Why Does My Skin Burn When I'm Pregnant?

Pregnant woman applying cream to her belly

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Being pregnant can sometimes feel like you are in a new body. Along with steadily gaining weight and feeling your baby move and kick, you might notice you are sensitive in ways you weren't before. Your sense of smell may suddenly become heightened, or you may have blurred vision.

If your skin feels extra sensitive, this is most likely just another change brought on by your pregnancy. In most cases, skin sensitivities are normal and nothing to worry about.

Let's break down the types of sensations your skin might experience, how to alleviate them, and when to see a doctor.

Why Does Skin Feel Extra Sensitive During Pregnancy?

Skin changes are very common in pregnancy. About 90% of pregnant people experience some type of skin change, whether it's discoloration, stretch marks, or increased sensitivity.

If your skin feels extra sensitive while you are pregnant, changing hormones may be to blame. "Pregnancy hormones can make you more sensitive to contact with substances that might not normally affect you, such as sunlight, heat, detergents, chlorine, and even certain foods," says Anna Chacon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and published author based in Miami, Florida.

Pregnancy hormones make your skin more elastic so it can stretch to accommodate your growing belly. This, combined with increased blood flow and a higher body temperature may lead to burning or itchy sensations. "As your belly and breasts enlarge, the skin stretches and may itch or feel sensitive to the touch," says Alan Lindemann, MD, an OB/GYN and maternal mortality expert.

Your immune system kicks into overdrive during pregnancy to protect both you and your baby from pathogens. That's a good thing, but it can come with some unpleasant side effects, including skin sensitivity. Skin conditions that you had before you were pregnant, such as eczema, may temporarily become worse.

What Types of Feelings or Sensations Might Occur?

Sensitive skin may sting, burn, or feel tender. The skin may appear red or even swollen.

If you have a burning sensation around your elbows, wrists, knees, or neck that is accompanied by a rash, itchiness, or inflammation, you could have eczema. Pregnancy may exacerbate already-existing eczema but you can also develop it if you have never had it before. "Eczema often occurs for the first time in pregnancy and resolves after your baby’s birth," notes Dr. Chacon.

If you normally suffer from psoriasis (thick, itchy, dry skin) you may actually find relief while you are expecting a baby. "Psoriasis usually improves in pregnancy," says Dr. Chacon.

How to Find Relief

Sensitive skin can be normal, but it can also be bothersome. There are a few steps you can take to feel more comfortable.

Use Unscented Soaps

Try switching out your face or body wash for a non-scented soap. You may also want to refrain from using cosmetic products or moisturizers on the areas that feel sensitive. You can try stopping all cosmetic products and moisturizers for two weeks and then slowly reintroducing them to see what makes a difference.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids may help your skin feel less sensitive. Hydrated skin may be less prone to cracking when stretched. During pregnancy, you need roughly eight to 12 cups of water per day.

Be Safe in the Sun

Use sun protection whenever possible, such as a hat, coverup, and sunscreen. Similar to hydrating from the inside out, putting a barrier between your skin and direct sunlight can help prevent your skin from becoming extra dry and therefore more sensitive.

Wear Loose Clothing

If you are not already dressing in loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, this may help as well. Body-contouring clothes may look cute over your belly, but they don't allow the skin to breathe as easily. "Wearing cotton clothing that breathes may decrease the symptoms," notes Dr. Lindemann.

If home remedies don't work and you have discomfort, always reach out to your healthcare provider. They may be able to offer you a safe and effective treatment.

When to Seek Medical Care

Sensitive skin is often a completely normal, albeit uncomfortable, part of pregnancy. In many cases there is nothing to worry about.

Although eczema and psoriasis may not be normal for you, they are not serious threats to your health. Unless they are causing intense discomfort that affects your daily life, you don't necessarily need to see a doctor for these conditions.

That being said, always reach out to your healthcare provider if your symptoms are severe or if you are concerned about your symptoms, especially if they are new to you. In some cases, sensitive skin can indicate another, more serious problem that needs treatment.

One such condition is intrahepatic cholestasis, which is when the flow of bile from the liver is slowed or blocked. "Cholestasis is not normal and it is not benign," says Dr. Chacon. "Mild itching is usually nothing to worry about, but if the itching becomes severe, it can be a sign of this serious liver condition.

Intrapeptic cholestatis is characterized by itchy palms and soles of the feet, and symptoms are more intense at night. It is associated with preterm birth, fetal distress, and stillbirth.

"If you notice itching on your palms and the soles of your feet, contact your doctor," says Dr. Chacon. "Don’t wait until you have right upper quadrant pain, nausea, or jaundice."

A Word From Verywell

Sensitive skin is one of the many physical changes you may notice during your pregnancy. Most of the time, sensitive skin is nothing to worry about and it will likely fade away at some point during or after pregnancy.

Shifting hormones may be the cause of sensitive skin. These hormones let your skin stretch more easily as your body changes shape and size to accommodate your growing baby. This is a good thing, but it can leave your skin feeling tender or raw.

To find relief, switch out any scented body washes for plain soap, use sun protection, and opt for loose clothing. If your symptoms are severe or you have concerns, reach out to your healthcare provider.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.