Looking after the skin during pregnancy can make a tremendous difference to comfort levels and confidence as pregnancy hormones, rapid growth and a changing body shape take their toll. “The skin is the largest organ in the body and the most visible; its condition has a huge impact on the mother,” says Lynne Bluff, South Africa’s leading childbirth educator and editor of The Expectant Mother’s Guide.
According to dermatologist Dr Ayesha Moolla, some of the most common skin concerns during pregnancy are stretch marks, darkening of the skin, varicose veins and spider veins, reddening of the palms and acne.
Up to 90% of pregnant women develop stretch marks. According to Dr Moolla, “Stretch marks are a form of scar tissue. They are caused by rapid weight gain or expansion in body-shape that results in tiny tears in the dermal layer of skin, which subsequently results in scar formation or stretch marks.”
“Contrary to what you may expect, stretch marks don’t only occur in the later stage of pregnancy,” says gynaecologist Dr Jana Roussouw. “They can start developing as early as the first trimester due to high hormone levels. However they most commonly appear in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.”
According to Dr Roussouw “Stretch marks are most likely to form on the abdomen, but can also occur on the breasts, hips and thighs – any area that experiences rapid growth.”
Dr Moolla says anyone who has a rapid gain in weight is at risk of developing stretch marks. “There are of course, other factors that come into play including family history – if either parent has stretch marks then one would have a proclivity towards developing them.”
“It’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy and not gain too much weight. We aim at a weight gain of around 12kgs, bearing in mind that after 36 weeks the mother should be gaining around a kilo a week,” says Dr Roussouw.
Dr Moolla says that as well as maintaining a healthy weight, there are other ways to help prevent stretch marks: “Eat a balanced diet rich in food and nutrients that are good for skin health. Drink plenty of water. Twice a day, massage areas that are prone to stretch marks using good quality oils like Bio-Oil, a moisturiser or even an emollient. The massaging action allows the skin to become more pliant and more hydrated. There are supplements that have been advocated for the prevention of stretch marks, such as vitamin C and vitamin E.”
Itchy Dry Skin
“Skin moisturizing is important as the skin can get very itchy and uncomfortable during pregnancy,” says Bluff. Many women experience itchy skin, particularly around the breasts and abdomen as the skin stretches to accommodate growth.
To relieve itching:
- Massage Bio-Oil into the skin. It is safe to use during pregnancy on face and body.
- Add a few drops of Bio-Oil to your bath for an all-over moisturising effect.
- Use cool or lukewarm water to wash; hot water can dry out the skin.
- Avoid the heat, rather stay inside or under shade during hot weather.
- Wear cool, loose clothing.
“Massaging oil onto the breasts and tummy will moisturise the skin, soothe itchiness and help decrease the chance of stretch marks forming. It’s also a great way to start bonding with the little person inside,” says Bluff.
Uneven Skin Tone
About half of pregnant women develop hyper-pigmentation, a darkening of the skin, as fluctuating hormone levels mean uneven melanin production.
According to Dr Moolla, “Melasma (the mask of pregnancy) can cause great distress, with darkening of the skin on the face, especially around the mouth, on the cheeks and forehead. Many women also develop linear nigra, a dark line running vertically down the abdomen to the pubic bone. It is also common for the areola, the area around the nipple, to darken. Pre-existing moles, freckles and even tissue can become darker.
Fortunately most of these changes in the skin will regress spontaneously following delivery. Pigmentation lasts for about three months, as hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels. However, for some people it may not disappear completely.
Gently massage Bio-Oil into the skin twice a day to improve skin tone, avoid sun exposure and wear a sunblock of at least SPF30 every day.
Bio-Oil is effective for use in scar management, including post-operative Caesarean scars, working to maximise the elasticity of the skin, and providing relief from itching or other irritations. It restores the skin function and helps to improve the appearance of the scar, so that it is softened, flattened and normalised in its colour and texture. I really can attest to this as I used Bio-Oil on my C-section scar and 11 years later, it’s hardly visible.
Experts recommend taping with micro-pore tape as this supports the skin, reducing stress around the wound and thereby lessening the scar tissue that forms. Plastic surgeon Dr Dirk Lazarus recommends taping for up to a year after the birth of your baby!
- Taping a scar will help support and flatten it. Apply a wide Micropore™ tape along the scar. Use a flesh coloured tape if you want it to be less visible.
- Leave the tape on for up to five days – you can bath, shower and swim as normal.
- Change the tape once it starts to peel off.
- Massage the scar with Bio-Oil whenever the tape is removed and changed. Gentle massage can improve moisture and increase blood flow in the area, and maintain scar elasticity.
- Place a few drops of Bio-Oil on top of the tape daily; as it is porous, the tape will absorb the oil.
- Regular, continued use of an oil such as Bio-Oil provides the best results.
Four tips for optimum healing of scar tissue:
- Tape the wound (see above)
- Massage the scar regularly with Bio-Oil
- Follow a healthy diet that includes high levels of Vitamin C and zinc
- Don’t smoke
Bio-Oil is available at pharmacies and select retail outlets nationwide in 60ml (R49.99), 125ml (R74.99) and 200ml (R104.99). For further information visit www.bio-oil.com.
To celebrate Pregnancy Awareness Month, Bio-Oil has a gorgeous Bio-Oil baby hamper worth R1,000 to give-away. The prize includes a lovely wicker basket, 3 bottles of Bio-Oil (60ml, 125ml and 200ml), a hooded baby bath towel, fabric building blocks and a bunny rabbit, a muslin blanket, Bio-Oil’s Tips for Moms from Moms booklet and Bio-Oil’s Guide to Pregnancy Stretch Marks.
To enter, leave a comment below this post telling me your top pregnancy tip. It can be anything from caring for your skin, to eliminating nausea or tips on sleeping more soundly. I’ll announce the winner next week Friday 6 March.