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Why do skin & hair changes occur in pregnancy?

Pregnancy is an intense time of change for your body and the skin is one of the more visibly obvious where changes can occur. It’s always nice to know what it is “normal” and reassure yourself that you’re not alone… the body is incredibly adaptive and is preparing to “nest”! There are huge hormone changes occurring on the inside (eg. rise in bHCG causing the dreaded morning sickness), visible physical changes on the outside (eg. bump growing and skin stretching) and your blood circulating volume increases which in turn can cause physical signs and symptoms (eg. palmar erythema which is redness and warmth of the palms).

What are the common skin changes that might occur?

  1. Striae (stretch marks) can occur most commonly over the abdomen, flanks and thighs where the skin rapidly stretches & bump develops. There is a significant genetic component to this & for some people no matter how many oils/creams/“magic” gels they buy, they aren’t preventable.
  2. Moles (particularly on growing bump and breasts) are likely to enlarge/stretch during this time; they shouldn’t however change colour or look like they are changing pattern/shape. Definitely see your GP or a dermatologist if you are concerned.
  3. Melasma (hyperpigmentation/darkening) on the face/neck is more likely to occur in pregnancy thought to be due to the excess of oestrogen and progesterone hormones; it is worsened by the sun hence why it commonly occurs on the face/neck.
  4. Nipple and areola enlargement (also can darken) as your breasts begin to prepare for baby’s arrival and milk ducts mature.
  5. Acne can improve…but also worsen! Unfortunately there’s no telling which way your skin will go…. The hormone changes are astronomical during pregnancy so the sebum production particularly on the face/jawline is likely to go through changes each trimester causing possible breakouts. Often this is worst in the first trimester and may settle later in pregnancy. (May also worsen if you were on treatment pre-pregnancy which is no longer safe for you to use eg. oral retinoids like Isotretinoin.)
  6. Varicose (prominent) veins and ankle swelling may worsen or appear; this is due to your overall increased blood volume alongside increased pressure in your abdomen which creates more “back log” for your leg circulation.
  7. “Linea nigra” (dark line that runs down your bump) may appear usually later in pregnancy due to high levels of oestrogen and progesterone, and your tummy button is likely to pop as bump gets bigger.

What hair & nail changes occur?

  1. Increased and thickened hair growth (as if the body is preparing to hibernate!); luscious locks on your head, not so great on your upper lip I’m afraid.
  2. Nail growth also often speeds up- a good excuse for pampering manicures.

What can you do about it?

Remember pregnancy is a very specific and special (albeit tough at times!) time and we all make up the “norm” no matter what end of the spectrum you find yourself! None of the above changes necessarily need treatment; however, if you are concerned about changing moles or are significantly affected by (eg. acne) then treatment is available from your GP or dermatologist.