Why Does Pregnancy Make My Lips and Skin So Dry?

Woman applying lip balm to dry lips


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If you were hoping for that healthy pregnancy glow, you may be surprised when you discover that you are plagued by dry skin and lips. Being so dry may even cause you to worry that something might be wrong. But usually, dryness is a normal pregnancy symptom and nothing to be alarmed about.

When you're pregnant, all sorts of things start happening to your body—some of which you may have expected. For instance, you likely anticipated morning sickness, intense cravings, and a growing belly. You might even have expected mood swings, swollen feet, and changing breasts.

But dry skin and lips are some of pregnancy's less expected side effects and may have caught you completely off guard. Those cracked, parched lips or itchy dry skin can start as early as the first trimester and for some women, last throughout the pregnancy.

There are a number of reasons for the dryness you're experiencing, but fortunately, you can usually remedy this issue pretty easily yourself. Here's what you need to know about dry lips and skin in pregnancy including what you can do about it.

What Causes Dry Lips and Skin in Pregnancy?

Generally, experiencing dryness in pregnancy means that you are dehydrated. Everything from not drinking enough water to higher blood volume can cause your skin and lips to dry out. Here's what could be behind the dryness you're experiencing.

Not Drinking Enough Water

Your body requires more fluids during pregnancy, and the amount needed increases as your baby grows. If you don't increase your fluid intake, you may experience symptoms of dehydration, such as dry lips and skin.

Increased vomiting and diarrhea, which often occur in pregnancy, can also lead to dehydration. Those with severe morning sickness may not absorb enough fluids and this may be the reason behind your dry lips and skin.

Higher Blood Volume

A surge in blood volume could also be the reason why you find yourself with dry skin when you are expecting.

"Sometimes the peak [blood] volume can exceed up to 50% higher than those of non-pregnant women," Smirit Shrestha, MD, a Texas-based dermatologist explains. "The increase in blood sugar level can cause kidneys to overwork, resulting in frequent urination and dehydration, which eventually leads to dry lips and skin."

Increased blood volume and water retention also stretch the skin. This stretching can lead to cracking as well as cause skin to dry out.

"In order to meet the needs of a developing baby, more body fluids and blood are produced during pregnancy...As the skin stretches, the skin barrier can become compromised allowing for more moisture to escape," says Konstantin Vasyukevich, MD, a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon.

Water Retention

Even though it may sound contradictory, water retention can also cause dry skin. During pregnancy, increased levels of the hormone vasopressin cause your body to retain water, leading to swelling and bloating. Excessive swelling can stretch the skin, causing it to become dry and cracked.

"This condition, which occurs during the third trimester, is called edema, and women often develop itchy red bumps with it," Dr. Shrestha says.

Changes in Body Shape and Size

Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy, including rapidly growing to support your developing child. As your skin stretches to accommodate a growing baby, it loses elasticity and moisture.

"This [loss of elasticity] results in the skin being dryer and thinner and more prone to bruises due to sensitivity in the skin," Dr. Shrestha explains.

Smirit Shrestha, MD

Flaky skin, itchiness, and dry skin issues are consequences that happen due to loss of elasticity.

— Smirit Shrestha, MD

When Should I Be Worried About Dry Skin?

Although most of the time dry skin is to be expected, there are times when it could indicate a more serious issue. If your dry skin is severe or bothersome, your healthcare provider can help identify the reasons behind the dryness. Some possibilities include gestational diabetes or iron deficiency anemia.

"Certain women may experience dehydration due to gestational diabetesanemia, and hyperemesis gravidarum," Dr. Shrestha notes.

For instance, if you experience vomiting and diarrhea that continue well past the first trimester, you may be dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a severe form of what many people refer to as morning sickness. Talk with your healthcare provider about preventing dehydration if you think you may have HG.

Meanwhile, dry skin with extreme itching in the third trimester could be cholestasis, a liver condition that prevents bile from being processed properly. Cholestasis might result in childbirth complications including preterm labor, meconium staining (when a fetus passes its first bowel movement while still in utero), fetal distress, and sudden intrauterine fetal demise.

If other family members have experienced cholestasis, make sure you let your healthcare provider know. And, if you experience extremely itchy skin along with difficulty sleeping, fatigue, low appetite, weight loss, or dark urine, be sure to share this information with your doctor as well.

How to Stay Hydrated While Pregnant

Drinking plenty of water helps reduce dry skin. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends drinking up to 12 cups of water daily during pregnancy.

Although drinking more fluids seems simple enough, if you have been pregnant before, you know it's not always so easy to guzzle down the necessary amount of water.

Vomiting and aversions may keep you from being able to drink enough at the start of pregnancy. Then, toward the third trimester, your body shifts and compresses your organs to make room for your growing baby.

A squished stomach may leave you prone to vomiting after drinking too much at one time, and a flattened bladder can result in annoyingly excessive bathroom trips.

To stay hydrated, consume foods with a high water content like cucumber, spinach, or watermelon. Sipping small amounts of water, milk, or juice throughout the day also can help you keep fluids down and prevent bladder overload.

Drink something you like the taste of, but avoid consuming caffeinated beverages because you need to watch your caffeine intake when you're pregnant.

How to Relieve Dry Skin and Lips During Pregnancy

Ultimately, treating and preventing dry skin comes down to keeping moisture in your skin. To do this, you want to take steps to help retain your skin's moisture while also avoiding doing anything that will dry your skin out.

Start by making sure you're washing with lukewarm water instead of hot or cold water. Extreme water temperatures can steal the moisture from your skin, so make sure you temper your baths and showers to accommodate your sensitive skin.

Afterward, be sure to pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Rubbing too hard can cause your skin to become irritated or aggravate dry skin.

You also can use moisturizers to treat your skin topically. Try to moisturize at least twice a day—once in the morning and once at night. Remember, you're suffering from dry skin because moisture is evaporating too quickly.

Moisturizers not only help your skin retain moisture but also create a barrier from drying elements like the air. These skin creams and oils also have the added benefit of helping to reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Pregnancy Safe Ingredients for Dry Skin

  • Cocoa butter creates a barrier on your skin that holds moisture in.
  • Coconut oil is proven to effectively moisturize very dry skin.
  • Peptides stimulate collagen production.
  • Topical hyaluronic acid binds with water molecules to hydrate skin.

If you live in a dry climate, working to keep your general environment a bit more humid also may help. Consider using a humidifier in your room at night or in your office to help maintain proper moisture levels.

You also should avoid wearing rough fabrics, which can be particularly irritating for dry skin and make your symptoms worse. Opt for soft, breathable fabrics next to your skin and avoid wool and denim if they will come in contact with dry patches.

Finally, don't forget how drying—and damaging—the sun can be, especially if you get a sunburn. Make sure you are wearing pregnancy-safe sunscreen daily if possible. And remember, healthy skin starts from within, so be sure you are drinking plenty of water and eating well throughout your pregnancy.

Safety Tips

Some ingredients found in skincare products are not safe for use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Avoid products containing these ingredients:

  • Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and nervous system issues.
  • High-dose salicylic acid may pose a risk to a developing baby. Low dose topical is probably OK, but we don't know enough about high-dose to confirm whether it is safe during pregnancy.
  • Hydroquinone does not have enough scientific data to confirm whether or not it's safe for pregnancy, so it is best to avoid it.
  • Phthalates may lead to stillbirth and can increase the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Retinoids have been proven dangerous to a developing fetus or breastfeeding child.

A Word From Verywell

Dry skin, while annoying, is usually a normal part of pregnancy. But, if you take steps to care for your skin and add moisture back in, you should not have too many issues.

If your dry skin continues, gets worse, or is bothersome be sure to talk to your healthcare provider. It could be that your dry skin is an indicator of a more serious condition.

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