Pregnancy skin changes

How pregnancy affects your skin – from skin tags to itching, rashes and breakouts

4th April 2024 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

From skin tags to itching and more, here’s all the ways your skin changes during pregnancy – and how to soothe it 


When you’re pregnant your whole body goes through multiple and myriad changes, and that includes your skin. Some lucky women end up glowing throughout the whole nine months, but for the majority, the skin and hair goes through a huge range of changes.

Pregnancy skin changes tend to crop up in your second or third trimester, but lots of women also get skin changes in early pregnancy and throughout the first trimester.

If you didn’t experience any skin changes during your first pregnancy, you might suddenly develop them during your second. Or you may find that the rashes and breakouts you had at the start of one pregnancy don’t materialise until the end of another.

In summary, it’s unpredictable and annoying.

In this guide we explain what causes pregnancy skin changes, the different types of rashes and itching you can get but also how to manage the changes.


What causes pregnancy skin changes?

Skincare-ingredients-to-avoid-when-pregnant-or-breastfeedingGetty Images/iStockphoto

As you’ll hear many, many times during your pregnancy, any changes your body goes through is largely down to your hormones.

Although you’re pretty powerless against how your hormones change during pregnancy, you can at least soothe and treat your pregnancy skin.

In addition to eating healthy, and drinking enough fluids every day, your choice of products can make your pregnancy skin easier to deal with. You just need to make sure you’re using pregnancy safe-ingredients.

We explain more about the specifics in our guide to the best pregnancy skincare guide but as a general rule, all cosmetics in the UK have a label on the packaging that indicates whether it is suitable for use during pregnancy.

You’re also going to want to look for products that are non-comedogenic and unscented, ideally, because these reduce the chances of them causing problems with your skin. Oil-free is also a good option to look for because pregnancy hormones have a tendency to cause pores to produce excess oil as it is.

If you have a baby shower coming up it’s a great opportunity to bag some lush pregnancy products to make your pregnancy skin feel amazing. Lots of companies offer pregnancy skin bundles, like the Ultimate Mamahood Bundle from Mama Mio (£30), which are really affordable for gift ideas.

FURTHER READING: Skincare ingredients to avoid when pregnant or breastfeeding


Itchy skin pregnancy changes

Itchy skin with pregnancy is extremely common and can be caused by a number of different factors. Sometimes these factors combine too, which is a delight *sarcastic emoji*

Itchy skin in pregnancy can also lead to other skin problems, such as skin rashes.

PUPPP skin rash

PUPPP skin rash Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of PregnancyShutterstock

One common pregnancy skin rash is known as PUPPP. Categorised by itchy bumps that appear across your growing tummy, and which can also spread to your thighs, bum or breasts, PUPPP stands for Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy.

Although nothing to worry about health wise, for you or your baby, these skin bumps can be really annoying because they’re extremely itchy.

PUPPP looks pink or red on fair skin, but may be skin-toned or darker if you have darker skin.

Aloe Pura Aloe Vera GelAloe Pura

It resembles a classic hives-like rash, but can also look like little blisters and also look like little targets.

These bumps typically appear out of nowhere – which is why they can sometimes be referred to as PEP or Polymorphic Eruption of Pregnancy – and they normally go away a few weeks after the birth.

That said, if you start getting the skin rash in early pregnancy, this can feel like a very long and uncomfortable time.

To treat PUPPP skin rash in pregnancy you can start by using a fragrance-free and hypoallergenic moisturiser.

Another option is to use an aloe vera gel after showering.

We recommend the Aloe Pura Organic Aloe Vera Gel (£4.63). You can also try an oat bath to soothe the itchiness of PUPPP because oatmeal is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

This means it will both soothe your itchy pregnancy skin, and moisturise it too. We recommend the Aveeno Soothing Bath Soak (£11.99). This is a great option if you’re suffering from pregnancy eczema too.

Finally, if you find a normal moisturiser or an oat bath isn’t helping to relieve the skin itching, you may want to use an over-the counter steroid cream. Applying a hydrocortisone-based ointment to the affected areas should reduce your inflammation and itching.

However, before you self-diagnose your skin rash as PUPPP it’s always worth chatting to your doctor or midwife in case it’s a sign of something different, or more serious.


Prurigo of pregnancy skin rash

Prurigo of pregnancy skin rashShutterstock

Another cause of itchy skin in pregnancy is a rash known as “Prurigo of pregnancy”. Unlike the PUPPP pregnancy skin rash, which normally only affects on areas where your skin is being stretched, Prurigo of pregnancy can affect any part of your body. It feels like a dry and bumpy rash that most often appears on your stomach, arms or legs.

It’s an itchy skin rash that usually appears in your first or second trimester and affects approximately 1 in 300 pregnancies.

Like PUPPP, it usually disappears after you’ve had your baby, but it can take several weeks or months to clear up completely.

Prurigo of pregnancy doesn’t cause any harm to your baby, but if you’re unsure what rash you have it’s always best to get it checked by a doctor, especially as itchy skin can be sign of more serious conditions such as ICP (Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy).

Even if Prurigo of pregnancy isn’t something to worry about, health wise, it can still be really uncomfortable.

It might be keeping you up at night and the skin itching can be distracting. Therefore you’ll want a pregnancy itch calming moisturiser like the Eucerin Skin Calming Cream (£14.65). It’s fragrance-free, has no icky ingredients and is long-lasting, so helps to relieve your pregnancy itching for longer.

This is another a great cream to use if you’re suffering from pregnancy eczema, too.


Pregnancy eczema

Hormone changes during pregnancy can affect the balance of cells in your body which, in turn, can affect your skin barrier. When this happens your immune cells may begin to attack skin cells and this can lead to pregnancy eczema. Even if you’ve never experienced eczema before.

Elsewhere, if you suffered from eczema before getting pregnant you may find that being pregnant makes your eczema worse. While a small proportion of women who had eczema before they were pregnant found that pregnancy actually helped calm their eczema.

Treating eczema during pregnancy can be tricky because you must make sure to use a product that doesn’t harm your baby. We’ve already recommended the Aveeno Soothing Bath Soak (£11.99) and Eucerin Skin Calming Cream (£14.65) but we also like The Honest Company Sensitive Shampoo and Body Wash (£12).

When you’re suffering from pregnancy eczema, using soap in the shower can make your skin worse because it strips your skin of moisture. Therefore it’s better to use a hydrating body wash like the one from Honest above, which is recommended by the National Eczema Association. It’s free from harsh chemicals, so a perfect body wash for pregnancy.

You can also use a mild to moderate topical steroid. However, your best option is to talk to your doctor about a safe and effective option to treat pregnancy eczema.


Dry skin in pregnancy

What causes dry skin and how to get rid of dry skin for goodShutterstock

Dry skin is another common cause of pregnancy skin itching and, like with prurigo and eczema, can happen anywhere on your body.

Your body’s production of natural oils can dwindle because of your hormone levels, or from your immune system changing and this can lead to dry skin.

The stretching of your skin from your growing belly can also lead to dryness and when your skin is stretched, your nerve endings are too, which can make your skin feel itchy.

To treat dry skin in pregnancy you’re going to want to start with a gentle cleanser, like the Hydrating Foaming Cream Cleanser from Cetaphil (£12.50). It’s a pregnancy safe cleanser that won’t irritate your skin barrier.

It contains glycerin and panthenol, for moisturising, as well as aloe vera which is rich in antioxidants and can soothe your dry pregnancy skin.

If you have both dry and itchy skin you may also want to try this soothing oil from Palmers (£7.85). It contains cocoa butter, Vitamin E, collagen and elastin, which all help to soothe and soften your skin naturally, as well as helping to improve your skins elasticity and firmness.

Other ways to help your dry skin in pregnancy is to use a humidifier in your bedroom at night to keep the air moist, wear loose fitting clothes to reduce friction on your skin, or try using cold compresses to relieve any itchiness.

FURTHER READING: Best moisturisers for dry skin | Do you have dry skin or is it just dehydrated?


Skin tags in pregnancy

What causes skin tags on armpits bum neck penisGetty Images/iStockphoto

Skin tags are a very common dermatological change when you’re pregnant. Skin tags, generally, develop following weight gain or hormonal changes and given that both occur during pregnancy, they become even more common.

They usually measure between 1-5mm in size, and pregnancy skin tags often appear on hot, moist skin surfaces, or where there’s friction. As a result they are most likely to be found under your boobs, under your arms, between your thighs and in the folds of your neck.

Unfortunately there’s not anything you can do to prevent skin tags during pregnancy. They do often shrink and disappear after you’ve had your baby however, but if they don’t, they’re easy to get removed by a dermatologist.

Don’t try to remove skin tags yourself and bear in mind it’s better to get them removed once you’ve had your baby and not whilst you’re still pregnant.

You can read more about skin tags in our What is a skin tag? guide.


Melasma in pregnancy

how to get rid of hyperpigmentationShutterstock

Melasma in pregnancy is a skin disorder that affects 50-70% of women. It happens when the melanocytes – the cells in your skin that produce its colour – produce extra pigment because of an increase in oestrogen and progesterone. This is also known as hyperpigmentation and usually occurs in your second or third trimester.

Melasma is also often referred to as, ‘chlosma,’ or the, ‘mask of pregnancy’ and looks like dark, translucent brown patches. Not too dissimilar to vitiligo.

Some mums-to-be get small spots resembling freckles, whilst others have larger, blotchy patches. You’ll find them mainly on your face, so your forehead, cheeks, nose or lips. If you have dark skin you’re more likely to develop the symptoms of melasma.

Although it won’t cause symptoms like itching or irritation, it’s a cosmetic issue that you may wish to target as much as you can. To reduce melasma symptoms it’s important to use sunscreen because the sun’s ultraviolet rays can trigger dark patches to appear.

You can also use a foundation and a concealer to cover your patches. Ideally you’re going to want to use a full-coverage foundation and if you have melasma you’ll also want to use hypoallergenic skin care products.

This is because using any makeup, cleansers or face creams that irritate your skin can make melasma worse.

Make sure you don’t use any chemical peels during pregnancy, such as retinoid treatments, and don’t do any at-home peels, bleaches or other chemical-based lightening treatments because they can penetrate your skin. This makes them a no-go whilst you’re pregnant.

Another option to help with melasma and treat the hyperpigmentation of your skin is using Vitamin C serums and cream or other effective dark spot removers.

We recommend the Caudalie Vinoperfect Complexion Correcting Radiance Serum (£50) which contains Viniferine which is said to be 62 times more effective than Vitamin C in correcting dark spots.

Sometimes your melasma dark spots can be permanent, but more often than not they fade without any postpartum treatment. Note that this can take up to a year or more after you’ve given birth.


Acne in pregnancy

How to get rid of oily skin and stop oily skin causes acneGetty Images/iStockphoto

Pregnancy acne is technically the same as ordinary acne, it’s just that some people may only experience acne whilst they’re pregnant. That’s because during your first and second trimester you’re producing more reproductive hormones called androgens (progesterone in particular). Your pores may become clogged by these hormone levels increasing the amount of oil your skin produces.

You’ll definitely want to use gentle products for your pregnancy acne because overly stripped skin is more prone to breakouts. To treat acne and breakouts in pregnancy you’ll want to wash your face with a gentle cleanser. You may also want to gently exfoliate once a week.

Once you’ve cleaned your face, finish with an oil-free moisturiser such as The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% (£11.10). This will help treat your pregnancy acne and also brighten your skin because uneven skin tone and texture can be another common pregnancy skin change.


Stretch marks

How to get rid of stretch marks and causesGetty Images/iStockphoto

Stretch marks are likely one of the skin-related pregnancy symptoms you’ll be most aware of.

Stretch marks happen when the middle layer of your skin (dermis) becomes stretched and broken in places. The marks can be pink, red, brown, black, silver or purple and they can often appear darker during your pregnancy.

Once you’re postpartum the stretch marks can fade over time. They may not completely disappear, because they’re a form of scarring, but try to look at them with pride as they’re a visible reminder of how amazing your body has been at carrying and growing your beautiful baby.

Whether you get pregnancy stretch marks or not will depend a lot on your skin type and whether your skin is more or less elastic. Those pesky hormones (again) can also have an impact on how likely you’ll develop pregnancy stretch marks.

To reduce the chances of getting stretch marks you’re going to want to make your skin as elastic as possible. This comes from making sure its moisturised and well-hydrated. This way your skin will remain more supple and have a better ability to adapt to your growing body.

Gently exfoliating once a week can also help to remove the top layer of dead skin cells and promote growth and healing in your deeper layers of skin. Following that you’ll want to use a moisturiser than can help reduce the appearance of pregnancy stretch marks, like the Neal’s Yard Mother’s Balm Moisturiser (£24).

It’s organic, fragrance-free and great for sensitive skin, with nourishing oils and beeswax to replenish and soothe your skins elasticity. It’s also Allergy Certified, so a perfect option if you’re prone to skin allergies.


Heat rash

When you’re pregnant you may feel warmer than normal because of the increased blood supply to your skin.

You might find you’re sweating more than usual and this can also lead to you getting heat rash. It’s very common to get heat rash in pregnancy, but it can be annoying and uncomfortable.

Using a cool, damp compress on your skin may help to alleviate your itching and try to wear loose-fitting cotton clothes to minimise the amount you sweat and limit any friction on your skin.


Hair changes in pregnancy

It’s not just your skin that’s affected by pregnancy hormones. A lot of pregnant women find that the texture and growth of their hair changes.

Now, you might be one of the lucky ones and find that your hair feels thicker and grows quicker during pregnancy. It’s not that your hair strands individually become thicker, but instead it’s because you have less hair falling out when you’re pregnant.

It is usually a short lived improvement, sadly, and you often lose more hair postpartum or when you stop breastfeeding.

That said, some women may find their hair starts to thin more during their pregnancy.

It’s very common for pregnant women to have an iron deficiency and this can trigger a condition called telogen effluvium, which increases hair shredding and limits your hair growth. Don’t despair though, because an iron deficiency can easily be reversed if you get your levels back up to normal with your diet, or supplements.


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