5 Skin Problems That Happen During Pregnancy

You were expecting a glow, but instead you got skin woes. Here's how to deal.
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Jessica R.
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You were expecting a glow, but instead you got skin woes. Here's how to deal.

You know that glow pregnant ladies are reputed to have? Yeah, for me, that was nothing more than a consistently present sheen of perspiration from the exertion of trying not to puke for approximately 12 weeks.

In addition to contending with morning sickness (or, in my case, All Day Sickness), pregnancy often induces either latent or new skin issues for women. Growing a human isn’t always a glamorous process, ladies. Here are five skin problems to expect when you’re expecting--and what you can do to manage them.

1. Acne 

As a teen, the most acne I ever dealt with was an angry red zit here and there--annoying, but easy to conceal and something that would reliably disappear after two to three days. But as a newly pregnant woman my skin went bananas; for the first time in my life I was fighting a losing battle with cystic acne. Anyone with experience in this arena knows that a) these suckers HURT, and b) they leave a lovely scar that may or may not fade with time. But if you’re pregnant, doctors advise against any topical medications containing the following.

  • Beta hydroxy acid (BHA)
  • Differin (adapelene)
  • Retin-A, Renova (tretinoin)
  • Retinoic acid
  • Retinol
  • Retinyl linoleate
  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Salicylic acid
  • Tazorac and avage (Tazarotene)
  • Tretinoin

If you want to cover up blemishes with makeup, there are several organic options available. LUSH Cosmetics Color Essentials is a multitasking product that can function as foundation, concealer, and moisturizer. Pür Minerals Liquid Veil 4-in-1 Spray Foundation gives your skin an airbrushed look. Juice Beauty does all organic makeup and is also gluten-free.

First trimester acne usually subsides on its own once your body adapts to the increased levels of estrogen that contributed to your breakouts. Dermatologists can write a prescription for a safe topical antibiotic, but personally, I just waited it out.

2. Eczema 

I’ve always battled a bit of eczema here and there. When life gets stressful I'll develop a dry patch of skin on my upper arm or on my calf. I've never worried about it because while it resisted any lotion or cream, it eventually went away on its own.

However, pregnancy took things to a whole new level. First, a cluster of itchy red bumps appeared on my upper left thigh. Then another. Then two on my right thigh. Then on my calf. By my elbow. On the fleshy part of my upper arm.

“What’s going on??” I wailed to my husband, a physician.

“You’re pregnant,” was his overly-reductionist (in my opinion) answer.

“What can I do about it?” I asked, panicked.

“Have the baby,” he replied.

Like acne, there’s not a lot you can do about pregnancy-induced eczema, except be patient and avoid topical medications unless you have your provider’s express approval. For natural treatments, I alternated between coconut oil and Josie Maran’s Argan Daily Moisturizer, which helped make the rash less red and scaly.

That said, I had the baby and the 3-month-old rash disappeared within 48 hours.

An extreme case of pregnancy rash, called Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP) is a full-body condition, though it rarely spreads to the face. It’s not dangerous, but it’s not cute either. Doctors can prescribe medication to help with the itching, but otherwise, you just have to wait it out. PUPPP typically resolves on its own a week after delivering your baby.

3. Discoloration

As if the acne and rashes aren’t bad enough, some ladies end up with skin discoloration on their face, called melasma, known as the “mask of pregnancy.” A linea nigra, or dark line, can also appear on the abdomen. Like everything else, skin discoloration during pregnancy can be attributed to hormonal changes causing your body to produce excess melanin. It’s just luck of the draw who gets it.

The number one thing you can do to prevent discoloration is avoid the sun. Honest Company’s sunscreen is safe for expecting moms and their babies, is cruelty-free, and has won, like, a bazillion awards.

If you already have melasma, you can use an approved topical treatment. The Spoiled Mama has a moisturizer and face brightening serum to treat discoloration that is vegan and one of the more affordable options out there.

4. Extra Sensitive Armpits 

pure magnesium oil

Here’s a fun one. By my third trimester, my armpits were on fire after shaving them, to the point that I stopped applying deodorant. 

An excellent substitute when you find your skin repelling your deodorant and antiperspirant is magnesium oil spray. A few spritzes under each arm (wait for a little while on freshly shaved pits or else it will sting like a mother) helps neutralize the body’s odors. Bonus: Magnesium alleviates the leg cramps most preggos have to deal with.

5. Stretch Marks 

OK, I’m gonna be real with you: In all likelihood, there’s not much you can do about stretch marks. Some ladies get them, some don’t. I already had stripes on my inner thighs and lower abdomen from my prepubescent growth spurt years, so the prospect of a few more didn’t worry me and I didn’t take any measures to prevent them. And, ultimately, I didn’t end up with any new ones.

But if you feel like you must do something, you can protect your skin’s elasticity with body butters. The simplest, cheapest, and most widely touted remedy is cocoa butter.

If you’re looking for something a little more engineered, Erbaviva’s organic skin care line includes a Stretch Mark Cream and Stretch Mark Oil, designed to be used together. I have to say, everything Erbaviva makes smells amazing--all of their products are pleasantly scented with essential oils--so if nothing else, at least you’ll smell good. Another option, Earth Mama Angel Baby Organics, does a body butter that won “Best Stretch Mark Cream.”

But if you use any or all of these and still end up with stretch marks, know that they ­do fade over time, and have had zero negative impact on my quality of life. I promise, they aren’t the worst thing that can happen.

Pregnancy hormones create all kinds of mischief for your skin. Trust that almost all of the conditions will be temporary, but if something is really bothering you, invest in safe topical treatments after consulting with your doctor.

And, hey, it’s not all bad. By the second trimester my acne disappeared, my skin had never looked better, and I finally had that pregnancy glow!

  • What kind of skin conditions did you deal with during pregnancy and what did you do to treat them?

Cover photo by Robert Przybysz/Shutterstock