When you are pregnant there are a lot of things that change constantly and through the whole pregnancy. Your body is in constant transformation and adaption to the changes that are occurring, including the ones happening to your skin. Most changes are associated with the alterations that occur on a hormonal level like the high levels of estrogen, progesterone, beta – HCG and prolactin.
What problems can appear in my skin during pregnancy?
When it comes to the skin the gestational changes are divided into three categories: gestational physiological changes, specific dermatoses and dermatoses altered during pregnancy. Most skin changes include themselves in the first category, but it is important to know when we are facing the beginning of a more serious condition.
Most skin changes include hyperpigmentation, more specifically melasma, appearance of new stretch marks and varicosities. Even though most of these changes are unavoidable, what steps could be taken to prevent them or even to keep them in check?
Melasma: “The Mask of pregnancy”?
Hyperpigmentation is characterized by the appearance of an uneven colour on the skin. This is usually caused by an overstimulation of the production of melanin (the pigment that gives colour to the skin, hair, nails, etc.) in the melanocytes (melanin producing cells) of the basal layer of the skin. The melanin is then transported to the keratocytes (cells responsible for the production of keratin), where it deposits around the cell’s nucleus and absorbs and reflects UV radiation. This overstimulation can be caused my many factors such as age, sun exposure, genetics, or in our specific case, hormonal changes.
The main hormonal changes that influence the appearance of melasma are the increase of melanocyte stimulant hormones like estrogen and progesterone during the pregnancy. This type of hyperpigmentation is characterized by a symmetric, smudgy but sharply delimitated tan to dark brown hyperpigmentation of the affected areas, mostly the face. It affects up to 90% of pregnant women and more frequently those with darker skin tones during the second half of the pregnancy. Fortunately, it regresses, in most patients, within the 1st year postpartum.
Stretch marks: a one-way street?
Most women suffer from this problem. Stretch marks as the name says is caused by an excessive stretch of the skin whether its due to rapid weight gain or loss or hormonal changes, which are two common factors in pregnancy. But what is responsible for them? To simply put it: elastin and collagen.
Stretch marks appear because the elastin and collagen fibers are disrupted or inflamed. The elastin is responsible for the elasticity of our skin, so it has the ability to change but return to the original form afterwards. But what happens here is that these fibers are overstretched and unable to go back to their original status, which ends up causing the collagen fibers to rupture and therefore an inflammation process that results in scarring.
They normally present themselves as pink to violaceous bands in the areas of maximum stretch like the abdomen, things and breasts and tend to regress to persistent flesh coloured bands postpartum.
The best way to prevent them from occurring or to contain them is to always keep your skin hydrated to increase its elasticity. If you want to know more about how to fight and prevent stretch marks you can visit this post that is all about it.
Varicosities: A painful treat?
Varicosities result from the decrease in vessel tone and incomplete venous return. This is mainly caused by the increase of the blood flow and the partial obstruction of the vessels from the uterus due to the pregnancy.
They tend to affect mainly the legs but during pregnancy, it can also appear in the buttocks and the vaginal area. They can cause great discomfort as your legs tend to feel heavier and more swollen than usual. For visual appearance, your vessels may show their way through the skin making it less appealing to wear a dress or a pair of shorts. But do not worry there are a few tricks you can use so you won’t feel as uncomfortable in your own skin.
Because when you are pregnant you need to be extra careful with the medication you take, there are a few natural pieces of advice that can help you through this not so joyful side effect of pregnancy like: avoid sitting or standing up for too long; take breaks in between and exercise those legs: try to elevate your legs as much as you can to improve the circulation; try to sleep on your left side to release the pressure you put on the inferior vena cava. Varicosities tend to regress partially postpartum.