The aim of this leaflet
During pregnancy you may see many changes to your skin. We would like to introduce some of these
common, usually harmless but sometimes unpleasant skin changes and explain what you can do to help
Skin changes during pregnancy include:
1. stretch marks (striae)
2. skin tags
3. changes in hair growth
4. spider veins and varicose veins
5. darkening of areas of your skin (melasma or cloasma)
6. pimple breakouts (acne) - information in a separate leaflet
7. darkening of moles and freckles - information in a separate leaflet
1. What are stretch marks (striae)?
Stretch marks are linear marks that most often develop over the breasts, abdomen, hips, and thighs. They begin as reddish purple lines and with time, they become white atrophic (wrinkled) scars. They are very common in pregnancy occurring in up to 50% to 90% of pregnant women. They are usually asymptomatic but rarely may cause burning and itching.
Stretch marks are caused by stretching of the skin beyond its elastic limit. Elastin fibres in the dermis are disrupted and eventually thickened collagen forms scar tissue. They are seen more frequently in young women, women who are overweight and women who have large babies. They usually appear around the 25th week of pregnancy, although some women develop stretch marks even earlier. There is no health risk to either mother or baby if stretch marks are present. Most stretch marks fade after delivery, leaving only pale-coloured lines. Stretch marks cannot be prevented. Multiple over-the-counter creams and ointments are available, but there is no evidence any topical agents can prevent stretch marks. After delivery, stretch marks fade over a year or two, but do not disappear entirely. Some treatments may improve the cosmetic appearance of stretch marks, including topical retinoid preparations or laser. However retinoids
are forbidden during pregnancy and during breastfeeding, as they harm the baby. Other applications and laser treatment may be recommended by your dermatologist.
2. Skin tags (fibroma pendulum, acrochordon)
Skin tags are very small, 1-5 mm, loose, polyp like, skin coloured growths of skin that usually appear under your arms or breasts. The increased appearance of skin tags during pregnancy is hormonally induced at areas exposed to mechanical irritation. They may disappear after delivery. If they still persist, these tiny tags can be removed by your dermatologist.
3. Changes in hair growth
During pregnancy more hair goes into the resting phase (telogen), of the normal growth cycle of hair. This causes diminished shedding of the hair and it is perceived as thickening of the hair. Three months after delivery the hair cycle normalizes causing temporarily more loss of hair in many women. This is called post-partum telogen effluvium. This process is usually completed six to twelve months after delivery. After this hair growth will return to normal. This temporary hair loss after delivery of a baby is normal and temporary, and special shampoos or other treatments are not effective.
Pregnant women may experience hair growth in typical male sites for example the beard area. This phenomenon is also related to hormonal changes (more male hormone, testosterone). Usually, it is not severe or permanent and disappears within a couple of months of delivery.
4. Spider veins (spider angiomas)
Spider veins are collections of tiny dilated blood vessels that usually radiate from a central point. They may appear on the face, chest, or sometimes on the arms. They usually fade or disappear after delivery. If not, they can be treated effectively by a dermatologist with vascular lasers.
Pressure on the large veins (blood vessels that lead blood to the heart) behind the growing uterus causes the blood flow to slow down in its return to the heart. Swelling of the skin around the ankles may develop; your legs may feel heavy and tired. In a later stage dilated veins of your legs -varicose veins- may appear.
In order to improve the circulation of the blood you should elevate your legs whenever possible. Walking helps the circulation (your muscle pump) whilst standing and sitting for long periods worsens the blood flow. Supportive stockings or flight socks should be worn if you feel that your legs get swollen, special pregnancy types are available. If you have a family or personal history of varicose veins or thrombophlebitis (inflammed veins)/deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) you should consult your doctor.
5. Darkening of areas of your skin
Increased skin pigmentation is common. Facial pigmentation in pregnancy is called melasma or chloasma, also known as ‘the mask of pregnancy’. Other areas of skin which may darken include nipples, genitalia, and linea alba (line on your abdomen). In some women recent scars will darken.
Facial pigmentation occurs in 75% of pregnant women, and up to 90% of dark skinned women. It typically develops in the second trimester.
Melasma worsens with sunlight exposure. The most effective strategies to prevent or help fade facial pigmentation are sun protection, including wearing a hat, staying in the shade, and the use of high protection factor (SPF 50) UVB and UVA sunscreens. Visible light blocking make-up (containing iron-oxides) may also help. Melasma usually disappears after pregnancy but can persist in one third of women. Topical retinoids and hydroquinone creams prescribed by a dermatologist can help treat melasma, but these must be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Brennan M, Young G, Devane D. Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (11): CD000066. DOI: 10.1002/14651858. CD000066.pub2.
- Bourkari et al. Prevention of melasma relapses with sunscreen combining protection against UV and short wavelengths of visible light: A prospective randomized comparative trial. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2015.
This leaflet has been prepared by the EADV Task Force “Skin Diseases in Pregnancy”, it does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the EADV.