We chatted to some experts to get the lowdown on the top five skin changes in pregnancy and how to treat them should any one of them arise throughout the nine months.
“This is one of the most common skin diseases for pregnant women,” says medical doctor and dermatologist Dr Noori Moti-Joosub. Characterised by red, inflamed skin, itchiness and fluid-filled blisters, this eczema can worsen as your pregnancy progresses.
How to treat it:
Dr Moti-Joosub suggests consulting with a dermatologist. Steroid creams can be used in moderation with emollients, but you’ll need to be assessed by a professional first to manage the symptoms and dosage.
Varicose or spider veins
“Many women first develop varicose veins – or find that they get worse during pregnancy,” says aesthetic laser specialist Cherie Cochrane. As your uterus grows, it puts pressure on the large vein on the right side of your body (the inferior vena cava), which in turn increases pressure in the leg veins. When you’re pregnant, the amount of blood in your body increases, adding to the burden on your veins. And your progesterone levels rise, causing the walls of your blood vessels to relax, explains Cherie. You may also notice tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin, especially on your ankles, legs, or face. These are called spider veins because they often appear in a spider- or sunburst-like pattern with little branches radiating out from the centre, says Cherie.
How to treat it:
The good news is that varicose veins tend to improve after you give birth, particularly if you didn’t have any before you got pregnant. And if they don’t get better, speak to a reputable aesthetic practitioner about treatment options. Spider veins can also be treated easily and safely using laser technology, as the painless procedure coagulates each little vessel causing it to dissolve.
Latin for “black line”, this dark vertical line is common during pregnancy and appears along the midline on the abdomen from the belly button to the pelvic bone, explains Dr Judey Pretorius from skincare company Biomedical Emporium. As your baby grows each trimester, this line will darken more, as it’s linked to hormones that stimulate pigments in the skin.
How to treat it:
You don’t need to, says Dr Pretorius. As hormone levels normalise after birth, the dark line will gradually fade. If you’re concerned about how it looks, she suggests using cleansers and creams with mild alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acids, as they will help the line to fade faster due to the mild chemical exfoliation.
Up to 90% of pregnant women develop stretch marks (striae gravidarum). “Stretch marks are a form of scar tissue and are caused by rapid weight gain or expansion in body shape that results in tiny tears in the dermal layer of skin,” says dermatologist Dr Ayesha Moolla. “They can start developing as early as the first trimester due to high hormone levels and are often seen around the belly, breasts, hips or thighs. However, they most commonly appear in the second and third trimesters,” explains gynaecologist Dr Jana Rossouw.
How to treat it:
“It’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and not gain too much weight. A healthy weight gain is about 12kg, bearing in mind that after 36 weeks, you should be gaining about a kilo a week,” says Dr Rossouw.
To prevent stretch marks, Dr Moolla has the following tips:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in food and nutrients that’s good for skin health.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Twice a day, massage areas that are prone to stretch marks using good quality oils, a moisturiser or even an emollient.
- Some supplements such as vitamins C and E have also been found to prevent stretch marks. (Speak to your healthcare provide before taking any additional supplements).
The mask of pregnancy (chloasma and melasma)
About half of pregnant women develop hyperpigmentation, a darkening of the skin, as fluctuating hormone levels mean uneven melanin production. The mask of pregnancy can occur on the skin on the face, especially around the mouth, on the cheeks and forehead, says Dr Moolla. It’s also common for the areola, the area around the nipple, to darken. Pre-existing moles, freckles and even scar tissue can become darker too.
How to treat it:
Fortunately, most of these changes in the skin will regress spontaneously following delivery, says Dr Moolla. Pigmentation lasts for about three months, as hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels. However, for some people it may not disappear completely. To prevent the mask of pregnancy getting worse, gently massage moisturiser into the skin twice a day to improve skin tone, avoid sun exposure and wear a sunblock of at least SPF 30 every day, suggests Dr Moolla. Also, make sure you check your moles before and after pregnancy, says Dr Moti-Joosub. If you notice any significant changes during your pregnancy, contact your dermatologist as soon as possible.
Using skincare products during pregnancy
- Even though low levels of Vitamin A may still be safe to use during pregnancy, it’s better to avoid vitamin A or retinol, or retinoic acids, throughout the nine months.
- Any products containing peroxide.
- Artificial colour-stained products and products containing fragrances.
- Skin-staining products (such as self-tanning products).
- Skin lightening or bleaching ingredients, such as hydroquinone.
- Harsh exfoliators, as these may deteriorate the skin’s barrier function. Avoid causing inflammation to the skin at all times.
Safe to use
- Sunscreen of at least SPF 30.
- Hydrating serums and creams. They should contain hyaluronic acid and vitamin E. Always keep the skin as moist as possible to enhance and maintain the skin’s elasticity.
- Products with high antioxidant activity such as vitamin C. This powerful vitamin will help to enhance the skin’s barrier function as well as promote healthy skin cell turnover rates.
- Products containing alpha-hydroxy acids. They will help to gently remove dead skin cells as well as promote collagen production and keep the skin moist and plump.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .