From acne to itching, all those hormones can have a big impact
By Dr Daniel Glass
We all know our bodies will change when we are pregnant. What we don’t often talk about is all the other things that change along with it, including eating habits, sleeping patterns and even your skin. Leading dermatologist Dr Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic, London, sheds light on common pregnancy related skin issues.
Blood vessel changes during pregnancy have been linked to variations in levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which in turn can influence your skin. Common issues resulting from this include small visible blood vessels, known as spider naevi, and Palmar erythema, a redness on the palms which occurs in up to 70% of pregnant women. Both conditions will generally resolve themselves once your baby has been born.
Often associated with pregnant women, this enlargement of the veins typically occurs in your legs as the increased pressure in the pelvis area makes it harder for blood to return to the rest of the body. At the same time, the pregnancy hormone progesterone will cause your vessel walls to relax allowing them to swell and become more pronounced. Varicose veins often improve within three to four months after you have given birth, although sometimes it can take a little longer. However, the more pregnancies you have, the more likely these veins will require medical intervention to improve.
As you’ve probably noticed your hormone levels are constantly changing, both during and after your pregnancy. An increase in hormones called androgens can cause the glands in your skin to produce more sebum. which in turn will make your skin feel greasier and can lead to more problems with acne. Medical treatment for acne during pregnancy can be difficult as many drugs cannot be used. If acne becomes a major issue during pregnancy seek expert advice from your dermatologist.
Hair and nail changes
Many women notice an increased hair growth on their scalp during pregnancy. This enhanced growth pattern often stops after the baby is born when there is an increase in hair shedding, a post pregnancy phenomenon known as telogen effluvium. These changes are due to the effect that pregnancy has on the women’s hair growth cycle. In addition, some pregnant women report brittle nails during pregnancy, which if pregnancy related, will tend to settle down after delivery.
Many pregnant women notice an increase in their skin pigmentation, which is more marked in women with darker skin types. This darkening of the skin is often one of the first signs of pregnancy and is related to increased levels of oestrogen, progesterone and other hormones that stimulate pigment cells. Women suffering from this condition, will notice that areas that are already pigmented such as the nipples and abdomen will become darker during their pregnancy, but this will generally settle down after delivery.
Up to 70% of women will suffer from dark areas of skin on their face during pregnancy because of Melasma, especially those of dark complexion. These dark spots will commonly appear on your forehead and cheeks, due to increased hormone related pigmentation. To minimise symptoms, try to avoid the sun as it can cause the patches to darken further and ensure you wear a high protection sun cream if exposed to sunlight. These areas often fade once your hormone levels have returned to normal after pregnancy, but occasionally persist and need treatment.
Itchy skin occurs in up to a fifth of all pregnant women. Most often it is due to an exacerbation of an underlying skin disorder, such as eczema or psoriasis. A smaller number of women experience intense itching without obvious cause, which is called pruritus gravidarum.
A small percentage of women will suffer from severe itching all over their body, especially on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet as a result of a relatively uncommon condition called obstetric cholestasis (OC). In this situation make sure you seek medical advice from your GP or visit a dermatologist, especially if your rash or itching is severe or lasts longer than a couple of days.
More than 90% of pregnant women experience stretch marks during their pregnancy. These pink or purple lines which appear mainly on the abdomen, are due to the sudden increase in size and stretching of the skin, and are the body’s way of coping and expanding to accommodate your growing baby. Risk factors include your age and family history of stretch marks, together with increased pre-pregnancy and pre-delivery weight. Applying moisturising creams may help limit the appearance of stretch marks and reduce the reddening, however once you’ve given birth the stretch marks will tend to fade gradually over time.
Most of the time changes in your skin during pregnancy are not any cause for concern and will not harm you or your baby. If you are at all concerned, it is always advisable to consult a professional.
The Dermatology Clinic, London is based in Harley Street and boasts a team of Consultant Dermatologists ready to help you both during and after your pregnancy.