soothing matters

good solutions for the skin changes of pregnancy

The glow of pregnancy isn’t just a myth. Now that you’re pregnant, your complexion actually may look rosier and healthier than ever before. Whether it’s caused by hormonal changes, increased circulation to the blood vessels in your face or the sheer joy of knowing you’re having a baby, enjoy it while it lasts.

Those fluctuating hormones also can cause skin changes that aren’t so glowing. Your otherwise healthy skin may become dry and itchy, turn darker in spots, even break out. For the most part, these outbreaks are only temporary, and they’re treatable.

Stretch and Itch

Your first encounter with itchy skin probably will be in your first trimester, or second, when your skin starts to stretch to accommodate the physical changes of pregnancy. The most common places itchiness occurs are the breasts and belly.

“When the skin is stretched, its supporting structures — collagen and elastin — may break down,” says Nia Terezakis, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine and Louisiana State University. “Usually, the itching on the breasts is minor and dissipates around the fourth month, but the belly can continue to itch throughout pregnancy.”

To soothe itchy, irritated skin, Vera Brown, a skin-care expert and owner of the West Los Angeles spa Vera’s Retreat in the Glen, suggests applying pure aloe gel. Once it has dried, top it off with your favorite moisturizer. You also might want to try Bath & Body Works’ Sensitive Skin Intensive Healing Cream or The Body Shop’s Nurturing Cream.

Abdominal rashes also are fairly common, particularly in the third trimester. “The most common rash is a hivelike reaction called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPP, that usually starts out around the bellybutton and spreads out to cover the abdomen,” says Diane Berson, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. “No one knows exactly what causes this rash, but it usually can be managed with topical creams and cool baths, and goes away after pregnancy.”

If your skin becomes dry and itchy all over, “Take shorter showers and baths in lukewarm water, using a moisturizing body wash rather than soap [which can strip the skin of its natural oil],” advises Terezakis. “Apply a moisturizer to damp skin to lock in moisture and lessen the itch.”

Look for sensitive-skin moisturizers such as Aveda’s All-Sensitive Body Formula, Mustela 9’s New Response Ultimate Hydration, or Japanese Weekend Trove Maternity Cream; or moisturizing body washes such as Oil of Olay’s Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Body Wash or Eucerin Shower Therapy — all with little or no fragrance.

Pigment Changes

Most pregnant women experience a darkening of their moles, genitals, nipples, areolas and abdomen, the latter in the form of a line extending from the chest bone through the navel to the pubic bone known as the linea nigra. Some women also develop melasma or “the mask of pregnancy,” a condition in which the skin darkens on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip.

“This darkening of the skin is thought to be caused by changes in hormone levels during pregnancy that spur increased production of the pigment melanin in the skin,” says Terezakis. “Some pigment problems resolve spontaneously during the year or so after pregnancy, while others may require medication.”

The daily use of sunscreen is vital (no matter what your age) to minimize and help prevent pigment changes, as the sun is believed to worsen the problem, says Terezakis. Check out oil-free Clinique Face Zone Sun Block SPF 30 for your face, and Clarins water-resistant Sun Care Gel, with SPF 15, for your body.

Acne Revisited

Hormones also may make your skin break out into acne blemishes. Treat the symptoms by washing with mild cleansers, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Clean & Clear, Liquid Neutrogena or Basis’s Comfortably Clean Face Wash. Then, Terezakis suggests, apply a product containing low levels (in concentrations no more than 5 percent) of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.

Neutrogena’s On-the-Spot Acne Treatment contains 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, and Origins’ Spot Remover contains salicylic acid and essential plant oils. Cover Girl’s Clarifying Liquid Make-Up, containing .55 percent salicylic acid, treats acne and minimizes blemishes.

While most skin changes during pregnancy resolve shortly after the baby arrives, the one you want to keep — the glow of pregnancy — is likely to stick around. This time, it’s solely the sheer joy of seeing your newborn.