My Skin Changes During Pregnancy: Moles, Skin Tags, and Cherry Angiomas

Here's how skin can change during pregnancy and what to watch out for.

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

Due to increased melanin production, the cutaneous (or skin) condition called melasma is especially common during pregnancy. You may have heard of melasma by another name: the "mask of pregnancy." That is because melasma causes dark patches to appear on the face.

But, melasma is not the only way skin may change during pregnancy.

How My Skin Changed

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. It was all part of the drill.

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

After I became pregnant, one red spot on my knee had grown and become raised, which was what led 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 and removed it, preparing to send it off to a pathologist for testing. The biopsy was performed to make sure the spot wasn't an errant Spitz nevus.

The National Institutes of Health's Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center says that Spitz nevus is a noncancerous skin lesion. The lesions are usually dome shaped and red to brown in color. They can grow quickly at first, but will stabilize or disappear over time. They are often seen on the face, arms, or legs of young children.

What's Normal and What's Not

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

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 serious 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, only to have it diagnosed—too late—as a malignant melanoma. After her death, I came to associate pregnancy with the onset of skin cancer.

The Suspects Behind These 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," Keyvan Nouri, MD, said in his book Skin Cancer. Dr. Nouri also hypothesized that the increased number of malignant melanomas found in pregnant individuals may also be an effect of people having delayed pregnancy "into the later reproductive years."

Dr. Nouri's hypothesis is supported by several studies cited in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology 2017 article regarding pregnancy and malignant melanoma. These studies found that hormonal changes relating to pregnancy do have an effect on malignant melanoma. But there is also evidence that hormonal changes after puberty can cause changes in pigmentation as well.

What To Do If You Have Skin Changes When You're Pregnant

Dr. Nouri also listed many benign (noncancerous) growths associated with pregnancy, including skin tags, wartlike seborrheic keratoses (brown, black, or light tan spots), and oozing pyogenic granulomas (small, raised, red bumps that bleed easily).

If you notice skin changes when you're pregnant, they could be normal and may go away after childbirth. Still, it's a good idea to get them looked at so you know, for sure, what they are. As always, it's important for everyone—pregnant or not—to have their skin studied annually by a dermatologist. Even if it's only to keep the anxiety levels low.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles