Stretch Marks, Swelling, And Skin Woes: How To Protect Your Skin While Pregnant

Sometimes your skin glows! Sometimes it breaks out into acne! Here's your head-to-toe guide to pregnancy skin.

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Oh, that pregnancy glow! How we all long for it! Many of us do experience it (woohoo!) but for a lot of pregnant ladies, our skin turns out to be more itchy than glowy. Here are a few common problems—and how to deal with all of them.

Swollen Feet

Why does this happen? During pregnancy, the body retains more fluid and is also working hard to keep blood flowing to the heart. The other parts? Not so much, which means swollen feet and ankles—and shoes that don’t quite fit. What’s a gal to do? We’ve all been there, when even our cankles have cankles. And we can’t even bend over to put lotion on them. Get off your feet! Even better: Lie down with your legs up the wall (only for a short time, though, as lying on your back for long periods during pregnancy is not advisable). Need more help? Try compression socks. Exercise, especially in a pool, where you can “walk.” Wear loose clothing and shoes. Keep drinking water. Accept that this the unsexy side of pregnancy. If your feet are itchy (especially toward the end of your pregnancy), enlist your partner to lotion you up. If you have a toddler, this can easily turn into a hilarious family activity. Contact your doctor if…you get sudden and extreme swelling. It could indicate a blood clot or high blood pressure.

Itchy All Over

Why does this happen? An itchy torso and stomach is usually the result of the skin stretching. What’s a gal to do? Slip into an oat bath. The floating sensation is nice and the oats are sure to soothe your skin. More of a shower gal? Lather on a body conditioner in the shower (Curél Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer or Nivea’s in-shower body lotion are our top picks) and let that soak in. Once you’re out of the shower, lather on the lotion. Or better yet, reach for a cream or butter as these products tend to be thicker and more moisturizing. If you’re after natural ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter, and essential oilsJosie Maran’s Whipped Argan Oil Body Butter will cover all your bases thanks to its argan oil, shea butter, avocado oil, and white tea extract. Contact your doctor if…nothing helps. It is very rare, but a late pregnancy liver and gallbladder disorder called obstetric cholestasis (OC) can increase your risk of delivering prematurely or even of having a stillbirth. Severe itching is one of OC’s primary symptoms.

Stretchy Belly

Why does this happen? So you got your first stretch mark. And you might be freaking out. But it’s normal! So, so, so many women get these—about 75 percent of us in fact! The cause is mostly genetic, but sometimes stretch marks can be tied to rapid weight gain or loss and younger women are actually more susceptible. What’s a gal to do? It turns out that stretch-mark reducing creams and heavy-duty lotions may not do…anything (sorry!). What might work slightly better is almond oil, cocoa butter, and olive oil. The best prevention—if we can even use that word, since stretch marks are mostly genetic—is exercise, a healthy, vitamin-rich diet, lots of water, and regular massages (yay!). Also, keep in mind that steady and incremental weight gain as opposed to rapid weight gain helps the skin stretch at a less traumatic pace. Contact your doctor if…Well, you probably don’t need to. Unless you are absolutely determined to get rid of stretch marks (only after baby is born!), there’s really no reason to talk to your doctor about these. They usually fade over time as you return to your pre-pregnancy size.

Pigmentation Problems

Why does this happen? It’s hormonal! Your estrogen levels stimulate increased pigment production (this is also what accounts for a darker area around your nipples, and darker moles or freckles). What’s a gal to do? Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen, even if you don’t live in a warm climate. Every day, all over. Putting a little vitamin C on your skin topically can also help. (If you use a vitamin C product, definitely put on sunscreen as it can increase skin’s photosensitivity and likeliness to burn.) That said, pigmentation issues usually resolve on their own few months after the baby arrives. Contact your doctor if…a mole or other spot looks particularly dark. You should be keeping track of any and all skin issues throughout pregnancy and pregnant or not, visit your dermatologist regularly. It’s very rare, but a mole can change during pregnancy, indicating a serious problem like melanoma.

Red, Red Rashes

Why does this happen? There are various kinds of rashes that can appear during pregnancy, but the most common is PUPPP: pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy. This is when tiny red bumps that first appear on the belly spread across the body. The patches of bumps can be super itchy. This usually happens later on in the pregnancy when the belly is stretched to its limit. No one really knows what causes PUPPP, but it often appears during a first pregnancy or a pregnancy with multiples, when the skin is really stretching. What’s a gal to do? Any severe itching can be soothed with topical medications—mostly steroids (like hydrocortisone cream) or antihistamines (like Benadryl). You can also apply lotion as long as it feels good and doesn’t further irritate the skin. Unfortunately, the only thing that really makes PUPPP go away is delivering your baby. Contact your doctor if…you suspect that you have PUPPP as the condition cannot be self-diagnosed.

Acne Woes

Why does this happen? Most pregnancy acne is also hormonal! It’s also very common, especially if you were susceptible to acne before becoming pregnant, and it may be due to the body producing slightly more oil while gestating. (For some, this also results in the coveted “pregnancy glow.”) What’s a gal to do? Don’t touch! We know it’s tempting to pick and squeeze, but this will only make things worse. Cleanse twice a day with mild cleanser and don’t forget to follow up with a moisturizer and sunscreen. If your hair is particularly oily and falls in your face, wash it daily and keep it away from your skin. Contact your doctor before…you use any new skincare products. Many acne cleansers aren’t safe during pregnancy.

Stretch Marks, Swelling, And Skin Woes: How To Protect Your Skin While Pregnant

Abigail Rasminsky
Abigail Rasminsky has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Cut, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her family.

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