Red and itchy rashes are no cup of tea at any point in life. But especially when you’re expecting, a pregnancy eczema flare up can be maddening. But before you go fretting over that fresh rash on your body, it’s best to figure out if it is, in fact, eczema. The trick is eczema is the umbrella term that generally refers to all atopic dermatitis, a group of conditions that make the skin inflamed, itchy, and red.
How to diagnose and treat pregnancy eczema is all about understanding your skin and using the right products. Here’s how to tell if your skin irritation is pregnancy eczema after all.
What are pregnancy eczema symptoms?
Eczema is often something that shows up in people’s skin when they’re children, Dr. Deirdre O’Boyle Hooper, a dermatologist, tells Romper. “If you have eczema, you know it,” she says. And getting pregnant may or may not change how it flares up. “For some people it stays the same, for others it might not.”
That said, she adds, eczema can present in pregnancy for the first time, which may come as a shock to some people.
At its core, the very common ailment that affects some 31 million Americans according to the National Eczema Association (NEA), is the production of inflammation in reaction to an irritant or allergen to the skin.
This can vary from mild to severe and include any of the following symptoms:
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Inflamed, discolored skin
- Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting
- Areas of swelling
What causes pregnancy eczema?
The bad news? Scientists have yet to pinpoint one exact cause of eczema. But some believe an “overactive immune system” is at the heart of the problem, according to the NEA.
A recent discovery is that people who suffer from eczema appear to have a “a mutation of the gene responsible for creating filaggrin.” Filaggrin is a special protein that acts as the top barrier of the skin. A lack of filaggrin poses “the strongest genetic risk factor for atopic dermatitis” according to a paper published in Current Problems In Dermatology.
You might be thinking, well then what can a person do to prevent pregnancy eczema? The good news is even with this gene mutation, there are lots of preventative measures that can not only soothe but even reduce flare ups, including during pregnancy.
What are treatments for pregnancy eczema?
“Women who are pregnant become risk averse and don’t want to do anything that could harm their baby,” says Dr. Hooper. And this can sometimes make them reluctant to seek eczema treatment. But she says that’s the wrong call. With help from both their OB/GYN and dermatologist, Dr. Hooper says together they can come up with a treatment plan appropriate for pregnancy.
Another concern, says Dr. Ronda Farah, a dermatologist and professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, is a propensity to reach for natural alternatives. Sure, the label says natural or organic, but all too often, these products are loaded with fragrances, a trigger for eczema says Dr. Farah.
Rather than reaching for maternity branded skin treatments that could actually induce a flare up, look for no-fragrance, basic products.
“You want to pick a moisturizer that's very bland,” says Dr. Farah. “We don't like things with a lot of fragrances and extra ingredients because the skin can get sensitized and irritated by it.”
Instead, avoid expensive designer creams and go for an ointment-based solution like Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. This, Dr. Farah says, will help lock in moisture especially if applied right after a shower when the skin is still a bit damp.
Dr. Hooper suggests looking closely at moisturizer labels. She suggests brands like Cetaphil and Aveeno which, she adds, are completely safe for pregnant women.
That said, if your pregnancy eczema becomes severe, both doctors urge pregnant people to see their doctors to avoid itchy rashes becoming infected.
“Call a dermatologist. We can work out a prescription that can help control a flare,” says Dr. Hooper. That way you can get some relief and focus on the task at hand, growing an infant.
Dr. Deirdre O’Boyle Hooper, a board-certified dermatologist with Audubon Dermatology, audubondermatology.com
Dr. Ronda Farah, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Dermatologist and Division Medical Director of Medical Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School
Kezic, S., & Jakasa, I. (2016). Filaggrin and Skin Barrier Function. Current problems in dermatology, 49, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1159/000441539