Pregnancy: Stretch Marks, Itching, and Skin Changes

Overview

Common skin changes during pregnancy include stretch marks, darkening of parts of the skin, and tiny red areas on the skin. These changes usually fade after pregnancy. Acne may either get worse or clear up during pregnancy.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are lines on the skin that may appear late in pregnancy. They look like slightly indented pink, red, dark, or white streaks, depending on your skin color. Stretch marks are most common on the belly, but they can also develop on the breasts and thighs.

The cause of stretch marks is not well understood. They have been linked to increasing pregnancy hormones and stretching of the tissue under the skin. Heredity is thought to play a role in the development of stretch marks, so if your mother had them, you are likely to have them too. Weight gain during pregnancy does not seem to play a role. Some women who gain little weight during pregnancy develop stretch marks.

Creams or oils (such as vitamin E oil) or other treatments have not been shown to prevent stretch marks. But they do help with skin dryness and may reduce itching.

Stretch marks never go away, but they fade to a lighter color so they become less obvious after pregnancy.

Itchy skin

During pregnancy, your stretching skin may become dry and itchy. Your growing belly is likely to be the most itchy part of your body as your pregnancy progresses.

Here are ways to help yourself feel better.

  • Avoid hot showers and baths.

    Hot water takes off more of your skin's natural oils.

  • After bathing, pat excess water off your skin and apply moisturizer before your skin dries completely.

    It may feel even better if you keep your moisturizer in the refrigerator.

  • Try not to use drying soaps, skin products with alcohol, and heavily chlorinated water.

    They may make your skin more dry.

  • If you live in a dry climate, use a humidifier.

Skin color changes

Skin color changes are common during pregnancy. For example, many women notice that parts of their skin get darker.

  • The areola, the ring of skin around your nipples, may darken in the second trimester of pregnancy.
  • A dark line may appear on the skin between your navel and your pubic area (linea nigra). This will fade after pregnancy.
  • Dark patches may appear on your face. This is known as the "mask of pregnancy," or chloasma. It usually fades after delivery.

These skin color changes are not well understood. It may be that high levels of pregnancy hormones cause the skin to make more melanin, which gives skin its tan or brown color. To help keep these areas from getting darker, use sunscreen and avoid sun exposure.

Some women develop redness on the palms of their hands (palmar erythema) during pregnancy. Sometimes the red areas are also itchy. Palmar erythema is thought to be caused by increased levels of estrogen during pregnancy. The problem is not serious and usually disappears shortly after delivery.

Some women get tiny, red elevated areas (spider angiomas) on their face, neck, chest, or arms. Angiomas are not serious and usually go away after pregnancy.

Red, raised rash

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is a red, raised rash that itches. It most often occurs in a first pregnancy. The rash may appear first on stretch marks on the stomach. Then it may spread to the thighs, rear end (buttocks), and arms. PUPPP is not a serious condition and does not cause problems for your baby. But it can be very upsetting for you. Controlling your symptoms is the main focus of treatment.

PUPPP usually goes away on its own within a week after birth. The condition is treated with medicine to stop the itching.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: February 23, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.