“Ohmygosh. You’re positively GLOWING. Are you pregnant?” is a statement most of us have heard at some point, either in real life or in the movies. Yet, why is that? Why do people automatically assume that a golden glow is connected to pregnancy? I mean, can’t someone glow because they’re happy or because they just dropped some major cash on that new highlighter at Sephora?
To find out more (and help us come to terms with the pregnancy/glow connection), we reached out to several doctors and asked the following questions.
1. Is “pregnancy glow” an actual condition or is it just a myth?
“Although pregnancy glow has become enough of a cliché that ‘You’re glowing – are you pregnant?’ is a frequent sitcom punchline, it isn’t an urban legend,” dermatologist Dr. Sara Gaspard tells us. “Many women do look rosier, healthier, more glowing during pregnancy.”
Dr. Eric Meinhardt, the founder and medical director of California Dermatology Specialists, adds that he would not classify pregnancy glow as a “condition” because that would suggest it’s abnormal. Instead, it’s actually a normal part of pregnancy.
2. Why does pregnancy glow occur?
“In pregnancy, blood volume naturally increases and there is also a natural dilation of blood vessels … to maintain proper blood flow to the placenta,” gynecologist Dr. Felice Gersh (who founded California’s Integrative Medical Group of Irvine) tells us. “These effects cause increased blood flow to the skin, and in particular of the face … giving it a lovely, healthy glow!”
Dermatologist Dr. Rachael Cayce, the founder of DTLA Derm, adds that the hormonal changes one experiences while pregnant can alter their skin’s oil production. This can make them look as though they’re glowing or it can cause them to break out.
3. Is there a scientific term for “pregnancy glow?” Has it been studied or researched?
“As far as I am aware, there is no scientific term for pregnancy glow,” states Dr. Meinhardt. “However, pregnancy related hormonal changes, skin changes, and rashes have been extensively studied and the this research helps us to understand why pregnancy glow would occur.”
4. Why do some women “glow” when pregnant and others don’t?
Dr. Gersh explains that not all women will experience a pregnancy glow because everyone has a different skin type, color, and thickness. Dr. Gaspard states that age can also be a factor and adds that “it’s similar to the fact that some women experience more hormonal acne outbreaks than others at puberty and during menopause.”
5. Should women be concerned if they don’t experience a “pregnancy glow?”
“There’s no reason for concern if you think your glow is not as glow-y as someone else’s,” asserts Dr. Gaspard. “As a matter of fact, you might count yourself lucky. Some women who do experience pregnancy glow find that their bodies overreact, and the higher oil production triggers acne flares. This pregnancy acne will subside post-partum as the hormones rebalance. Unfortunately, so will the glow!”
Dr. Gersh goes on to say, “Obstetricians are not even trained to look at this feature! Blood pressure, weight gain, baby’s growth, urine protein, laboratory results for such things as glucose regulation, ferritin (iron), nutrients, and anti-oxidants are what should be measured and monitored.”
6. Are there any other skin conditions pregnant women should know about?
“There are a number of skin conditions that are more prevalent in pregnancy including acne, stretch marks, skin tags, changing moles, pyogenic granulomas (growth of blood vessels), warts, and melasma,” explains Dr. Meinhardt. “Additionally, there are unique rashes that occur during pregnancy such as pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP) and herpes gestationis.” He describes PUPP as happening later in pregnancy and having itchy bumps that surround stretch marks. As for herpes gestationis, it normally features blisters on the stomach region but can also occur anywhere on the body.
Dr. Gaspard discusses melasma, which is a darkening of the facial skin that’s been nicknamed “the mask of pregnancy.” It most frequently appears on the nose, cheeks, chin, and temples and occurs in women with medium-dark or olive skin tones. “If you are susceptible to melasma, you should take special care to avoid UV exposure and topical skin care products containing soy, which can make the darkening more pronounced,” advises Dr. Gaspard. “Melasma most often clears up post-partum, but in some women it lingers.”
Both Dr. Meinhardt and Dr. Gaspard recommend that individuals visit a board-certified dermatologist if they are concerned about any changes in the skin. This is especially important because Dr. Gersh mentions that pregnant women can also deal with all sorts of skin cancers.
7. How would you recommend women take care of their skin when pregnant? Are there any products they should avoid?
“A simple skin regimen is recommended when pregnant in which harsh scrubs and exfoliants are avoided. Mild cleansers, moisturizers and sunblocks for sensitive skin containing only zinc or titanium (di)oxide are recommended,” Dr. Cayce tells us. “Avoid products containing hydroquinone during pregnancy as this topical medicine for melasma has uncertain risks for the fetus. Avoid irritating and drying acne medications.”
Dr. Gersh asserts, “All products placed on the skin are absorbed into the blood – just as if swallowed! Such chemicals often concentrate in the fetus. Of course, it is always important to avoid toxins, but even more so in pregnancy!”
Sunscreen is especially important, according to Dr. Meinhardt, because pregnancy decreases immune function. Yet, Dr. Gaspard adds, “Doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid using topical anti-aging or anti-acne products or peels containing retinols or salicylic acid; in low concentrations, these may be fine, but it’s better to be safe. (Oral retinol medications such as Accutane are prohibited for use by pregnant women, because they may cause birth defects.) … Pregnancy hormones can also cause you to become allergic or sensitive to products you’ve used with no problem in the past, so switch to hypoallergenic versions if necessary.”