You're probably looking forward to the radiant, flawless glow that's supposed to come with pregnancy. While it's true that pregnancy hormones can change your skin, don’t expect a perfect complexion and nothing else. The skin on your breasts, belly, and other places will change, too.
"Your skin gets drier and a little more sensitive, probably because your body is making a lot of changes and doesn't have as much energy as it should to take care of itself," says Heather Rogers, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Washington.
Your skin will develop subtle and obvious changes, including these:
Acne. Pregnancy hormones make your skin produce more oil, which can cause pimples.
"In some situations, that's going to produce more of a glow and make the skin look soft," says Jenny Murase, MD, assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. "In other situations, people start to get acne."
Areas that darken. Certain body parts typically get darker from pregnancy hormones. A stripe of skin above and below your belly button known as the linea nigra darkens, as do your nipples. Moles may also deepen a shade or two. (To be safe, have your dermatologist check darker moles to rule out cancer.)
"It all improves 3 to 6 months after pregnancy, but sometimes it doesn't fully reverse," Rogers says. "Some of your moles stay dark, or your nipples may."
Melasma. Many women develop a skin-darkening condition on the face called melasma, sometimes known as "the mask of pregnancy." It's caused by hormones combined with sun exposure. Melasma fades 3 to 6 months after pregnancy, but patches can reappear when you spend time outside without sunscreen.
"You have to change your habits if you're prone to melasma," Rogers says. "Wear zinc sunscreen and a hat."
Rubbing moisturizer on your belly daily can help reduce your chances, but no product can prevent them, not even stretch-mark creams.
"I wouldn't be too hopeful that it would be the magic potion that will keep you from getting them," says Julie Karen, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine.
"You get allergic more easily when you're pregnant," Murase says. "It's due to an immune system shift. Estrogen is thought to be one of the primary hormones that causes that shift."
Take Care of Your Skin
Make sure that you're using the right skin care products while pregnant, including these:
Sunscreen. Use sunscreen regularly throughout pregnancy, especially on your face.
"Use sunscreen with zinc oxide," Rogers says. "It has good broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection."
Moisturizer. Your skin may be drier, so doctors recommend applying a mild moisturizer on the face, arms, legs, breasts, and belly after a shower, to lock in the moisture. Fragrance-free products are best, preferably creams and ointments.
"If you take a container and turn the container over and it doesn't run out of the container, that's thick enough to moisturize your skin," Murase says. "Lotions tend to have a lot of water in them and can dry out your skin."
Cleansers. Because your skin will be more sensitive during pregnancy, use mild, fragrance-free products on your face and body, and remember to be gentle.
"Less is more," Rogers says. "You don't want to scrub. You don't want to use medicated cleansers. Use hydrating cleansers or products for sensitive skin."
Acne medication. Some acne treatments aren't safe during pregnancy, including prescription retinoids (like tretinoin) and over-the-counter retinols (like anti-aging night creams). Doctors also ask patients to stop using topical salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, although no studies have linked these treatments to birth defects. Alpha-hydroxy acids are usually safe, but ask your OB/GYN.
"Washes or cleansers, which have very short contact with the skin, can be safe to use during pregnancy when someone is having a problem with acne," Karen says. "A physician can prescribe medication, if needed."