Pregnancy can affect the skin in various ways, including an increase in acne, visible veins, and pigmentation changes.

People commonly experience changes in the appearance of the skin during pregnancy, including:

  • dark spots on the breasts, nipples and inner thighs
  • melasma
  • linea nigra
  • stretch marks
  • acne
  • spider veins
  • varicose veins

Many of these conditions are normal and occur due to hormonal changes.

In this article, we will examine some of the skin changes that pregnancy can cause.

Hyperpigmentation refers to dark spots or patches on the skin. An increase in naturally occurring melanin causes this.

Typically, hyperpigmentation resolves after delivery, but it might persist for several years.

An example of hyperpigmentation in pregnancy is melasma. Some people refer to this as “the mask of pregnancy.” Brown patches on the face, cheeks, nose, and forehead are the characteristic features of melasma.

Seek consultation with a dermatologist about ways to treat melasma during pregnancy.

Limiting sun exposure between 10 am and 2 pm, using a factor 30 sunscreen or above, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat when outside can all help reduce melasma symptoms.

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is a condition in which pale red bumps appear on the skin of a pregnant woman, leading to significant itching, burning, or stinging. These bumps vary in size, ranging from very small areas to larger areas that form a plaque.

Most commonly, these lesions occur on the abdomen, legs, arms, breasts or buttocks. PUPPP typically resolves after delivery.

A doctor might prescribe an antihistamine or topical corticosteroid to relieve inflammation and itching, although taking self-care steps can help minimize the symptoms of PUPPP.

These steps include:

  • using lukewarm water when washing
  • applying cool compresses
  • wearing loose or lightweight clothing
  • avoiding the use of soap on skin that has PUPPP

Stretch marks are common in women who are pregnant.

Women often develop stretch marks across the abdomen, buttocks, breasts, or thighs during pregnancy. Stretch marks initially have a reddish-purple appearance and fade to silver or white over time.

Although they often fade, stretch marks never completely resolve. The postpartum treatment of stretch marks is frequently ineffective, although a person might consider laser and prescription creams in some instances.

Many attempts to prevent or treat stretch marks are not successful. However, hydrating the skin with moisturizers is a sensible control measure during pregnancy.

The development of skin tags during pregnancy is common. These lesions typically occur on the neck, chest, back, groin, and under the breasts.

Skin tags are generally not dangerous or malignant. If they are in a place in which they are at risk of irritation of bleeding, due to clothing or repetitive motion, a doctor can remove them.

Acne may develop or get worse during pregnancy.

Many treatments are available for acne, including prescription and non-prescription medications. Discuss these with a healthcare provider before use.

General hygiene practices are important for treating acne. These include:

  • washing the face with lukewarm water
  • using a mild cleanser twice daily
  • keeping hair away from the face
  • shampooing daily
  • avoiding picking at pimples
  • using oil-free cosmetics

During pregnancy, using over-the-counter (OTC) products that contain topical benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, azelaic acid, or glycolic acid is safe.

Not all medications are safe to use during pregnancy, however. Products to avoid during pregnancy include:

  • hormonal therapy, due to an increased risk of congenital anomalies
  • isotretinoin, a form of vitamin A, also called retinol, that can increase the risk of severe congenital anomalies, cognitive difficulties, life-threatening heart and brain conditions, and other development issues
  • oral tetracyclines, a type of antibiotic that enhances the risk of tooth discoloration in an infant, as well as having negative effects on fetal bone growth when a woman takes them during the fourth month of pregnancy
  • topical retinoids, a form of vitamin A that is common in both prescription and nonprescription products

Spider veins are small, red veins that most commonly affect the face, neck, and arms.

Hormone changes during pregnancy cause these unsightly skin changes, as well as a higher blood volume.

Varicose veins are painful, enlarged veins that increased weight and uterine pressure can cause during pregnancy. This decreases blood flow to the legs.

Varicose veins can occur on the legs, vulva, vagina, and rectum. These typically resolve after delivery. Point these out to a doctor or midwife during checkups.

To keep the effects of varicose veins to a minimum and relieve symptoms, take the following precautions:

  • Limit periods of sitting and standing.
  • Uncross the legs when sitting for long periods.
  • Elevate your legs when possible.
  • Exercise often.
  • Use support hose.
  • Avoid constipation with exercise and fluids.

Other less common skin conditions during pregnancy include prurigo of pregnancy, pemphigoid gestationis, and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP).

Prurigo of pregnancy

Symptoms of prurigo of pregnancy include tiny, itchy bumps that resemble insect bites. Pregnancy-induced changes to the immune system can trigger prurigo of pregnancy.

It can occur in women throughout pregnancy, with symptoms often getting worse day by day.

This condition can take several months to resolve, with symptoms sometimes extending beyond the delivery date.

Pemphigoid gestationis

Pemphigoid gestationis is an autoimmune disorder that typically occurs during the second or third trimester. In some cases, it might occur in the time immediately following childbirth.

Symptoms of this condition include blisters on the abdomen or other parts of the body. This condition slightly increases the risk of preterm birth or a baby with low birth weight.

Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy

Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) is a pregnancy-induced liver condition that becomes obvious in the third trimester.

Severe itching might occur without the presence of a rash. The palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or trunk of the body typically itch the most.

Symptoms of ICP generally resolve after birth. However, ICP also increases the risk of preterm labor and fetal death.

Speak with a healthcare provider on experiencing any unusual skin conditions that get worse. Seek advice before starting treatment.