women can experience an outbreak of adult acne during pregnancy as well. This is normally triggered by the release of androgens which are hormones that can prompt sebaceous glands to boost production of sebum, which is an oily substance that can combine with shed skin cells and block the pores – leading to inflammation and acne breakouts.
It is good practice to follow general hygienic practices throughout pregnancy – keep the body and face clean by showering regularly with mild cleansing soaps. The use of over-the-counter medication can also help if they contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, azelaic acid or glycolic acid. However, refrain from using stronger medication such as isotretinoin, oral tetracyclines, topical retinols or hormonal therapy as these forms of medication are unsafe for you and your unborn baby.
4. Rashes and Itchy Skin
Approximately 20% of pregnant women experience itchy skin and rashes. Itchiness around the belly and breasts is especially common as the skin around this area stretches during pregnancy. These areas are also more prone to dryness which contributes to the itchiness.
TREATING RASHES AND ITCHY SKIN
Most itchy skin or rashes are mild and can be treated with moisturising lotions. Applying cold compress on the belly and breasts can also help alleviate the itchiness. Having the occasional oatmeal bath has been known to help as well. However, if you experience an itchy rash or severely itchy palms and/or feet they could be symptoms of more serious conditions. You should consult your gynaecologist should you experience such symptoms.
Most women experience some form of hyperpigmentation during pregnancy. The common forms of hyperpigmentation include darkened areolae and genitals, linea nigra (the dark line that forms vertically across the belly button) and melasma. Melasma affects up to 70% of pregnant woman and is a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy. It commonly manifests itself as dark splotches of skin, usually around the face, forearms and other parts of the body exposed to the sun.
Hyperpigmentation during pregnancy is caused by increased melanin production due to hormonal changes and usually disappears after childbirth, even without treatment. However, it is advisable to apply sunscreen protection to reduce the appearance of melasma as it is aggravated by sun exposure. Switching to hypoallergenic skincare products also helps as products that cause skin irritation can make melasma worse. Stop waxing during pregnancy as this may cause skin irritation/inflammation that can worsen melasma.