Frequently Asked Questions about Changes in Skin, Hair & Nails During Pregnancy answered by Los Angeles Obstetrician Dr. Thais Aliabadi
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Q: I’m pregnant and I’m noticing some changes in the appearance of my skin. Is this normal?
Yes, it’s quite common for women to see these changes during pregnancy. Most of these changes are caused by an increase in melanin – the chemical that gives skin its color. Some skin conditions you might notice include:
- Melasma – Patches of darkened skin on the face.
- Linea nigra – A darkened line leading from the bellybutton to the underwear line.
- Hyperpigmentation – Browned spots, larger than freckles, which develop on the breasts, thighs, or belly.
- Acne – Caused by fluctuating hormones that disrupt the skin’s oil production.
- Stretch marks – Rough, reddened lines that develop on the thighs, buttocks, breasts and belly where the skin has been stretched.
- Itchy or bumpy rashes – These are symptoms of rare skin conditions that affect pregnant women.
Q: What can I do about dark patches on my skin?
Darkened skin during pregnancy is not harmful, but you should wear sunblock regularly to prevent further pigmentation. You may also want to invest in a sun hat to shade your face while outdoors. Generally, women find that their skin returns to its normal color after they’ve given birth. For some women, the dark spots will linger for a few years after pregnancy.
Q: What can I do about acne during pregnancy?
It’s not uncommon for acne to develop, or worsen, during pregnancy. To treat acne, follow these tips:
- Use only oil-free lotions and cosmetics on your face.
- Wash your make-up brushes each month and replace old cosmetics regularly.
- Wash your face in the morning and before bed with warm water and a mild facial soap.
- Refrain from picking, scratching or squeezing zits.
- Tie your hair away from your face and wash it daily if it’s especially oily.
- Pick up an over-the-counter topical cleanser or cream. Look for products that contain salicylic acid (topical only), benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, or glycolic acid. You may want to try a few different products. Try out one product for a week or two to see how your skin responds before trying a new product. If you can’t find a treatment that works for your, contact your OB-GYN.
Q: Are there any prescription skin medications that I should avoid during pregnancy?
Yes. If you’re currently taking any of these prescription drugs for acne, you should stop using them and contact your OB-GYN for an alternative medication:
- Hormone therapy. Many acne medications work by blocking the production of certain hormones. Using them while pregnant could cause birth defects.
- Oral tetracyclines. These are antibiotics that can harm your baby’s teeth and bones.
- This is a type of vitamin A, which speeds up cellular division in the skin, boosting its renewal powers. Vitamin A has also been shown to be harmful to fetal development when taken in excess, causing birth defects and intellectual disabilities.
- Topical retinoids. These are also forms of vitamin A and can be found both in prescription and over-the-counter topical ointments that treat acne and fight wrinkles. Retinoids are meant to work on the skin, but a small amount of the drug does get absorbed into your bloodstream and can be passed to the fetus and harm its development.
Q: I have itchy or bumpy rashes. What could be the problem?
Although uncommon, some women can develop itching, hives, bumps, blisters, or rashes during pregnancy. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, call your OB-GYN.
Prurigo of pregnancy
Prurigo presents as small itchy bumps that develop anywhere on the body and anytime during pregnancy. You may notice one or two at first, with the number increasing every day. Experts believe the condition is associated with changes in immune response during pregnancy. The bumps may last for a few months, possibly even for a period of time after delivery.
Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP)
POPPP are small red hives that can cluster and become itchy patches. They usually develop on the belly, breasts, thighs, and buttocks and disappear after delivery.
These are blisters that form on the abdomen later in pregnancy or even after delivery. The condition may be an autoimmune disorder and it is associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications.Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)
ICP is a liver condition that manifests as severe itching on the palms and bottoms of the feet, but with no visible rash. It typically develops in the third trimester and subsides after birth. This disorder is also associated with pregnancy complications.
Q: I’m pregnant and my veins are changing in appearance. Is this normal?
During pregnancy, many women see changes in the appearance of their veins. The two most common conditions are:
These are thin networks of reddened capillaries that develop due to the increase in blood production to accommodate your baby’s development. They can sometimes cause aching or burning sensations after spending a long period of time on your feet. They typically disappear after pregnancy.Varicose veins
A pregnant womb can reduce blood flow to your legs, causing your veins to turn blue and swell under your skin. Varicose veins can also be tender to touch. They may form on your genitals and rectum as well – also known as hemorrhoids. The condition usually subsides after pregnancy.
Q: What should I do to treat varicose veins?
There may be nothing that can be done to prevent varicose veins during pregnancy, but there are some steps you can take to improve your circulation and stop the condition from becoming worse. Following these steps can also make you feel more comfortable during pregnancy.
- Avoid crossing your legs for long stretches of time, such as at work or school.
- Elevate your legs when you can with a footstool.
- Get some exercise – walking, cycling, and swimming are great low-impact options for pregnant women.
- Wear compression stockings.
- Add fiber to your diet and increase your fluid intake to prevent constipation.
Q: How is hair growth affected by pregnancy?
Some women notice their hair growing thicker or appearing in places that it usually does not, like the face, belly, and chest. You may also notice some of the hair from your head starting to fall out a few months after giving birth. These changes are caused by pregnancy hormones fluctuating and then leveling out again, and your hair should grow normally again about 6 months after delivery.
Q: How is nail growth affected by pregnancy?
Pregnancy hormones can cause your nails to grow more quickly than normal, or oddly enough, make your nails weaker and more brittle, causing splits and breaks. Your nails should return to normal after giving birth.