Dry Skin During Pregnancy: Why It Happens and What to Do

Dry Skin During Pregnancy: Why It Happens and What to Do

Pregnancy is a beautiful and exciting point in any woman’s life — but it also brings its fair share of challenges. As if it wasn’t enough to deal with the nerves, strange food cravings, and nausea, you’re also likely to wake up some days feeling like a reptile.

The good news? It’s normal to struggle with dry skin during pregnancy. A long line of women have faced this before you, and many more will come after. Of course, knowing that probably isn’t enough to make you feel better about your situation — you no doubt want solutions and a good explanation.

To guide you through this annoying problem, I’ll outline why dry skin occurs in the first place, what to do about it, and a few supposed “remedies” to avoid at all costs.

Why Does Pregnancy Cause Dry Skin?

If you’re naturally curious or a bit of a skincare nerd, you probably don’t just want to know that dry skin is a common problem among pregnant women — you also want to understand why. First, let’s take a look at what’s going on below the surface (literally).

The skin is the largest organ in the body (as you’ve probably heard someone tell you before), and it’s incredibly sensitive. The skin’s outer layer is effectively a protective barrier that keeps out all kinds of nasty bacteria we might encounter in our daily lives, like dirt and dust. It also stops moisture on our skin from evaporating.

The structure of the skin is shown in the diagram below, where the stratum corneum is the outer layer, and the hydrolipidic barrier lies just on top.
layers of the skin diagram

What Happens During Pregnancy

Guess what happens when our protective barrier becomes less effective at preventing this evaporation? We’re stuck with dry skin — and that’s exactly what happens during pregnancy.

Although the skin lies on the outside of our bodies, it’s actually our internal processes that regulate it. One of the most important factors is our hormone levels, and as you’re probably aware, they fluctuate heavily during pregnancy.

When our hormones go wild, our skin’s outer barrier becomes weaker, and gaps begin to form. This results in more moisture evaporating from the skin. Before you know it, your smooth, silky, pre-pregnancy skin has turned into cracked, scaly skin that you barely recognize.

To make matters worse, pregnancy also makes the skin lose some elasticity (to make room for the baby you’re growing inside you), which is another contributor to dry skin.

It’s a pretty upsetting occurrence. But don’t panic — there’s plenty you can do to look after your skin.

Ways to Look After Your Skin

Moisturizers and skincare products are great, and we’ll cover those next, but there’s plenty you can do for your skin just by adding a few health-boosting steps into your daily routine.

Here are a few prime examples.

Use a Humidifier

When temperatures are cooler, the air tends to get drier, which in turn dries our skin out (that’s why our lips get chapped during winter). It can even cause respiratory issues in some people.

Fortunately, humidifiers combat dry air by adding moisture to the environment. If you’re in any doubt, you can measure your home’s humidity level with a hygrometer — it should be around 50%.

You can buy both cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers, but they’re equally effective at combating dry skin, so it’s a matter of preference.

Drink Plenty of Water

It shouldn’t come as a shock that one of the best things you can do to keep your skin hydrated is to consume plenty of liquids.

Water helps with transporting minerals around your body and absorbing nutrients, so it will also help you to reap maximum benefits from the food you eat.

Even better, water can also alleviate other nasty side effects of pregnancy, such as indigestion and nausea.

Not sure if you’re drinking enough? The answer is in your urine. If it’s light (or even colorless), then you’re doing just fine — but if your pee is more of a yellow color, it’s time to up your water quantities.

Follow a Healthy Diet

Yes, I know that a healthy diet is recommended for curing every ailment under the sun, but there’s a reason for that. It works! The more nutrients and vitamins are in your body, the better chance it has of keeping your skin’s protective barrier strong and healthy.

That’s not to say that your dry skin is your fault for following a poor diet — but eating the right food will certainly give you a boost.

Foods rich in healthy fatty acids are a good bet, such as avocados, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Naturally, vegetables will also do you a world of good thanks to the high number of vitamins and minerals they contain.

Dark chocolate makes the list too, thanks to its bioactive compounds, as we’re sure you’ll be pleased to know.

Wear Sunscreen

Hopefully, you’ve heeded the advice of skincare experts by making it a normal part of your life to wear sunscreen whenever you leave the house. You should continue to do the same throughout your pregnancy, even if you don’t live in an area that gets a lot of natural sunlight.

To err on the side of caution, choose a mineral sunscreen — they’re verified as safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and anyone with sensitive skin. Although these sunscreens are slightly more expensive than other types, they’re worth every penny.

Using Skincare Products to Combat Dryness

Everyone should be careful about the products they apply to their skin, but you need to be extremely careful when you’re pregnant. Applying the wrong cream could result in your skin absorbing strong chemicals that wreak havoc in your body. You really can’t be too careful.

Fortunately, there are plenty of great options. In fact, you could even create your own hydrating remedy using natural ingredients.

Natural Remedies

Skincare solutions based on natural ingredients are a miracle — they’re far more affordable than anything made by a premium organic brand, and they ensure you don’t need to worry about deciphering the ingredients list.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil is a well-known beauty remedy for good reason — it’s packed full of antioxidants and fatty lipids, which help to strengthen the outer layer of the skin’s barrier and keep you hydrated. Still, for maximum effectiveness, it’s best to use coconut oil to seal in your primary moisturizer, and not to apply it as your sole moisturizer. So, what should you use alongside it?

Shea Butter: One option is shea butter. It’s a common ingredient in many skincare products and can help dry skin thanks to its soothing properties and tree-nut oils, which help to seal in moisture. But bear in mind that shea butter can sometimes cause skin breakouts (another common issue for pregnant women), so only use it in a low concentration.

Olive Oil: Good old olive oil is another moisturizer you might want to consider. Like coconut oil, it’s full of antioxidants and vitamins. It might feel strange to pull this oil from your kitchen cupboard and use it on your skin, but trust me, you won’t regret it.

Yoghurt: Finally, yogurt can help with hydration due to its lactic acid — just apply a thin layer to your skin and wash it off after a few minutes. This might not appeal to everyone, but it works surprisingly well.

Store-Bought Moisturizers

If you don’t have the time or energy to create your own remedy, I feel you. Fortunately, a few brands have made excellent natural and organic moisturizers to save you the work.

Just make sure you vet the ingredients thoroughly rather than taking any claims of a product being “natural” at face value — let’s just say that certain brands take liberties with how they define this!

I’d recommend avoiding common harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and diethanolamine (DEA).

Even ingredients commonly viewed as “healthy” are best to avoid during pregnancy, like vitamin A (as a retinol, it can cause birth abnormalities) and salicylic acid (often found in anti-acne products).

How Often to Moisturize

You might have been fine only moisturizing once a day before you got pregnant, but now you’re struggling with dry skin, it’s time to up the frequency.

To help keep your skin hydrated, try to moisturize every morning and evening at a minimum — and you could even top your skin up in between to be extra safe.

What to Avoid

As mentioned, chemical-ridden beauty products are off the cards. But these aren’t the only things you should avoid exposing your skin to during pregnancy.

Rough Fabrics

Most people don’t put much thought into the materials they expose their skin to, but this is a mistake. Soft clothes help your skin breathe, while rough fabrics can irritate your skin and make the dryness worse.

Think cotton, silk, and cashmere — no more denim or wool.

Daily Exfoliation

If you were a skincare fanatic before you got pregnant, you might be in the habit of exfoliating multiple times a week — or maybe even every day! But following the same routine as a pregnant woman isn’t recommended.

Still, you don’t have to give up this sacred ritual altogether. Exfoliating your skin is healthy and recommended — just leave it to once a week and make sure you choose a gentle exfoliant. You could even use baking soda.

Hot or Cold Water

A common beauty tip for healthy skin is to wash your face with cold water, but this isn’t such a great idea during pregnancy. Does that mean that you should use hot water instead? Still no.

Extreme temperatures weaken the skin’s outer barrier and make our moisture evaporate. Lukewarm water is your new best friend!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t just apply to washing your face, but also to showers and baths. You’ll have to choose between your beloved hot baths and perfect silky skin, I’m afraid.

Steaming

Given that a humidifier helps with moisturization, you’d be forgiven for thinking that steaming has the same benefit. But this isn’t the case — steaming actually gets rid of the natural moisture and oils your skin holds, making the dryness worse.

And I’m not just talking about using a steamer, either. Baths and showers can be just as bad, so limit them to fifteen minutes.

When to See a Doctor

If you try out the tips mentioned here for around two weeks and see no improvements, it could be the sign of a larger problem. Although dry skin is a pregnancy side effect that most women experience, sometimes it can be related to something more serious.

If you suspect your skin is more than just a little rough, it could be time to speak with a medical professional. Some other issues to look out for include:

  • loss of appetite
  • extreme fatigue
  • light-colored stools
  • dark-colored urine

If these symptoms persist alongside your dry, itchy skin, it’s time to reach out for help.

Also, although some amount of itchiness is expected, it could be problematic if your hands and feet are extremely itchy.

Don’t rush to self-diagnose your condition just because you have a couple of symptoms, but there’s no harm in talking to your doctor to put your mind at ease (and possibly prevent a serious condition).

See You Later, Alligator (Skin)

As annoying as dry skin might be, it’s a small price to pay for the joy of bringing a new life into the world. Just thank your lucky stars if you can still get eight hours of sleep at night! Besides, as soon as you up your moisturization frequency and water intake, you’re sure to see some quick improvements.

Our skin naturally gets drier and rougher as we get older (due to changing hormones and less natural oil production), so think of this as a glimpse into your future. It’s a chance to prepare yourself by nailing your beauty routines and understanding how to hydrate yourself properly. Your future self will thank you if you keep up these routines even after your pregnancy ends and your skin goes back to normal.