How does your skin and hair change during pregnancy?
Pregnancy leads to physiologic changes caused by an increase in circulating hormones (eg. oestrogens and progesterone) together with metabolic, vascular, immunological and structural changes. Dr Audrey Tan of Thomson Specialist Skin Centre Singapore gives you an overview of some common pregnancy skin and hair issues.
Skin changes during pregnancy
1. Non-facial hyperpigmentation
Occurs in up to 90% of pregnanct women and is thought to be the result of increased melanocyte activity. Hyperpigmentation targets the areolae, nipples, skin around the umbilicus, armpits and inner thighs.
Most pregnant women also demonstrate the linea nigra, which is a dark vertical line that runs from the umbilicus (belly button) down to the pubic region. These sites of hyperpigmentation usually resolve gradually following delivery.
Known as the mask of pregnancy, it can affect up to 70% of pregnant women. Grey-brown patches appear on the cheeks, forehead and chin and may cause signiﬁcant distress to the pregnant woman for aesthetic reasons. Although melasma occurring in pregnancy may regress post-partum, it can persist in some individuals after pregnancy.
Melasma can also be observed in individuals consuming oral contraceptive pills. Sun protection using a broad-spectum sunscreen and sun avoidance are essential preventive measures for hyperpigmentation. It is best to consult a doctor before attempting any topical medication or lightening agent as some medications are not suitable in pregnancy and should be avoided.
3. Striae gravidarum or stretch marks
Occur in more than 50% of pregnant women, who often say this is the most distressing pregnancy skin problems. Striae develop mostly in the later part of pregnancy and can occur on the growing abdomen, breasts, buttocks and thighs. They appear as bands that are initially red or purplish and then slowly fade to become skin-coloured bands of thinned-out skin.
Striae are thought to be the result of mechanical stretching of the skin coupled with hormonal inﬂuences in pregnancy, altering the elasticity of the skin. Although it may be difficult to prevent striae developing in susceptible women, it is advisable to apply regular and generous amounts of moisturizers to areas of skin prone to striae formation, controlling and attaining appropriate weight gain during pregnancy and ensuring adequate ﬂuid intake and hydration throughout pregnancy.
Hair changes during pregnancy
Many women report hair growth during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the hair cycle is altered such that fewer hairs enter the telogen or falling phase. This results in less hair shedding and an increased volume of scalp hair (“thicker”hair). However, after giving birth, scalp hair enters a shedding phase that may begin around 2 to 3 months post-delivery, and may last for 3 or more months.
This falling phase (telogen effluvium) can become quite alarming to some women. They can be reassured that hair will grow again after this phase. Occasionally, hair growth may also increase on the face, limbs and trunk during pregnancy, but this excess growth disappears within 6 months post-delivery in most women.
Dr. Audrey Tan is a consultant at the Thomson Specialist Skin Centre. To see her and other licensed and experienced Singapore doctors, visit Thomson Specialist Skin Centre at Novena Medical Center. 10 Sinaran Drive #10-05 Singapore. Call 6397 6006 or visit www.thomsonspecialistskin.com for more information.