Topic Overview

Stretch marks

Stretch marks (striae gravidarum) are lines on the skin that may
appear late in pregnancy. They look like slightly indented pink, red, dark, or
white streaks, depending on your skin color. Stretch marks are most common on
the belly, but they can also develop on the breasts and thighs.

The cause of stretch marks is not well understood. They have been
linked to increasing pregnancy hormones and stretching of the tissue under the
skin. Heredity is thought to play a role in the development of stretch marks;
if your mother had them, you are likely to have them as well. Weight gain
during pregnancy does not seem to play a role in the development of stretch
marks. Some women who gain little weight during pregnancy develop stretch
marks.

Creams or oils (such as vitamin E oil) or other treatments have not
been shown to prevent stretch marks. They do, however, help with skin dryness
and may reduce itching.

Although stretch marks never go away, they fade to a lighter color,
becoming less obvious after pregnancy.

Itchy skin

Dry, stretching skin tends to be itchy. Your growing belly is
likely to be the most itchy part of your body as your pregnancy progresses. To
manage itchy skin, avoid hot showers and baths. After bathing, pat excess water off your skin
and apply moisturizer before it has fully dried. Applying moisturizer that
you keep in the refrigerator may further reduce itching. Try eliminating drying
soaps, skin products with alcohol, and heavily chlorinated water from your
daily routine. These may contribute to skin dryness. If you live in a dry
climate, use a humidifier at home. For a severe, persistent itch, contact your
health professional.

Other skin changes during pregnancy

  • The
    areola, or area around your nipples, may darken in the
    second trimester of pregnancy.
  • A dark line on the skin between
    your navel and your pubic area (linea nigra) may appear. Linea nigra fades
    after pregnancy.
  • Dark patches may develop on your face. This is
    known as the “mask of pregnancy,” or chloasma, and it usually fades after
    delivery.

These skin pigment changes are not totally understood. It is
thought that high levels of pregnancy hormones cause the pigment-producing
cells in the skin (melanocytes) to make more
pigment.footnote 1 To help keep these skin changes from being
too obvious, use sunscreen and avoid sun exposure.

Some women
develop redness on the palms of the hands (palmar erythema) during
pregnancy. Sometimes the red areas are also
itchy. Palmar erythema is thought to be caused by increased levels of estrogen
during pregnancy. The problem is not serious and usually disappears shortly
after delivery.

Tiny, red elevated areas (vascular spiders, or angiomas) on the face,
neck, chest, and arms affect some women
during pregnancy. Like palmar erythema, angiomas are
not serious and usually go away after pregnancy.

Other normal skin changes that occur during pregnancy include blotchy
skin and acne. Acne may either increase or clear up during pregnancy.

Some women develop a red, raised rash that itches. This is called pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). It most often occurs in a first pregnancy. The rash may first appear on stretch marks on the stomach. Then it may spread to the thighs, rear end (buttocks), and arms. PUPPP is not a serious condition and does not cause problems for your baby. But it can be very upsetting for you. Controlling your symptoms is the main focus of treatment.

PUPPP usually goes away on its own shortly after your baby’s birth. The condition is usually treated with anti-itch creams. If the itching is very bad, you may be given corticosteroid pills.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Cunningham FG, et al. (2010). Maternal physiology. In Williams Obstetrics, 23rd ed., pp. 107-135. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD – Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo, MD – Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kirtly Jones, MD – Obstetrics and Gynecology

Current as ofMarch 16, 2017