Count yourself lucky if you get compliments for your radiant and glowing complexion, which shows that you possess the “pregnancy glow”. Unlucky mums-to-be have to battle with less-than-pretty skin problems such as discoloration, itch and dry skin.
These skin woes are usually caused by a hormonal surge, which not only boosts your blood volume, but also increases skin pigmentation and oil production. This causes acne, rashes, hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) and causes brownish patches to form. While some skin changes will disappear after birth, others don’t.
Here are some changes to look out for…
1. STRETCH MARKS
WHAT Known as striae gravidarum, this condition occurs when your skin is stretching to make room for your growing baby. These pinkish, reddish or purplish streaks usually appear on the abdomen, thighs and buttocks and are often hereditary. Stretch marks will fade to silvery white lines that may or may not disappear after birth. Some mums think of them as “badges of motherhood”!
WHY They’re caused by the rapid over-stretching of the collagen fibres in the dermis of your skin.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION Moisturise daily to minimise unsightly streaks. Avoid excessive weight gain and drink plenty of water. Follow a diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins E and C, as well as zinc and silica, which helps to make collagen. Dermatologist Dr Neoh Ching Yin from Specialist Skin Clinic & Associates, advises against laser treatment for severe cases, as “there are no scientific studies to ascertain its effects on the foetus”.
While skin-darkening conditions may lighten after birth, melasma on the face may persist in up to 20 per cent of women.
WHAT Also known as “mask of pregnancy” and chloasma, melasma are brown patches on the forehead, cheeks and chin that usually occur in the second or third trimester.
WHY This skin condition is often associated with pregnancy hormones, sun exposure and genetics. Your skin is also particularly sensitive and any exposure to sunlight during your pregnancy will stimulate the formation of melanin, a dark-coloured skin pigment. While skin-darkening conditions may lighten after birth, melasma on the face may persist in up to 20 per cent of women. It’s also more common in darker skin types.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION Apply sunscreen — of at least SPF 30 — or wear a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.
3. VARICOSE VEINS
WHAT These unsightly, bluish veins are found on your legs or feet.
WHY Genetics play a role or if you’re carrying twins. Varicose veins happen when the extra blood volume puts pressure on your blood vessels, especially the veins on your legs, which have to fight gravity to push all the extra blood back to your heart. Varicose veins of the legs are common in the third trimester as the growing uterus increases pressure on the veins, too.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION Walk frequently and wear support stockings to keep your blood circulation going. Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods but if you must, then remember to prop your feet up and avoid crossing your legs. You can also sleep on your left side to take the pressure off the uterus. Watch your weight by sticking to a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and reducing your salt intake. Vitamin C has also been shown to enhance vein elasticity, which may reduce your risk of varicose veins. As constipation is often linked to varicose veins and haemorrhoids, eating high-fibre food will help.
4. PREGNANCY HIVES
WHAT Pregnancy hives usually appear as groups of raised, itchy welts on the legs, arms and back. These can occur at any time and do not pose a risk to mother and baby. You have higher chances of getting hives if you’re expecting your first child or twins. One in 150 pregnant women develop Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP), a severe case of hives, which cause extreme itchiness. PUPPP starts around the tummy and spreads to the arms and legs.
WHY Pregnancy hives are caused by an allergic reaction. The dryness of your skin, the increase in hormones, and changes that happen in your body can cause you to become more sensitive to pathogens, which result in hives.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION Avoid scratching or scrubbing the affected area and keep your skin well-moisturised by don’t take hot showers. Dr Neoh says that while hives can be treated with antihistamines, topical creams with steroids are also safe when used sparingly. For PUPPP, consult your doctor on what anti-itch creams you can use. But if you develop blisters, vesicles or pus-filled boils, get help immediately. These may indicate a serious rash, such as pemphigoid gestationis, intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, or pustular psoriasis of pregnancy, she adds. Left untreated, these skin diseases could cause preterm birth, small babies and even foetal death.
But if you develop blisters, vesicles or pus-filled boils, get help immediately… Left untreated, these skin diseases could cause preterm birth, small babies and even foetal death.
5. SPIDER ANGIOMA (SPIDER NAEVUS OR SPIDER NEVI)
WHAT A spider angioma is a type of telangiectasis (swollen blood vessels), which resembles a spider. The spider naevus or spider nevi veins — if there’s more than one — are cherry-red, raised lines that branch out from a central point. These appear on the face, chest, arms and belly.
WHY They appear due to an increased oestrogen levels, explains Dr Neoh. Often hereditary, angioma resolves on its own. This condition can be treated with vascular lasers and sclerotherapy, a procedure where medicine is injected into the vessels to make them shrink, she notes.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION You can’t prevent these from happening, but you can strengthen your weak blood vessels by consuming high-fibre foods, staying hydrated and increasing your vitamin C intake. If there’s bleeding, seek medical attention.
6. SKIN TAGS
WHAT “Skin tags are benign growths that tend to appear on the neck, axilla (underarm) and groin areas,” notes Dr Tan Hiok Hee, a senior consultant dermatologist at Thomson Specialist Skin Centre.
WHY Hormonal fluctations can cause tags to appear in places where the skin rubs or creases from friction. Skin tags may occur in the later stages of pregnancy.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION Tags usually disappear after delivery. But if they persist, minor surgical procedures can safely remove them, Dr Tan says.
Are your skincare products harming your baby?
Before you spring for products that promise to improve your skin’s condition, do note that they could feature ingredients that may harm your growing foetus.
Raffles Skin & Aesthetics dermatologist Dr Tan Siew Kiang points out that you should avoid products containing the following ingredients:
* Topical retinoids also known as retinol, retinyl linoleate, retinyl palmitate, adapalene/differin and tretinoin/retin-A.
* Hydroquinone, a skin-whitening agent.
* Steer clear of nail polishes that contain toluene, a suspected carcinogen, along with phthalates, and formaldehyde.
* Ammonia-based hair dyes should be avoided as these can irritate the skin and lungs.
Other than the ingredients mentioned, most skincare and cosmetic products shouldn’t pose any risk of defects to the baby, Dr Tan adds.
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