Pregnancy Skin Conditions

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
For many women, their hair, nails and skin all change during pregnancy. Some of the more common changes include:
  • Melasma- patches of brown on the nose, forehead and around the cheeks
  • Darks spots on the inner things, nipples or breasts
  • Linea nigra- a dark line running from the navel to pubic hair
  • Acne
  • Stretch marks
  • Spider veins
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Varicose veins


While some of these changes are due to changing hormone levels during pregnancy, doctors aren’t sure of the cause of most skin changes.

Dark patches and spots

Dark patches and spots are due to an increase in melanin. This is the natural substance, which provides color to your hair and skin. These dark spots and melisma will usually fade away once you have your child. In some women, though, the dark patches may last for several years. Be sure and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen when you are outside to help keep melisma from getting worse.

Stretch marks

As your belly grows larger, your skin may get some reddish lines on it. These are called stretch marks. By the time you hit your last trimester, many women have stretch marks on their buttocks, thighs, breasts or abdomen. While a heavy moisturizer can help soften your skin, it won’t make stretch marks go away. Usually they fade after delivery, but may never go away.

Acne

Acne is fairly common in pregnant women. While some women notice the acne they already have worsens, sometimes women with clear skin suddenly develop acne.

You can treat acne by shampooing every day if you have oily skin, and trying to keep your hair off your face. You can also try washing your face twice a day with lukewarm water and a mild cleanser. You’ll also want to pick up some oil-free makeup. You don’t want to squeeze or pick acne, for it could cause scarring.

Over-the-counter acne products SAFE during pregnancy include:
  • Azelaic acid
  • Topical benzoyl peroxide
  • Glycolic acid
  • Topical salicylic acid


If you find an over-the-counter product with ingredients not on the list above, make sure you talk to your doctor.
Prescription acne medications NOT to use during pregnancy include:
  • Isotretinoin - A form of vitamin A, this drug may cause birth defects including intellectual disabilities, potentially life-threatening brain and heart defects and other physical deformities.
  • Hormonal therapy - While several medications blocking specific hormones can treat acne, there is a risk of birth defects during pregnancy.
  • Topical retinoids - A form of vitamin A, these medications are similar to isotretinoin. Unlike it, though, you apply topical retinoids to the skin, and the amount your body absorbs is low. Despite this, doctors generally recommend against using these medications during pregnancy. While some retinoids are prescription only, you may also find them in certain over-the-counter products, so read those labels.
  • Oral tetracyclines - If you take this after your fourth month of pregnancy, the antibiotic may discolor your child’s teeth. It can also affect how your baby’s bones are growing while you take it.


Spider veins

These tiny red veins may appear due to higher amounts of blood in your body, and hormonal changes during pregnancy. They often appear on a person’s arms, neck and face. Usually, the redness fades after delivery.

Varicose veins

Your leg veins may become sore, swollen and even blue due to the pressure and weight of your uterus decreasing blood flow from your lower body. They may also appear in your vagina, on your vulva and even your rectum, which is called hemorrhoids. Generally, this a cosmetic problem which will fade away after you deliver.

Although there’s no way to prevent varicose veins, you can do certain things to try and ease the soreness and swelling of varicose veins, and even prevent them from worsening. These include:
  • Not sitting with crossed legs for a long period of time
  • Moving around occasionally if you have to stand or sit for long periods
  • Exercising regularly, meaning riding an exercise bike, swimming or walking
  • Propping your legs up on a footstool, chair or couch when possible
  • Avoiding constipation by eating fiber-rich foods and lots of liquids
  • Wearing support hose


Changes to hair

Because of the hormonal changes of pregnancy, your body and head hair may become thicker or grow faster. Some women find hair growing in places where it usually doesn’t, like their abdomen, chest, arms or face. This usually goes back to normal within about six months of delivery.

About three months after delivery, many women start noticing hair loss from their head. This is due to the hormones going back to normal levels, meaning your hair also goes back to its normal growth cycle. Expect that your hair grows completely back in about three to six months.

Changes to nails

Some women say their nails grow a lot faster while they’re pregnant. Others, meanwhile, deal with split nails that are easier to break. Just like your hair, the changes in your nails will let up after delivery.

Uncommon skin changes

There are some uncommon skin conditions during pregnancy, too. These may cause you to have itchy skin or bumps.

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP)

With this condition, you’ll get hives and small red bumps during late pregnancy. These bumps can then turn into large, itchy patches. You’ll usually first notice the bumps on your abdomen before they spread to the breasts, buttocks and thighs. It’s not known exactly what causes PUPPP, but it usually goes away after delivery.

Prurigo of Pregnancy

With this condition, very small and itchy bumps can appear anywhere on your skin. They look like insect bites, usually starting with just a few that then increase very day. Doctors suggest they may be caused by changes in your immune system during pregnancy. Prurigo may last for several months, or even continue once your child is born.

Pemphigoid gestationis

This rare skin condition usually beings during either the second or the third trimester. It may also start right after delivery. With it, you get blisters on the abdomen. In more severe cases, those blisters may cover a large part of the body. Doctors think this is an autoimmune disorder. Possible pregnancy problems include a slight risk of a smaller-sized baby and preterm birth.

Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP)

This is pregnancy’s most common liver condition. Severe itching occurs, but not a rash. You’ll usually experience this on the soles of your feet or the palms of your hand, but it can also spread to your trunk. Symptoms normally start during the final trimester, but usually go away just a few days after giving birth. ICP may raise the risk of preterm birth, as well as even fetal death.


When it comes to pregnancy symptoms, no two women or even pregnancies are alike.

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