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After pregnancy, everything changes, even seemingly little things like your hair and skin. Most changes that affect your skin and hair aren't long-term and will resolve on their own, so don't take them too seriously. The changes that do remain are often easily dealt with by using topical ointments or medication or by undergoing minor surgical procedures. Your baby will be worth the small annoyances; in fact, you might be too busy with him to fret about these changes before they disappear.
During pregnancy, increased estrogen levels bring positive changes to your hair. Hair replacement continues as it normally does, but hair loss slows and more hair grows. Your individual hairs aren't actually thicker, you just have more hair on your head. This can change dramatically after delivery, so don't get too attached to your lustrous locks. About three months after you give birth, your hair makes an about-face. The anaphase, or hair-growing phase, ends and the telogen phase, where hair falls out, begins, affecting as much as 60 percent of your hair. "Most women who develop hair loss with or after the pregnancy just need to wait it out. As hormones stabilize, the normal hair cycles usually return. This could take three to nine months," explains Dr. William Rassman, author of "Hair Loss and Replacement for Dummies" and founder of the New Hair Institute in Los Angeles.
Hyperpigmentation means that you develop darker-than-normal skin in certain areas during pregnancy. While most of these spots fade somewhat after delivery, they may always stay darker than they were before you got pregnant. About 90 percent of all women experience some hyperpigmentation, often around the nipples, under your armpits or around the genitals. The linea nigra—the dark line that extends from your navel to your pubic area—usually fades completely after delivery, only to return with your next pregnancy.
Around 75 percent of women wear the so-called mask of pregnancy. Medically termed melasma or chloasma, the mask consists of darkened areas on your cheeks, forehead, eyes and nose, which is how it earned its nickname. If you have olive-toned skin, you're more likely to develop melasma, which doesn't always disappear after delivery. Using sunscreen when you're outside and applying 1 percent hydrocortisone cream can help minimize the darkening.
Blame the increase in blood volume during pregnancy for changes to your vascular system, which can include varicose veins and spider veins, the tiny broken capillaries that can appear on your face, neck and arms. While most spider veins disappear within two months after delivery, about 25 percent hang around. Varicose veins often worsen with each pregnancy and can cause aching in your legs. Both varicose and spider veins can be removed if they bother you.
Moles, Skin Tags and Warts
Moles often enlarge or darken during pregnancy but usually return to their former appearance after delivery. Have any mole changes that persist checked by a dermatologist, since being pregnant doesn't protect you from developing cancerous lesions. Skin tags—small fleshy growths or polyps—often appear on your neck, under your arms, under your bra line and in the groin. Being overweight increases your risk of developing skin tags. If skin tags persist, they're easily removed with a quick snip by the dermatologist. Warts can also enlarge during pregnancy.
Skin that stretches often develops small tears that leave depressed, crinkled-looking areas of skin known as stretch marks. Stretch marks, which occur in about 90 percent of pregnant women, are most common on your abdomen, breasts and thighs. They can be pink to dark brown, depending on your skin tone. Over time, stretch marks fade to a silvery color. Topical prescription creams or over-the-counter treatments such as vitamin E might help them fade.
Suzanne Robin is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology. She also has extensive experience working in home health with developmentally delayed or medically fragile children. Robin received her RN degree from Western Oklahoma State College. She has coauthored and edited numerous books for the Wiley "Dummies" series.