Fortunately, one of my dearest friends since childhood is the daughter of one of country’s best dermatologists, Dr. Vermen Verallo-Rowell. Whether I was in her home or her clinic, Ninang Verm would always check my skin and send me home with creams and lotions to prevent more acne and scars. And they all worked.
In fact, they worked so well that for many years there was no need for me to call my Ninang for any more skin concerns. Until recently, when my third pregnancy sent my hormones on a rampage, making me feel like a teenager all over again.
I picked up the phone and within minutes, received some much-needed advice and information on the skin changes accompanying my pregnancy.
Let me share some of the things I learned. I hope this spares those suffering from additional stress caused by “pregnan-skin.”
There are many changes that occur throughout the nine months of a pregnancy. Many of them happen deep within our bodies, and are therefore beyond sight. But there are also a number of obvious changes, specifically on our skin. These can be separated into three general categories:
1. Harmless skin conditions from hormonal changes
These are mostly from physiological changes, meaning a change in the normal characteristic of particular organs, but are relatively harmless. “These are due to the increase of growth and other hormones needed to sustain pregnancy,” says Dr. Rowell.
She explains some of the concerns that fall under this category:
A. Skin darkening
It is most often found in the abdomen. As the pregnancy progresses, a dark band that runs down the middle of the abdomen, also known as Linea Nigra, will usually form when the Linea Alba (“white line”) darkens due to the hormones present in the body. The areola, nipple and genital skin are also commonly affected. The underarm, front and back neck creases and groin areas are also sometimes affected.
Doctors do not recommend using any kind of whitening lotion or cream during pregnancy. Most skin darkening gradually disappears on its own in the weeks or months that follow delivery. There is no need to use anything to whiten it.
B. Varicose veins
I would assume that all, if not most, women know what those dreaded blue or purple veins on the legs are. The basic explanation on why they seem to go hand-in-hand with pregnancy is that as the uterus grows, it puts additional pressure on the large vein on the right side of your body and with it, on the leg veins.
Veins are blood vessels tasked to return blood to your heart, so coming from your legs, it already has the difficult task of climbing upward to your heart. Add to this the volume of blood during pregnancy and the rise in progesterone, which relaxes the walls of your blood vessels, thus the appearance of varicose veins.
Aside from these factors, consider your family history, too. If your mother or sisters have had them, you are more likely to get them as well.
You can avoid or minimize their appearance by exercising regularly (but only if your OB approves), which improves blood circulation. Staying within the recommended weight range and elevating your legs as much as possible help reduce stress on your leg veins.
If you can, avoid sitting or standing for too long; and take short breaks to help your blood circulate. You can also try sleeping on your left side to reduce the pressure of the uterus on your right vein, which puts pressure on your legs.
If you really want to go the extra mile, there are also special support stockings, also known as Graduated Compression Stockings, which make it easier for blood to circulate back to the heart and prevent swelling and varicose veins.
C. Deep venous thrombosis
There is a serious vein condition that can develop during pregnancy called deep venous thrombosis. These are blood clots which develop in the deep veins in one’s legs. Symptoms include sudden painful swelling in the ankle, legs and thighs.
If it is not treated, the clot may travel up to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition.
D. Stretch marks
Unless you’ve won in the genetic lottery, chances are you will not escape without a few battle scars. Stretch marks can show up on your abdomen, thighs, breasts and buttocks caused by the rapid rate of stretching of the skin. Pregnancy also releases a higher level of hormones which affect the protein balance of skin and make it more prone to breaking.
Nothing can prevent them completely, but there are numerous creams and lotions that help minimize the appearance of stretch marks. You can try using cocoa butter, vitamin E cream, aloe vera lotion or olive oil to help keep your skin moisturized and healthy.
You can also try VMV’s Oil’s Well Virgin Coconut Oil with fatty acids to help repair stretching skin.
Keep yourself hydrated as well, and try to gain weight healthily and steadily throughout your pregnancy in order to allow your skin to stretch less rapidly.
After delivery, the angry red marks usually fade into white, silvery strips but this takes several months to a year. Some dermatologists offer treatments as well.
As a final note on stretch marks, I love a post that I once saw on Instagram. It was of a woman’s abdomen with stretch marks accompanied by the caption, “Your body is not ruined. You’re a tiger who has earned her stripes.” When you think of it that way, suddenly they’re not so bad after all.
E. Hyperhidrosis or an increased tendency to sweat
Being pregnant makes a woman hot, literally. Remember all that blood circulating and increased levels of hormones? They translate into increased body temperature and more sweat. Together with the sweating, skin between thighs and under breasts may also get very warm, and you may even experience chafing, which can cause inflammation, irritation and even a fungal infection.
Keep yourself cool by keeping yourself hydrated, wearing loose cotton clothes and using powder to keep areas prone to chafing dry.
Watch out for some new growths as well, such as skin tags, viral and non-viral warts, moles (new ones may appear, older ones tend to darken) and other benign skin growths like pyogenic granuloma.
Most growths are relatively harmless, but there are dangerous ones. Those who have a predisposition to skin cancer must watch out for the development of melanoma, a skin cancer that can spread fairly rapidly.
Predisposed people are those with a past history of having had a melanoma, have many (more than 50) moles that are called “atypical,” have had severe photodamage earlier in their childhood or youth, and are immuno-compromised by disease or drugs that they are taking.
Wondering why your stomach is suddenly so itchy? This could be due at times to the buildup of bilirubin, from hormonal effects, or from the worsening of skin conditions.
As old wives’ tales go—now accompanied by scientific explanations of thinning of skin—whatever you do, do not scratch, or you risk breaking your skin even more. Try putting a cold compress, or ice itchy hands or tummies. You’d be surprised at how good it feels!
H. Post-partum hair shedding
Medically this is called telogen effluvium. As explained by my Ninang, this is a diffuse loss of hair that is often quite heavy so as to be scary, starting about two to three months after delivery. This is usually due to stress on the body. Stressed out hair follicles go into a “sudden rest”—a phase of its cycle called telogen.
True to the cycle, telogen hair roots recover after about two to three months, with new hair pushing out the old ones. Hence the sudden “effluvium.” In other words, relax, you’re not going bald.