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Pregnancy: Stretch Marks, Itching, and Skin Changes


Common skin changes during pregnancy include stretch marks, darkening of parts of the skin, and tiny reddish, purplish, or dark areas on the skin. These changes usually fade after pregnancy. Acne may either get worse or clear up during pregnancy.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are lines on the skin that may appear late in pregnancy. They look like slightly indented purplish, reddish, dark, or whitish streaks, depending on your skin colour. 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. Stretch marks are also thought to be passed down in families. Weight gain during pregnancy does not seem to play a role. Some people 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. But they do help with skin dryness and may reduce itching.

Stretch marks never go away, but they usually fade and become less obvious after pregnancy.

Itchy skin

During pregnancy, your stretching skin may become dry and itchy. Your growing belly is likely to be the most itchy part of your body as your pregnancy progresses.

Here are ways to help yourself feel better.

  • Avoid hot showers and baths.

    Hot water takes off more of your skin's natural oils.

  • After bathing, pat excess water off your skin and apply moisturizer before your skin dries completely.

    It may feel even better if you keep your moisturizer in the refrigerator.

  • Try not to use drying soaps, skin products with alcohol, and heavily chlorinated water.

    They may make your skin more dry.

  • If you live in a dry climate, use a humidifier.

    Follow the directions for cleaning the machine.

Skin colour changes

Skin colour changes are common during pregnancy. For example, many people notice that parts of their skin get darker.

  • The areola, the ring of skin around your nipples, may darken in the second trimester of pregnancy.
  • A dark line may appear on the skin between your navel and your pubic area (linea nigra). This will fade after pregnancy.
  • Dark patches may appear on your face. This is known as the "mask of pregnancy," or melasma. It usually fades after delivery.

These skin colour changes are not well understood. It may be that high levels of pregnancy hormones cause the skin to make more melanin, which gives skin its tan or brown colour. To help keep these areas from getting darker, use sunscreen and avoid sun exposure.

Some people develop reddish areas on the palms of their hands (palmar erythema) during pregnancy. Sometimes the reddish 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.

Some people get tiny reddish, purplish, or dark elevated areas (spider angiomas) on their face, neck, chest, or arms. Angiomas are not serious and usually go away after pregnancy.

Red, raised rash

Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) is a raised, itchy rash. The rash may be reddish or slightly darker than your usual skin colour. It most often occurs in a first pregnancy. The rash may appear first 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 itchy. Controlling the itching is the main focus of treatment.

PUPPP usually goes away on its own within a week after birth. The condition is treated with medicine to stop the itching.


Current as of: November 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology