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How Pregnancy Changes Your Body

Skin

What's going on: Expectant mothers are famous for their "glow" (caused by high estrogen levels, which boost the amount of blood coursing through your veins by up to 50 percent to support circulation to the fetus). Unfortunately, they're prone to a whole host of less glamorous skin conditions, too. Pregnancy hormones can rev up oil glands, for instance, triggering acne flare-ups. "I feel like I'm in high school again," moans Sue Craver of Marinette, Wisconsin.

Other common pregnancy skin woes include: Melasma (blotchy pigmentation on the face brought on by increased melanin production); spider veins (blood vessels grow and dilate, making capillaries visible through the skin); skin tags (tiny, leathery flaps that crop up in high-friction areas like the neck and underarms); moles (hormones cause the spots to multiply and grow); dry, itchy skin (blame stretching and hormone-induced skin dehydration); linea nigra (a dark line running down the center of the belly due to excess melanin); stretch marks (hormones and pressure from your growing girth cause the support structures in the skin to tear, leaving your belly etched with red striations, which will eventually fade to a silvery white); rashes such as polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (itchy, red lesions that appear in stretch marks); and red palms (caused by increased blood volume).

What to do about it: To keep skin supple, drink eight glasses of water a day, take warm -- not hot -- showers, and use a moisturizing cleanser, advises Dr. McMichael. To zap zits, wash with a gentle cleanser a few times a day, but don't use any acne treatment without your doctor's okay. If you've been eyeing fancy stretch-mark creams, save your money -- a genetic predisposition for elastic skin is the only thing that will ward them off (though smoothing lotion on your taut belly will feel good, if nothing else). Creams containing Retin-A or alpha-hydroxy acids may help fade stretch marks after they develop, but such treatments aren't safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Finally, wait it out -- most skin conditions clear up or fade within a few months of delivery. If you develop a serious or persistent skin problem, though, see a dermatologist.

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