The Truth About Pregnancy Glow

Pregnancy Glow

Pregnancy glow is not a myth, although it doesn’t happen to every mother-to-be.

By the second trimester of pregnancy, many women find that their skin looks brighter, their hair appears thicker and their nails are growing more quickly. Women blessed with such prenatal radiance may indeed seem to glow.

No one is sure why the phenomenon happens to some women—and not to others—but hormones probably play the biggest role.

More Hormones, Better Circulation

Rising levels of the hormones play a part in skin, hair and nail changes during pregnancy. The chief players are progesterone and estrogen.

Progesterone plays an important role during early pregnancy, strengthening pelvic walls and providing a nourishing environment for the developing baby. It later loosens ligaments and joints in preparation for childbirth and can also be responsible for increased hair growth.

Shortly after fertilization, the placenta also begins producing estrogen. Since estrogen is the hormone responsible for secondary sex characteristics, a bump in estrogen levels can positively affect skin thickness and moisture, resulting in plumper and more hydrated looking skin. An increase in estrogen can also boost hair growth,

Estrogen also helps to increase blood circulation, ensuring that nutrients are efficiently delivered to the developing baby and, as a nice side benefit, also to a mother’s skin.  When a woman is pregnant her blood volume increases by as much as 50 percent, since her body must produce more blood cells to handle new tasks.

Rising levels of hormones and better circulation both play a part in creating the phenomenon of pregnancy glow.

Hormonal Problems

For some women the hormonal surges inspired by pregnancy don’t result in a glow but instead cause skin, nail and hair problems.

Pregnancy acne is a good example. For some women, acne clears up during pregnancy but for others the heightened hormone production makes skin too oily, leading to pregnancy acne. Women who previously had acne are more likely to suffer from a worse case during their pregnancy.

The increase in hormones during pregnancy may cause changes in skin pigment. So many women develop the facial discoloration known as melasma that it is known as the “mask of pregnancy.” The selection of brownish patches often spread across the face but discoloration can also appear on the forearms or the neck. Nipples may also darken during pregnancy as well as the linea nigra, the line of skin descending from the belly button.

Nails and hair are not exempt from hormonal problems during pregnancy. Some women’s fingernails don’t become stronger when they are expecting but instead are thinner and more brittle. More progesterone can be responsible for a fuller head of hair but also, in some women, may result in unwanted body hair in new and unexpected places.

Whether you experience pregnancy glow or suffer from skin problems, the effect of pregnancy hormones on skin, hair and nails diminishes in the weeks following the birth. Melasma will likely fade and if it doesn’t, it can be treated. It is important to minimize the effects by wearing sunscreen.

Not experiencing pregnancy glow does not mean there’s a problem with your pregnancy. Pregnancy experiences vary widely. It is important, however, to discuss all significant physical changes with a healthcare provider.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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