Exactly What Happens to Your Skin During Pregnancy

Prevent and care for these pesky conditions!
A woman places her hands over her bare pregnant belly in the shape of a heart
© Can Stock Photo / momot

Pregnancy and childbirth are times of diverse and often dramatic changes—and sometimes that drama extends to our skin. Hormonal fluctuations, dietary shifts, the growing baby inside, and new lifestyle choices can all contribute to skin changes that can leave sufferers feeling pretty frustrated. And while these less than desirable skin changes during pregnancy may differ in symptom, many of them can be prevented and cared for similarly.

Acne and rosacea

Both rosacea and acne breakouts are common and can be brought on by food sensitivities or overindulgence in refined carbohydrates. Insulin spikes from too much sugar can contribute to blood vessel malfunction, inflammation, and an increase in oil production along with dryness from hormonal shifts can further aggravate the situation.

While you may not be able to eradicate acne and rosacea entirely, you can put up a good fight by maintaining a healthy and varied diet and treating your skin as gently as you would your new babe’s. It may be as simple as discussing non-toxic skincare options with your dermatologist or health care provider. If your skin is acting differently, it makes sense that you probably need to change up your skincare regimen too!

Support good skin through digestion by getting plenty of fibre, water, and supplementing with probiotics. Invest in quality skincare products featuring AHAs like glycolic acid to gently exfoliate the skin and azelaic acid, for rosacea specifically.

Eczema and psoriasis

Eczema and psoriasis, which are both inflammatory skin disorders, may improve or worsen with pregnancy. While typically those predisposed to these skin conditions are likely to be affected, occasionally eczema and psoriasis may rear their itchy heads for the first time during, or just after, pregnancy. The underlying cause of both these conditions isn’t fully known but supporting digestive health and avoiding triggers are effective at keeping eczema and psoriasis at bay.

Soothe inflammation and promote healing with topical ingredients like chamomile, calendula, zinc, vitamin E, shea, and oats. Work with your healthcare provider to make sure your vitamin D level is adequate with a blood test, as vitamin D deficiency and skin issues like eczema and psoriasis go hand-in-hand.

PUPPP

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (it’s a mouthful!) is a rash that occurs quite commonly, especially in first-time (or multiples) pregnancies. Though the exact cause isn’t known, it seems to be triggered by the stretching of skin and is marked by a cluster of very itchy, raised red hive-like rashes that start on the belly within stretch marks and spread to other parts of the body.

Relieve the rash with teas or tinctures made from herbs like dandelion and nettles. Or try vitamin C and quercetin to stabilize the cells that release histamine and help the body to process histamine faster. Ask your naturopath for advice on herbal creams with soothing and cooling properties to decrease inflammation. (Unbearably itchy situations might mean a steroid cream prescribed by your healthcare provider.)

Skin discolourations and melasma

Skin discolouration is quite common during pregnancy and can range from small hyperpigmented spots to melasma—known as “the mask of pregnancy”—which is a darker discolouration that generally shows up in a symmetrical pattern across the face. These discolourations are often the result of hormonal changes, but genetics and thyroid disorders can play a role as well. This is where sunscreen use is key, as the sun can be a triggering factor.

Diminish discoloration by using AHAs and azelaic acid to gently exfoliate and reduce hyperpigmentation. Be patient, as oftentimes it will disappear on its own with time and hormonal shifts.


Bypass blemishes with some beauty basics  

  • Consume an antioxidant-rich diet that includes vegetables, fibre, and protein to regulate blood sugar and maintain good digestion. Keep hydrated.

  • Avoid products with hormone disruptors like phthalates and BPA, harsh chemicals, toxic preservatives, and additives. Check out our complete list on harmful cosmetic ingredients.

  • Wear non-toxic, mineral-based sunscreen.

  • Identify any potential allergies or food sensitivities if possible.

  • Eliminate thyroid issues through testing. Thyroid conditions can be at the root of some of these changes, so getting tested and, if necessary, treated to improve your thyroid functioning may help improve your skin.


Spider and varicose veins

Spider veins are groups of tiny blood vessels that appear close to the surface of the skin, usually on the legs and the face, often appearing as lacy webs. Varicose veins, on the other hand, are swollen, raised blood vessels on the legs, but can also be found on the vulva (vulvar varicosities). They can appear during and after pregnancy, and are caused by both the increased weight and pressure of baby and pushing during labour. Although they usually dissipate on their own and are relatively painless, they can cause some discomfort.

Vanquish veins by eating foods that promote “digestive fire” (spices like cinnamon and ginger, and warm meals with root vegetables, onions, and garlic), drinking enough water, ensuring adequate fibre intake, and maintaining healthy bowel function. Supplementation with vitamin C and hesperidin can help as can the topical application of herbs like horse chestnut and witch hazel to the problem sites, to help support the walls of the blood vessels. Promote healthy circulation by keeping active and alternating hot and cold therapy (like a Nordic spa) or hydrotherapy, or purchase compression stockings and elevate your legs frequently. Acupuncture is a also a great alternative.  

Hemorrhoids

These are the same swollen blood vessels as varicose veins, but they appear in the rectal and/or anal area. Internal hemorrhoids in the rectum are typically painless while external hemorrhoids around the anus can cause notable discomfort, pain, and itchiness. In pregnancy, they usually develop from the extra pressure and weight of a growing babe, from pushing during childbirth, or from straining during bowel movements.

Heal hemorrhoids by managing the constipation that often accompanies hormonal fluctuations. Staying active and seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist can also be helpful to ensure good circulation. Use herbs like horse chestnut, witch hazel, and bilberry to help tone the blood vessels. Apply topically as a spray or with saturated pads, take internally, or have a sitz bath with a few of these herbs included. Apply topical creams formulated specifically for hemorrhoids. These can range from safe and natural options to prescription ones, if necessary.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are quite common when there’s any big spurt in growth. They oftentimes start as reddish-purple lines on the skin that slowly fade over time into silvery ones. In pregnancy, they especially occur around the belly and breasts. Genetics and your personal history with (or without) stretch marks are good predictors of future stretch marks caused by any kind of growth. Though many creams tout otherwise, once stretch marks appear, they are hard to treat due to the different organization of skin tissue that has occurred.

Slow stretch marks by priming your skin with hydration and plenty of dietary vitamins and minerals including the building blocks of collagen (which promotes elasticity in tissues) like vitamin C and protein. Maintain good circulation with exercise and slather your growing abdomen with moisturizing oils and butters—at the very least you (and baby!) will enjoy the belly rubs. Most importantly, respect your stretch marks!! They’re the badges of honour you wear that tell the story of your body’s formidable accomplishment!

There are many changes in the body and skin that accompany the “four trimesters.” It’s important to remember that we all have different genetic predispositions, and that some skin issues are more difficult to see and treat than others. Supporting your skin from the outside with appropriate non-toxic ingredients, on the inside with a nutritious diet and adequate hydration, and communicating with a specialist about prevention and treatment options are central to achieving and maintaining healthy skin before, during, and after pregnancy.

Here's more on what you can do to prepare for the "fourth trimester."