How My Skin Changed During Pregnancy

From moles to skin tags to cherry angiomas, here's how skin can change during pregnancy and what to watch out for.

During pregnancy, most people experience hyperpigmentation or skin pigmentation disorder. Changes in skin pigmentation, or color, happen because, during pregnancy, your body produces more melanin, a pigment that makes skin darker.

Due to increased melanin production, the skin condition melasma is especially common during pregnancy. 

You may have heard of melasma by another name: the "mask of pregnancy." That's because melasma causes dark patches to appear on the face.

But, melasma is not the only way skin may change during pregnancy. For me, I not only developed crazy skin tags, which tended to fall off or disappear postpartum (that is, after childbirth), but I also noticed more moles and darker freckles popping up on my skin. Evidently, it was all part of the drill.

Here's what you should know about how your skin may change during pregnancy.

How My Skin Changed

According to my dermatologist, the sudden outcropping of cherry angiomas on my upper thighs was a typical reaction to pregnancy. Those angiomas are tiny, dark red, and, unfortunately, persistent. They didn't go away after my pregnancy.

After I became pregnant, one red spot on my knee grew and raised, leading me to visit my dermatologist for a skin check. To my relief, he wasn't worried about the raised red bump. He injected a numbing agent under the spot. He removed it, preparing to send it off to a pathologist for testing. The biopsy was performed to ensure the site wasn't an errant Spitz nevus.

According to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, a Spitz nevus is a noncancerous skin lesion. The lesions are usually dome-shaped and red to brown in color. They can proliferate at first but will stabilize or disappear over time. They are often seen on young children's faces, arms, or legs.

What's Normal and What's Not

I stared at that growing spot over the following months. I even looked at skin cancer pictures, thinking it could be basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of the disease.

But the doctor felt certain, based on the enthusiasm with which cherry angiomas sprouted up on my body during that pregnancy, that it was just a large cherry angioma and nothing to worry about. I was glad to have my concerns alleviated, and that spot biopsied just in case.

But my anxiety wasn't without reason. 

Nearly one-third of cases of malignant melanoma, the most severe form of skin cancer, are diagnosed in people during their childbearing years, according to an article published in March 2017 in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology. Although pregnancy does not make it more likely for someone to develop melanoma, a person could mistake skin cancer for pregnancy-related skin changes.

Unfortunately, I knew a woman who dismissed her concerns regarding a spot on her stomach that appeared during her second pregnancy. Later, it was diagnosed as malignant melanoma. And after her death, I came to associate pregnancy with the onset of skin cancer.

The Suspects Behind Those Changes

I wasn't alone in my assumption. But what does pregnancy have to do with the development of cancer?

"The well-known cutaneous changes associated with pregnancy have led to the hypothesis of hormonal mediators," wrote Keyvan Nouri, MD, in the book Skin Cancer

Dr. Nouri also hypothesized that the increased number of malignant melanomas found in pregnant individuals may also affect people becoming pregnant during their later reproductive years.

Dr. Nouri's hypothesis is supported by several studies cited in the 2017 article regarding pregnancy and malignant melanoma. Those studies found that pregnancy-related hormonal changes affect the onset of malignant melanoma. But there is also evidence that hormonal changes after puberty can also cause changes in pigmentation.

What to Do If You Have Skin Changes During Pregnancy

Dr. Nouri listed many benign growths associated with pregnancy. Those include skin tags, wart-like seborrheic keratoses (brown, black, or light tan spots), and oozing pyogenic granulomas (small, raised, red bumps that bleed easily).

As always, it's essential for everyone—pregnant or not—to have their skin studied annually by a dermatologist. If you notice skin changes during pregnancy, they could be typical and go away after childbirth. Still, getting them looked at is a good idea so you know what they are. Even if it's only to keep anxiety levels low.

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