Expectant moms are famous for that "glow," but as your pregnancy progresses you'll probably start noticing more than just a rosy complexion. Increased blood flow and surging hormones are responsible for a bevy of beauty changes — good and bad — to your pregnant bod. "Most moms are prepared for the weight gain, but are quite surprised to discover how many other changes can happen to their bodies," says Allison Hill, M.D., ob-gyn at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, and co-author of The Mommy Docs Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth. We've got the scoop on what you can expect, from head to toe.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a mama-to-be who isn't concerned about stretch marks. During pregnancy they usually appear on areas that are prone to rapid stretching and weight gain, such as the belly, breasts, and thighs. "The skin has a finite degree to which it can stretch, and once you surpass that point the skin's fibers tear and scar, leaving red and sometimes purple marks behind," says Terry Hoffman, M.D., ob-gyn at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. Genetics play a large role in how well your skin will stretch without tearing, so take a look at your mom. If she escaped them, then you might too. Dr. Hoffman advises patients to gain weight slowly and steadily, especially at the end of pregnancy, when it's easiest to pack on the pounds. And although there's no shortage of creams touting their ability to prevent stretch marks, there's also no proof they work. Post pregnancy, laser treatments may reduce their appearance.
Raging hormones combined with a dramatic increase in blood volume can cause the tiny veins in your legs (and sometimes your face) to branch out and become more visible. Spider veins can worsen if you're standing for long periods of time, so it's a perfect excuse to sit back and relax as much as possible. Sit with your legs elevated, and if you're going to be on your feet all day, consider wearing support stockings, says Dr. Hoffman. If your spider veins don't disappear after delivery, a dermatologist can remove them with injections.
Thick, Shiny Hair
Think your tresses feel thicker and more lustrous? You're not imagining things. "Pregnancy hormones slow down the rate of hair loss, making it seem like you have thicker hair," says Dr. Hoffman, adding that hormone changes, prenatal vitamins, and a healthier diet may all be reasons why women report shiny, healthier-looking hair during pregnancy. Unfortunately, that's only temporary. When your hormones return to normal after delivery, you'll shed the extra hair.
Also known as "the mask of pregnancy," these hormone-induced brown facial splotches usually pop up on the forehead, cheeks, or chin. Sunlight exacerbates the condition, so keep exposure to a minimum and remember to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 when outdoors. To camouflage splotches, try sweeping a little bronzer on the lighter areas of your face to even out your skin tone. Melasma will usually go away after delivery, but if it's not budging a few months after you've given birth, consult your dermatologist. "The best approach is usually a combination of chemical peels and topical prescription creams such as 4 percent hydroquinone or amino acids," says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., Ph.D., a dermatologist in New York City.
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Thicker hair on your head is amazing, but it's not so fabulous when it sprouts on your body. The same hormones responsible for your lush locks are also responsible for hair growth on areas such as your abdomen, face, nipples and back. The good news is, growth should lessen around six months postpartum, and eventually return to normal. That doesn't mean you have to put up with a hairy chest in the meantime. It's safe to shave, wax, and use electrolysis while pregnant, says Dr. Hill.
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Some women are lucky enough to see a decrease in blemishes during pregnancy, but others are now dealing with their first pimples since high school. Many acne ingredients are best shelved until after pregnancy, so read labels carefully and talk to your doctor before using topical or oral acne medications. Not enough is known about the possible effects of using salicylic acid (also called beta hydroxy acid) and benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy, so it's best to avoid them. You should also steer clear of retinoids and retinols (vitamin A derivates) such as Retin-A. Never use oral acne medications such as tetracycline and Accutane, as they can cause birth defects. For severe acne, try using a face wash with pregnancy-approved alpha hydroxy acids, suggests Dr. Alexiades-Armenakes.
Pregnancy hormones push skin cell production into overdrive, causing small skin polyps to form on your neck, under your arms, or beneath your bra line -- anywhere your skin rubs against your clothing. Skin tags aren't pretty to look at, but they're completely harmless. "After delivery, a dermatologist can quickly snip them off. It's painless, and there's no bleeding involved," says Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas.
If you notice a mysterious dark line running along your abdomen, you're not alone. A whopping 75 percent of expectant moms experience linea nigra, a line of brown pigmentation that runs along the middle of your belly. Surging hormones increase the body's production of the pigment melanin, which results in this hyperpigmentation. It's the same reason you may also see your areolas darken during pregnancy. In most cases, linea nigra will slowly fade away post-pregnancy, but if it doesn't, bleaching creams may help.
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