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Health & Pregnancy

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Expecting a Baby? Expect Changes in Skin, Hair, and Nails

WebMD Health News

July 26, 2001 -- In old Hollywood movies it's easy to tell if a woman is pregnant by looking at her face. She is glowing with a special, radiant beauty, and it always gives her away. Think Donna Reed as Mary Bailey in, "It's a Wonderful Life."

In real life, only a few very lucky women can list radiance and glow as their most dominant dermatological traits during pregnancy. The vast majority have to put up with one or all of the following: dark blotches on the skin, hair growth in unusual areas, thinning hair, rashes, pimples, stretch marks, and brittle or splitting nails.

If you are pregnant and feeling more like the Bride of Frankenstein than a Frank Capra heroine, relax, experts say. Skin, hair, and nail changes are to be expected, and they usually go away in the months after your baby is born.

"Women know about the stretch marks, but many of the other very common dermatological changes during pregnancy, like hyperpigmentation, aren't very well known," Massachusetts dermatologist Lisa M. Cohen, MD, tells WebMD. "I don't think they are talked about very much."

Cohen and colleague George Kroumpuzos, MD, reviewed published studies on dermatological changes during pregnancy and published their findings in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Hyperpigmentation, or the darkening of the skin, especially on the nipples and the abdomen, occurs in 90% of pregnant women. It is caused by the increased production of melanin, a substance that gives color to the skin and hair.

Melasma, more commonly known as the "mask of pregnancy," occurs in 70% of pregnant women, and may involve darkening of the cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin. This blotchy darkening usually disappears after pregnancy, but the best way to prevent it from occurring in the first place is with the diligent use of sunscreen, Cohen says.

"Even if you only go outside for 15 minutes, you can [worsen] this condition," she tells WebMD. "Just a little sun every day can really hurt if you don't protect yourself."

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