Types of Pregnancy Rash and Home Remedies

During pregnancy, rashes and skin changes are common. There are several possible reasons for why you'd experience a pregnancy rash, skin itching, or other related symptoms.

Causes of pregnancy rash can range from simple heat rash to a serious underlying medical issue, such as liver or thyroid disease. Some people may already have a condition, such as eczema, that leads to a pregnancy rash, while others experience skin changes for the first time.

This article explains some of the reasons for why you may find a new rash on your belly or face while pregnant. It offers a few tips and ideas for soothing the discomfort that these rashes can cause.

Pregnant woman applying cream on tummy
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7 Types of Rashes and Skin Changes During Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, your body undergoes complex changes that affect nearly every organ and process, including the skin. Sometimes, that can mean an itchy rash called pruritis. These rashes affect between 18% and 40% of pregnant people, and are considered chronic when they last more than six weeks.

Most of the time, these pregnancy rashes are not serious and will cause no harm to the developing fetus. That's the case with itching and rashes caused by pregnancy-related conditions including:

  • Atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP), a group of common pregnancy rash conditions
  • Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PEP), formerly known as PUPPP
  • Pemphigoid gestationis
  • Impetigo herpetiformis, or pustular psoriasis of pregnancy (PPP)

In some cases, such as cholestasis of pregnancy, the rash is a sign of a serious pregnancy-related condition that affects your liver and your health, as well as that of the fetus. You'll need to see a healthcare provider to manage the condition because home remedies are not appropriate.

Keep in mind that other conditions, such as gestational diabetes, can contribute to skin rashes and itching. So can skin issues unrelated to your pregnancy, such as psoriasis or contact dermatitis.

Can Pregnancy Rash Affect My Baby?

In some cases, yes. Pregnancy rashes due to pemphigoid gestationis, impetigo herpetiformis, and cholestasis of pregnancy are signs of more serious conditions that can affect the developing fetus. They need to be closely monitored and treated by a healthcare provider.

Atopic Eruption of Pregnancy

Several types of pregnancy rashes are grouped into what's known as atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP) conditions.

"Atopic" means there is likely an underlying genetic factor that causes the body to produce antibodies in response to a trigger, as with atopic eczema. These eczema cases account for about half of all pregnancy-related skin conditions.

AEP conditions typically arise before the third trimester of pregnancy and can include people who already have skin conditions such as eczema. About 20% of people diagnosed with AEP already have eczema prior to pregnancy and experience a flareup of their symptoms.

Atopic Eczema

The majority of atopic eczema cases are new to people who are pregnant, although there is often a family history of related conditions including asthma or hay fever allergies. Symptoms include:

  • Itchy skin 
  • Dry skin
  • Red scaly skin patches, often on the neck or breasts

This rash is usually treated with creams and moisturizers. Sometimes steroid creams and antihistamine drugs are necessary.

Prurigo of Pregnancy

Prurigo of pregnancy (PP) is another common form of pregnancy rash within the AEP group. It can be an atopic type, but it also may emerge for the first time while you're pregnant, usually during the latter half of pregnancy.

PP is known for itchy, raised bumps on the arms, legs, and occasionally the abdomen. These red bumps often cluster together in groups. While they may seem crusty, they aren't usually open sores.

Like eczema, prurigo is treated with moisturizers, topical steroids, and oral antihistamines. The rash usually resolves shortly after delivery but may occur again in future pregnancies.

Pruritic Folliculitis of Pregnancy

Pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy (PFP) is a relatively rare type of pregnancy rash. It most commonly occurs during the second and third trimesters, affecting 1 in 3,000 pregnancies.

It causes an itchy, red rash that looks like acne on the chest, arms, shoulders, and back. There is no clear link to an underlying history of allergic or skin conditions, and the rash usually goes away within a month or two after delivery.

Treatment includes topical acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide and, occasionally, topical steroids and oral antihistamines.

Recap

Atopic eczema, prurigo of pregnancy (PP), and pruritic folliculitis of pregnancy (PFP) do not cause serious harm to you or your baby. They are grouped as atopic eruption of pregnancy (AEP) rashes, even though they don't always have an underlying atopic-related cause. It's still important to get a correct diagnosis, to make sure they're not a more serious type of pregnancy rash.

Polymorphic Eruption of Pregnancy (PEP) or PUPPP

Polymorphic eruption of pregnancy (PEP) is also known by another name, pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP.

PUPPP occurs in about 1 in 160 pregnancies, usually in the third trimester or after delivery in your first pregnancy.

Symptoms of PUPPP include an extremely itchy rash that looks like an allergic skin rash or hives. The rash usually affects the abdomen and may be related to the stretching of your skin.

Treatment of PUPPP involves oral antihistamines and topical steroids; sometimes oral steroids are needed.

PUPPP, or PEP, does no lasting harm to you and does not affect the developing fetus. However, it can be confused with a more serious condition called pemphigoid gestationis (PG). PG can cause specific impacts to your baby, including the possibility of premature delivery.

Pemphigoid Gestationis

Pemphigoid gestationis (PG) has also been known as herpes gestationis, although it is not caused by a herpes virus infection. The pregnancy rash may look like herpes, though, with:

  • Blisters on the abdomen, often at the umbilicus (belly button)
  • Fluid-filled bumps
  • An overall skin rash that forms in ring patterns

PG is caused by a rare autoimmune condition that affects 1 in 50,000 pregnancies and emerges during the second and third trimester. If you've had it in the past, it's likely to happen again with future pregnancies.

Treatment usually involves topical, and sometimes oral, corticosteroids.

PG was once considered fairly benign for the developing fetus, although it was associated with premature delivery. However, it also can lead to low birthweight and fetal growth restriction (FGR).

Fetal growth restriction (FGR) has been linked with PG. FGR means the baby is in the lowest 10% in terms of birth weight for the given stage of pregnancy. It also means that the placenta is unable to fully nourish or deliver enough oxygen to the fetus. This greatly increases the risk that a baby will be stillborn or have neonatal complications.

Another concern with PG is that the baby also will develop a skin condition. Researchers report that 10% of newborns experience PG-related neonatal pemphigoid, meaning the baby also has hives and skin-layer changes. This condition will heal but adds complexity to the pregnancy and delivery.

Impetigo Herpetiformis

Impetigo herpetiformis is a rare type of pregnancy-related psoriasis that can be life-threatening.

It usually emerges during the third trimester with symptoms that resolve after delivery. There is some evidence that genetics play a role in this condition, and it's possible for it to happen again with later pregnancies.

Symptoms include groups of crusty red lesions on the skin. However, this condition can have systemic effects that may include:

Impacts to the developing fetus may be similar to those found with PG, including the possibility of premature birth, a lack of oxygen and nutrients supplied through the placenta, and stillbirth.

People with this disorder tend to have low levels of calcium, though the causes for why remain unclear. Antibiotics often are used to treat impetigo herpetiformis, but more complex cases may require a range of interventions.

Both impetigo herpetiformis and pemphigoid gestationis may cause harm to the developing fetus.

Cholestasis of Pregnancy

Itching from cholestasis of pregnancy typically occurs in the third trimester. It's related to the build-up of bile acids in the bloodstream from the gallbladder and biliary system.

There's no associated rash, but you may experience skin jaundice (yellowing). The itching usually goes away after delivery but may recur in future pregnancies.

The condition can be treated but it also may have effects on the fetus. These include fetal distress due to lack of oxygen and premature birth.

Home Remedies for Pregnancy Rashes

In many cases, moisturizers and over-the-counter medications will bring relief from the itching and discomfort caused by a pregnancy rash. You may want to try comfort measures such as wearing loose-fitting clothing or taking a soothing bath. Avoid any products that will dry out your skin.

If you use creams for stretch marks, try to massage them into the skin. One study suggests this is a more effective way to use these products.

For AEP and PEP conditions, try creams and moisturizers first. If you can't get relief, you can then try steroid creams and antihistamine drugs. Beyond that, ask your healthcare provider about ultraviolet (UVB) light treatments or prescription drugs.

Keep in mind that the treatment for a pregnancy rash also will depend on what trimester you are in and how any medications will affect the fetus at that stage of development. For example, UVB is a safer option in early pregnancy than many drugs are.

It's important to remember that the medications you use may also affect your baby. Steroids, for example, may need to be carefully tapered off to avoid any side effects to the developing fetus.

When to See a Doctor

It's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about any product you use to relieve the symptoms of a pregnancy rash. It also will be necessary if you have an AEP or PEP condition that doesn't respond to treatments at home.

With pemphigoid gestationis, impetigo herpetiformis, and cholestasis of pregnancy, you'll need professional care to ensure that both you and your baby are healthy and safe.

Since it's hard to know what type of pregnancy rash you have on your own, let your obstetrician or midwife know about it even if you are getting relief from simple home remedies.

Recap

Home remedies may be enough to manage most itchy rashes safely. Still, it's important to remember that even simple treatment options may have an impact on your baby, and some rashes require careful monitoring from a healthcare provider. Check with your obstetrician (OB/GYN) or midwife to identify the rash and seek advice on safe treatment options.

Summary

It's common to have a pregnancy rash, and most aren't serious for either you or your baby. For some people, the rash is a flare-up of an eczema condition they already have.

For most people, though, the rash is caused by pregnancy. In some cases, the pregnancy rash may be associated with a serious medical condition that may prove life-threatening for both the pregnant person and the developing fetus.

Home remedies and over-the-counter medications may bring relief when you have an uncomplicated rash, but you'll need professional care when dealing with a more serious condition.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnancy brings so many changes to your body, and it can be a lot to deal with even if you've been pregnant before. Relief for an itchy pregnancy rash can make it all easier, but make sure you know that the remedies you choose will protect the health of both you and your baby.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are skin changes during pregnancy normal?

    Yes, pregnancy skin changes are common and usually normal. Many people experience changes in the moisture, texture, and color of their skin. Melasma, sometimes called the "mask of pregnancy," can cause darker tones on your face. This will fade away over time.

  • Do rashes go away after pregnancy?

    Overwhelmingly, the answer is yes. Most pregnancy rashes will go away after delivery. PEP, for example, may be related to how your skin collagen is stressed by the stretching over your abdomen. It will stop when your body begins to return to its normal size. When rashes don't go away, there may be another reason that's unrelated to your pregnancy.

  • Are there skin medications I can't use while pregnant?

    Yes, and your healthcare provider will help you to be sure you avoid them. Retin-A (tretinoin), for example, is not safe during pregnancy.

    Methotrexate is a strong drug used to treat severe psoriasis, but there is evidence of fetal risk that the benefits do not outweigh.

    The Food and Drug Administration uses what's called the Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling Rule (PLLR) to issue guidance on different drugs and what is known about their potential impacts on your baby's health.

13 Sources
Verywell Health 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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Additional Reading

By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.