Pregnancy changes a woman’s body in many ways. Besides the change in weight, some of the most noticeable changes are those to the skin, hair, and nails. Many of these changes can cause anxiety because they can affect the way you look. However, most of them are harmless and will often go away after you give birth. When you start to notice the changes to your skin or nails, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can discuss the best ways to treat the conditions.
This pamphlet explains:
- Common skin, hair, and nail changes that may occur during pregnancy
- What treatment, if any, will ease these changes
|During pregnancy your body goes through many changes, including changes to your skin, nails, and hair. In most cases, these changes are normal.|
Your Skin and Pregnancy
Most women expect certain changes, such as backaches and stretch marks, to happen during pregnancy. The changes that often surprise pregnant women are those that affect all the skin, including the hair and nails.
Changes to your skin can have many causes. Some are linked to hormone changes that occur only during pregnancy. Other skin problems may have been present for some time before you were pregnant and then changed during pregnancy. For most skin changes, however, doctors know little about exactly what causes them.
During pregnancy, many women notice dark spots on their breasts, nipples, or inner thighs. These dark areas come from an increase in the body’s melanin. This natural substance gives color to the skin and hair. More than 90 percent of pregnant women will get these dark areas. Women with darker skin tones may notice them more.
Brownish marks that appear around the eyes, nose, and cheeks are called chloasma or “mask of pregnancy.” Up to 70 percent of pregnant women develop chloasma. Spending time in the sun makes it darker. To reduce the appearance of chloasma, avoid spending time in the sun. When you are outdoors, protect your skin by using sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 and by wearing a hat with a wide brim.
These dark areas are harmless and usually fade a few months after delivery. However, they are unlikely to go away completely. If you notice any new or rapidly changing dark spots (or “moles”), show them to your doctor right away.
Some women also notice a faint, dark line that runs from their belly button to their pubic hair. This is called linea nigra. This line is always there, but before you become pregnant it is the same color as the skin around it.
To cover dark spots, such as those from chloasma, try using makeup. Concealers that are yellow and white-based can be worn under your makeup and can give your skin a more natural, even tone.
As your belly and breasts grow during pregnancy, they may become stretched and marked with reddish lines. These marks occur when the skin stretches quickly to support the growing fetus. By the third trimester, almost all pregnant women will get stretch marks on their abdomen, buttocks, breasts, or thighs. There is little you can do to keep them from appearing or to make them go away.
There are many creams, lotions, and oils sold that claim to prevent stretch marks; however, there is no proof these treatments work. Using a heavy moisturizer may help keep your skin soft, although it will not help get rid of stretch marks. Applying a sunless tanning lotion also can help hide the marks. Most stretch marks will slowly fade after the baby is born. Some marks may remain.
The hormone changes in pregnancy cause an increase in hair growth. Many pregnant women notice that their hair is thicker. Sometimes women grow hair in areas where they do not normally have hair, such as the face, chest, and arms. This new hair growth is called hirsutism and can be caused by the body’s changing hormones. Your hair should return to normal within 6 months after you give birth.
If you see a lot of hair growing quickly on the face, chest, and abdomen, it could be a sign of a problem. Talk with your doctor if you are concerned.
It is fine to have the hair removed if it bothers you. Tweezing, waxing, shaving, and even laser hair removal, are all safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
About 3 months after delivery, most women begin to notice hair loss. This is because the hormones are returning to normal levels, which allows the hair to return to its normal cycle of growing and falling out.
There is no medication that can prevent your hair from falling out, but keep in mind it is not permanent. Your hair should regrow completely within 3–6 months.
Nails, like hair, can change during pregnancy. Some women find their nails grow faster. Others find their nails tend to split and break more easily. Like the changes to your hair, those that affect your nails will ease after birth.
The increased amount of blood in your body during pregnancy can cause changes in your blood vessels. Tiny red veins, known as spider veins, may appear on your skin. Spider veins are most common during the first half of pregnancy. About two thirds of light-skinned pregnant women and about one third of dark-skinned pregnant women will have them on the face, neck, and arms. Again, the redness should fade after giving birth.
The weight and pressure of your uterus can slow blood flow from your lower body and cause the veins in your legs to become swollen, sore, and blue. These are called varicose veins. They also can appear near your vagina and rectum (usually called hemorrhoids). In most cases, varicose veins are not a problem. You are more likely to have varicose veins if someone else in your family has had them. Although you cannot prevent them, there are some things that can help the swelling and soreness and keep varicose veins from getting worse:
- If you must sit or stand for long periods, be sure to move around from time to time.
- Do not sit with your legs crossed.
- Prop up your legs—on your desk, a couch, a chair, or a footstool—as often as you can.
- Exercise regularly—walk, swim, or ride an exercise bike.
- Wear support hose.
Certain skin conditions can arise during pregnancy. They can cause discomfort, which often can be relieved with treatment.
Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy
Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) occurs in 1 out of every 200 pregnant women. The small, red bumps and hives usually start later in pregnancy. The bumps can form large patches that can be very itchy. It often starts on the abdomen and can spread to the thighs, buttocks, and breasts.
PUPPP will go away after you give birth. In the meantime, your doctor may prescribe an anti-itch cream or steroid cream to help stop the itching.
Prurigo of Pregnancy
With prurigo of pregnancy, itchy, tiny bumps that look like insect bites appear almost anywhere on the skin. This condition can occur anytime during pregnancy and usually starts with a few bumps that increase each day.
Prurigo can last for several months, and may even continue a while after the baby is born. It is usually treated with medications.
Pemphigoid gestationis is a rare skin condition that usually starts during the second and third trimesters or sometimes right after a woman gives birth. With this condition, blisters appear on the abdomen, and in severe cases, the blisters can cover a wide area of the body. Sometimes the condition returns during future pregnancies.
If your doctor diagnoses pemphigoid gestationis after checking your blisters, you and your baby will be monitored closely during the last part of pregnancy. Your doctor also may give you medications to control the outbreak of blisters and help relieve your discomfort. Adding oatmeal to your bath water and using anti-itch creams also can help.
Coping With the Changes
For conditions that cause itchy skin, using an anti-itch cream may help provide relief. Other tips to help relieve discomfort include:
Cholestasis of Pregnancy
Cholestasis is the most common liver condition that occurs only during pregnancy. The main symptom is severe itching on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet that also can spread to the trunk of the body.
Symptoms usually start during the third trimester but often go away a few days after delivery. Cholestasis can come back, however, in future pregnancies.
If your doctor diagnoses the condition after taking blood tests, you and your baby will be monitored closely during the third trimester. This is because cholestasis may increase the risk of preterm birth and other problems, including fetal death.
Your doctor also may suggest using anti-itch creams and adding cornstarch to your bath water to help relieve the itching and discomfort. In some cases, medications may be prescribed.
Women with certain skin diseases before pregnancy may see their conditions worsen or improve while they are pregnant. For example, atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin disease that causes itchy skin sores, and it often gets worse during pregnancy. However, psoriasis, which is another chronic skin disease that causes raised patches of red skin, may improve. If you have any type of skin disease, let your doctor know if you notice any changes in your symptoms while you are pregnant.
The changes that happen to your skin, hair, and nails when you are pregnant can be bothersome. Luckily, most of them will go away once you give birth. In the meantime, with your doctor’s help, there are many ways to help you cope with the discomfort.
Chloasma: The darkening of areas of skin on the face during pregnancy.
Hirsutism: Excessive hair on the face, abdomen, and chest.
Linea Nigra: A line running from the navel to pubic hair that darkens during pregnancy.
Preterm: Born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.