Pregnancy Glow: The Reality and How to Fake It

The elusive “pregnancy glow” is enshrined in motherhood mythology. For some, it’s a glow that seems to come naturally when carrying a little one, but for others, the glow can be harder to come by.

I remember being surprised when a friend complimented me on how “glowing” I was during my pregnancy. Inside I was beaming with excitement as I counted down to meet my baby, but outside I thought I looked more like a sleepless zombie running around with cankles and a sore back.

My friend was clearly seeing something I couldn’t—and it turns out, he might have thought of something. There is something biologically magical at play, and science happens to agree.

According to experts, some women glow during pregnancy (even if they don’t feel it). And for days when you’re feeling less than glowing, there are ways to literally fake it until you make it.

What is pregnancy glow?

Pregnancy glow usually refers to a beautiful, lit-from-within glow characterized by rosy cheeks, fuller lips and brighter skin. While many may appear to be glowing because they are delighted to be carrying a baby—and it can be seen on the face and body as well—we can thank biology for this pregnancy.

Catherine Caponero, DOan obstetrician at the Cleveland Clinic, while everyone has a different response to pregnancy, a glow can be one of its more pleasant side effects.

“Some patients really do seem ‘clear’—and many of these patients are the same patients who want to be pregnant,” he says. “Not everyone enjoys pregnancy, and it’s completely normal not to feel ‘better’ while pregnant. There are many skin changes that occur during pregnancy, and almost all women will notice changes in the pigmentation of skin on many parts of their body including their face.

Other areas that can contribute to a person’s glow include stronger nails and fine hair, but again, this varies from person to person.

“Nails can grow faster in pregnancy, but while some pregnant patients report stronger nails other patients may experience softer or more brittle nails,” explains by Dr. Caponero, adding that many patients will also report thicker or denser hair.

“While nail changes vary from person to person (and pregnancy to pregnancy), it has been well-studied that in pregnancy hair growth stays in the growing phase longer than in non-pregnant patients .”

Dr. suggests Caponero says that the pregnancy glow is often highlighted by society because people love to celebrate pregnancy. That’s probably why we see and hear so much about the glow in movies and on social media—because it’s considered the ideal pregnancy, even if it’s part of the bigger picture.

Sarah Lyona licensed massage therapist, birth educator and doula and owner of Brilliant Birth and Body Pregnancy glow is defined as the “visible vibrancy of pregnancy.” However, he warns that the so-called glow is not always guaranteed.

“Although those specific characteristics are based on physiologic realities—increased blood volume and prolonged hair follicle maintenance—the term ‘pregnancy glow’ is actually colloquial and not experienced by all people,” says he.

What causes pregnancy glow?

It is estimated that a strong majority of more than 90% of women have significant and complex skin changes during pregnancy. With different changes affecting the body each trimester, it’s no wonder we pay more attention to our changing appearance and look for signs of that converted glow.

So what’s behind the glow and why does it affect some pregnancies and not others?

Glowing during pregnancy is down to hormones and increased blood flow, says Dr. Captain. But she adds that the same factors can also contribute to some of the less desirable skin changes in pregnancy such as increased oiliness that can sometimes lead to pregnancy acne.

“It’s also normal to notice changes in skin color, changes in the appearance of blood vessels, and stretch marks,” explains Dr. Captain.

Lyon agrees.

“On average, blood volume increases by 50% in pregnancy, which inundates all body tissues and flushes the cheeks,” she says.

“However, improved skin is not ubiquitous and should not be expected. Due to increased estrogen and progesterone, we often see stretch marks, melasma (skin discoloration), and vascular changes such as spider veins.

It can also extend to other conditions, says Dr. Captain.

“Some women may also feel itchy and experience various pregnancy-related rashes. Also, if you have a pre-existing skin condition, pregnancy can make the condition worse.”

All these changes, both positive and negative, can come at any point in pregnancy.

When does the pregnancy glow start?

During the first trimester, pregnant bodies can lay the foundations for a pregnancy glow-up. That means that if you’re a little worried about early pregnancy symptoms like nausea, bleeding and fatigue, know that there could be something more attractive around the corner.

“Blood volume starts in the first trimester and increases in the third, so the pregnancy glow is usually present in the second and especially the third trimester of pregnancy,” says Lyon.

And despite the rumors, there is no medical truth to a glow related to early baby gender clues. For example, you may have heard suggestions about girls “stealing” their mother’s beauty. However, this is not the case, says Dr. Captain.

“No, there is no physical change in the pregnant patient that will indicate the gender of the baby. The best way to determine the gender of the baby is through ultrasound or blood work,” he said.

How to DIY your own pregnancy glow at home

Now we know that the pregnancy glow is possible, but what can you do if you are showing, but not glowing?

Lyon says there are beauty tips you can try today to fake a pregnancy glow at home, starting with dry body brushing.

“Try dry body brushing before showering, lifting toward the heart, but remember that deep pressure or vigorous brushing is not necessary to reap the health benefits of this ancient practice,” she says.

“The fibers of the mitt or brush will move fluid back to the heart to reduce swelling while also strengthening and softening the skin. Don’t brush over sore skin or stretch marks, and treat those areas with butter or body oil. ”

Meanwhile, Lyon advises that bronzer and blush are easy ways to mimic the flushed glow we often associate with pregnancy.

In search of your pregnancy glow, it’s tempting to reach for all kinds of lotions and potions to enhance your body’s hard work. However, keep in mind that not all skincare products on the market today are safe for pregnancy. Products you can put on your dressing table or bathroom cupboard retinoids are best avoided while others are liked favorites against acne benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid should be used sparingly.

Diet and nutrition also has an important role. Remember that eating well during pregnancy is important for the health of you and your baby (and doing so can result in the added bonus of a glow!).

What happens after giving birth?

Whether you saw your pregnancy glow or not, you can expect further changes in your skin postpartum.

After birth, the skin usually returns to its pre-pregnancy state—but it can take up to two years, says Dr. Captain.

“These changes usually occur as hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels,” she says.

“Some changes in a patient’s skin, such as stretch marks, may fade but may not disappear. Although pregnancy is a relatively short time in a patient’s life, it has long-term effects.”

Lyon says that once a baby is born, new parents can usually expect changes in their skin that may require some attention.

“A rapid drop in blood volume and pregnancy hormones can lead to dry, itchy skin and increased acne, all of which can be helped by applying lotions or oils appropriate to the condition,” he says.

“The skin is a reflection of what’s going on inside the body, so focusing on postpartum nutrition can go a long way toward staying healthy inside and out.”

A note from Motherly on pregnancy glow

A pregnancy glow is definitely possible, but if you feel like you’ve missed this time there are other ways to take care of your mind, body and skin. Not everything about pregnancy is comfortable—or even pleasant—but the greatest glow will always come from within.

Featured experts

Catherine Caponero, DO is a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at the Cleveland Clinic in Beechwood.

Sarah Lyon is a birth educator, doula and perinatal massage therapist. He is the owner and director of a massage therapy company, Brilliant Birth and Body and teaches birth education through The Birth Deck App and through his books, The Birth Deck and You Got It.


Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. Can be Fam Physician. 2011;57(6):665-667.
Vora RV, Gupta R, Mehta MJ, Chaudhari AH, Pilani AP, Patel N. Pregnancy and skin. J Family Med Prim Care. 2014;3(4):318-324. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.148099

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