There are lots of things we’re told about pregnancy, but when it actually happens to you, you realise there’s so much more to learn. In Unexpected, we’ll chart some of the less spoken about things that happen in the months between finding out you’re pregnant and giving birth.
One thing many expectant mothers look forward to in pregnancy is the arrival of the so-called pregnancy glow – fresh, dewy skin that quite literally makes you look like sun beams are coming from your face.
But sadly it’s a bit of a myth that everyone gets it. “Some women definitely do find their skin is better during pregnancy,” Dr Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, tells HuffPost UK.
“This is because blood flow to the skin and circulating growth factors both increase during pregnancy, which I think is the likely explanation for this ‘glow’.”
But anecdotally, she says these women are very much in the minority.
“For many women during pregnancy, the skin can be troublesome or feel dull,” she says. Tiredness, poor sleep, dietary changes can all contribute to this – not to mention the fact your hormones are going haywire.
Pregnant people are more likely to encounter skin issues like pigmentation, dullness, dryness, enlarged pores, redness, congestion and blemishes. All in all, not a glowing line up.
If you’re one of the lucky few to get that pregnancy glow, grasp it with both hands. For the rest of us, here are some of the most common skin changes during pregnancy and what – if anything – you can do about it.
Lots of pregnant women notice colour changes to their skin during pregnancy – the most obvious being the appearance of a darker-coloured line down the middle of your stomach (also known as the linea nigra).
This happens because the body produces more melanin-stimulating hormone during pregnancy, says Dr Wedgeworth, which can even cause changes in the appearance of moles.
Melasma is another issue which can crop up in pregnancy, says Dr Adam Friedmann, consultant dermatologist at Stratum Clinics. It’s characterised by dark patches appearing on the skin and is more common in those with darker skin tones and those who tan very quickly, he tells HuffPost UK.
While the patches can appear anywhere on the body that’s exposed to the sun, they are most commonly seen on the face, particularly the cheeks, forehead, nose and chin.
“The areas of melasma will look darker than the surrounding skin and are flat to the skin, not raised,” says Dr Friedmann. “Other than appearance, there are no physical symptoms of melasma.”
While some of the pigmentation that occurs in pregnancy (like the line on your stomach) is pretty unavoidable, there is one major thing you can do to minimise issues like melasma and increased pigmentation: and that’s wearing sun protection all day, every day.
“If your melasma has developed as a result of your pregnancy, symptoms are likely to improve once you have given birth,” says Dr Friedmann. You’re also likely to see symptoms reoccur during subsequent pregnancies.
2. Pregnancy acne
Your skin might be looking a little bumpy these days and that’s due to all of the hormonal changes going on inside your body. If you’ve got pregnancy acne, your skin will be covered in red or pink pimples.
Dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth recommends avoiding pore-blocking ingredients like oils and butters if you’re breaking out, and instead using non-comedogenic skincare which won’t clog your skin.
3. Stretch marks
We’ve all heard of this one. A growing stomach and growing breasts can ultimately lead to stretch marks – small lines or streaks on the skin, which can be pink, purple or white in colour depending on how old they are.
“They occur where there is a tear in the dermis accompanied by loss of elasticity,” explains Dr Friedmann. “Commonly occurring on the stomach, hips, thighs, back and breasts, they are generally associated with rapid changes in weight such as in pregnancy, obesity and bodybuilding.”
There’s not always that much you can do to prevent them. “Whilst some women won’t get stretch marks at all, others are just more genetically prone to these,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “I advise maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy and ensuring the skin is well hydrated.”
Some women will regularly moisturise or use oils on their bumps to try and prevent stretch marks – however you should make sure the product you’re using is safe to use in pregnancy before doing this.
4. Skin sensitivity
While some women breakout in pregnancy, others might find their skin becomes a lot more sensitive – with itching and even eczema flare-ups.
How this is treated will very much depend on the severity of the issue. For general skin sensitivity, it might be worth trying more gentle skincare products such as cream-based cleansers and rich moisturiser, says Dr Wedgeworth, and reduce potential irritants such as acid toners.
If you’ve got eczema, treatment tends to be mainly emollients, soap substitutes or steroids – but only if prescribed by a doctor.
How to keep your skin feeling fresh in pregnancy
Avoid stress (if you can)
Use SPF every day
Use gentle skincare products
Eat a balanced diet
Get as much sleep as possible
Avoid retinoids as these can cause harm to your baby
When will my skin return to normal?
Unfortunately there’s no set timeframe in which your skin will return to its pre-pregnancy days however dermatologists agree that within a year you should be back to normal. Although some skin changes like stretch marks may never fully recuperate.
“With the first pregnancy, I tend to find that once women stop breastfeeding, their skin returns to normal,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “After a couple of pregnancies, skin may shift more permanently – often becoming less oily, dryer or more sensitive.”