A pregnant woman plays host to an extraordinary process. Even if she isn’t showing, her face is glowing, hinting of her secret. It’s logical to credit such radiance to pure delight. However, there’s a scientific reason for her aura. Here’s what underlies pregnancy glow.
During gestation, maternal blood volume increases by roughly 50 percent. Circulation also pumps up, to ensure adequate blood flow to the placenta. This uterine organ transports maternal blood to the baby, supplying the fetus with oxygen, nutrients, and antibodies. The placenta also produces the hormones that control fetal development.
The upswing in a mother’s circulation dilates blood vessels, bringing more blood to her skin’s surface. This change is most evident in her face, giving her a rosy countenance. Increased blood flow also plumps her cheeks. Hormones rev oil production, rendering a dewy complexion.
Oxytocin surges. This chemical prompts affection, helping a mother to bond with her child. Oxytocin also eases tension, lowers blood pressure, and releases joy. The so-called “love hormone” plays a role in pregnancy glow.
Prevalence and Onset
Beaming isn’t universal. Whether it occurs depends on several factors. One is the interplay of hormones, which varies among expecting women. Some moms are plagued with queasiness, causing pallor rather than rosy cheeks. Poor sleep is another contributor. Stress can also send a glow packing.
Although some expectant women light up early on, the radiance typically begins around 12 weeks gestation. By the third trimester, it’s not quite as bright. At this stage, other discomforts can drain the color from a woman’s face, such as indigestion, hemorrhoids, and back pain.
One skin condition that can arise is melasma, commonly termed “pregnancy mask.” Brown blotches emerge on the face and neck, triggered by sun exposure. Up to 70 percent of expectant mothers develop melasma. A rise in estrogen is responsible, leading to excess melatonin, the hormone that governs skin color.
However, melasma is preventable by avoiding sun exposure. About 15 minutes before heading outside, expectant moms should apply sunscreen. For the best protection, sunscreen should be rated at least SPF 30 and contain zinc oxide, to block both UVA and UVB rays. While outdoors, moms should reapply sunscreen every two hours.
Like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide shields against UVA and UVB. However, when inhaled, titanium dioxide poses a risk of cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens. Therefore, zinc oxide is a safer sunblock. Additionally, to avoid pregnancy acne, women should buy an oil-free, non-comedogenic product.
One sunscreen component that expectant women must avoid is oxybenzone. This chemical is linked to hormonal interference and abnormal fetal development. Oxybenzone may also contribute to low birth weight, increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Moms should also wear protective clothing, including long sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat. Even better is staying out of direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm.
Fortunately, melasma is temporary, typically fading within six months of childbirth. If pregnancy mask persists beyond this, a medical physician can prescribe hydroquinone or Retin A to restore normal skin tone. However, women should not use such creams during pregnancy.
Other Skin Conditions
Excessive oil causes some mothers to develop pimples, resulting from clogged pores. Women who previously broke out during menstruation are more likely to have pregnancy acne.
Note that doctors advise against treating blemishes with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Also unsafe during pregnancy are retinoids and retinols. The most benign pimple treatment is oil-free skin cleanser.
Small blood vessels may dot a woman’s skin, and varicose veins are likely. Skin tags may surface on the neck, underarms, and thighs.
If a woman tends to get eczema, she may experience worsening symptoms during pregnancy. Stretch marks can appear on the abdomen and breasts. However, the tendency to develop stretch marks is often genetic.
Also common during pregnancy is mole darkening. If any moles change shape, size, itch, or bleed, a woman should see a dermatologist. Such developments can flag skin cancer. In fact, expectant and new mothers are prone to skin carcinoma. Scientists surmise that high estrogen levels underlie the increased cancer risk.
After delivery, pregnant women lose their rosy glow. However, along with childbirth, they can celebrate the fading of acne and melasma.
As with all stages of pregnancy, the secret behind a woman’s glow is hormones. Chemicals direct her body to raise blood volume, circulation, and skin oil.
During pregnancy, a woman undergoes a major makeover. Fortunately, the reward for her trials is a precious child.