Unfortunately many women find themselves plagued with postpartum skin problems. Here’s how to deal with it.
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
The postpartum body, just like the newly pregnant body, is going through a lot of changes. Now that you’ve delivered, your hormone levels are changing all over again and wreaking havoc as they go along. Your pregnancy glow, which was caused by estrogen-intense blood flow has disappeared and surprise, surprise, it is possible that several other skin issues may arise. Add the drop in hormones to stress, the lack of sleep, and the lack of time for a skin care regime and you have quite a problem on your hands. From stretch marks to acne, Motherhood consults with the experts to tell you what you can expect, why and what you can do about it.
The Mask of Pregnancy
Noticing some skin darkening or brown patches on your face? This condition is a common pregnancy condition called “Melasma”, also known as “the Mask of Pregnancy”. Dr Rachael Teo, specialist in dermatology & consultant at Raffles Skin & Aesthetic says, “Pigmentation that appears as brown patches over the facial skin is thought to be induced by surges in certain hormones during pregnancy. It may also be triggered in women who are taking the oral contraceptive pill.” Dr Tan Hiok Hee, dermatologist at Thomson Specialist Skin Centre adds that the condition affects Asian skin more commonly. This condition is not to be confused with “Linea Nigra”, the dark vertical line that appears below your navel. That will fade on its own after a few months and it is nothing to fret about. Where the mask of pregnancy is concerned, both experts agree that sun protection is crucial in the treatment of melasma, as pigment production is stimulated by UV light.
What you can do:
According to Dr Teo, minimising contact with direct sunlight, especially during peak hours, wearing a hat and using a good sun screen are all necessary steps. There are also medical solutions if the problem is bothering you too much. “Discuss with your dermatologist about treatment options such as tretinoin, hydroquinone or glycolic acid peels which may be used to treat melisma,” says Dr Teo.
The bane of every new mother. An extremely common condition, stretch marks appear most usually around your belly, bum and breasts due to skin stretching from pregnancy weight gain. “When they are fresh, they appear red, and gradually fade to white”, says Dr Tan. After a few months, you can expect the stretch marks to lighten or fade, and if you’re lucky, given more time, some may even disappear. In general however, stretch marks are largely persistent.
What you can do:
Unfortunately, stretch marks are not something you can avoid completely, and it’s just part and parcel of having a baby. However, if you try to keep your weight gain during pregnancy gradual, you may minimise the number of stretch marks you get. Also Dr Tan suggests the intensive use of moisturisers both during pregnancy and after delivery. If the condition is really bothering you, he adds, “there are various specially formulated stretch mark creams on the market which can be tried, and for more severe cases, dermatologists sometimes prescribe tretinoin cream in the post-partum period if the mother is not breastfeeding. There are also some skin tightening laser treatments that can also be offered.”
Dr Vanessa Phua, physician at Aesthetic Medicine & Beauty from Asia Health Partners Pte Ltd advises that you moisturise intensely with cocoa butter containing emollients and use a soap-free shower gel to minimise skin irritation from the stretching of the skin. If you are looking into creams to help, Dr Phua says, “A non-steroid containing cream contains phospholipids to help to reduce inflammation and redness, as well as itch during and after pregnancy. Vitamin A containing creams such retinol can be applied post-partum to reduce the appearance of the stretch marks, but can cause mild irritation to the skin.”
If you are planning to indulge in professional treatment, she adds, “Broadband light can be used for red or purple stretch marks over a few sessions to reduce the depth and severity of the skin discolouration, and encourage skin rejuvenation. A fractional laser is ideal for white or silvery stretch marks as it enforces collagen formation in the skin by vaporizing columns of skin in the affected area, encouraging new collagen formation and regeneration of skin cells. There is some associated crusting and redness afterwards for about one to two weeks, then the area becomes smooth, tighter and more youthful when the skin has healed. This may require a few sessions of treatment.”
According to Dr Phua and Dr Tan, acne is also a fairly common postpartum issue.
Dr Phua explains that it is caused by fluctuating hormonal levels as the body eases back into its pre-pregnancy equilibrium. “Progesterone levels start to balance out while oestrogen levels fall, causing increased sebum production, oily skin, comedones and acne,” she says.
Your acne is likely to settle on its own after a few months, but Dr Tan advises seeking medical treatment to prevent scarring. “There are various topical agents, many of which can be safely used even when breastfeeding. In more severe cases, oral medications would be required, and this can include oral antibiotics,” he says.
What you can do:
Dr Phua suggests that you cut down on sugary foods, and increase intake of fibre, vegetables and low Glycaemic Index carbohydrates, such as whole wheat pasts and brown rice. You may also use an oil mattifying serum, which reduces oil production. Switch to non-comdedogenic makeup and products that have an antibacterial component. Customised chemical peels prescribed by your doctor may also help.
As far as home-based remedies are concerned, Dr Tan’s advice is to first consult your doctor.
If the condition is severe, you and your doctor may choose to decide on a laser treatment together.
Hand Eczema or Dermatitis
This often occurs to women postpartum due to more frequent washing of the hands after baby arrives. Don’t fret, “Dermatitis is not infectious, so there is no concern about possible spread to the baby”, says Dr Tan.
What you can do:
“Using moisturisers frequently will help to restore the skin barrier. Wearing waterproof gloves to minimise contact with irritants such as detergents may help. See a dermatologist if the rash is persistent or severe. A medicated cream such as a steroid cream or sometimes oral medication may be prescribed to treat the inflammation,” says Dr Teo.
Spider Angiomas or Telangiectasia
Have you noticed small, reddened parts of the skin where you see spider-shaped blood vessels? Dr Phua explains that you may have Spider Angiomas or Telangiectasia, which are broken small blood vessels caused by hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy. They generally occur on the cheeks or nose, and sometimes on the forearms. They are benign, small vessel lesions that can cause flushing of the cheeks.
What you can do:
Generally, this resolves itself. If it’s small or light, it may be easy to ignore. If you have persistent ones, see a doctor who will tell you about possible laser treatments.