Hormonal changes during pregnancy dramatically affects a woman’s skin. Some skin diseases unique to pregnancy present with itch but many pregnant woman are itchy without any specific cause. Pruritus Gravidarum (literally the “itch of pregnancy”) presents in a lot of ways but the most obvious symptom is skin itching. It begins in the late second to early third trimester of pregnancy in most cases. Up to 8% of women will experience itching during pregnancy that interferes with their lives. Usually the abdomen is the main site of involvement but the chest and limbs can also be affected. It often causes irritation and sleeplessness for pregnant women, especially at night. It is more frequent during the winter months.
Many women refuse synthetic drugs because of their side effects and potential effects on the developing baby. In Iran, peppermint has been used for millennia for its anti-nausea effects and as a local treatment for itch. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is from mint family. This plant contains an essential oil of which the major component is menthol. By cooling the skin, menthol decreases itching. However, until now, there has not been a large, well-designed study to prove how effective it is for pregnancy-related itch.
Researchers at the Rasoul Akram Hospital in Tehran recruited ninety-six patients with moderate to severe skin itching and divided them into a peppermint (47) and placebo (49) group. The subjects in the 2 groups had no significant difference in terms of age, job, educational level, number of pregnancies, abortion history and itching history. The study was blinded, which means that neither the researchers nor the participants knew whether they were getting the peppermint oil or the placebo. Patients were then asked to rate their itch on a scale from 1 (no itch) to 10 (most itchy) at the beginning and two weeks after using the treatment every day.
When they analyzed the data, the results spoke for themselves. Itching severity decreased from an average of 5.9 to 3.25 in the placebo group compared to 5.76 to 1.06 in the peppermint oil group. The peppermint oil preparation was well tolerated without any major side-effects and was considered safe in pregnancy. The researchers cautioned, however, that this was a small study and a larger study would be useful to confirm the results. Additionally, these were women who had no specific cause for their itch. In patients with a pregnancy-related skin disease or who have eczema or psoriasis, treatment should be directed at the underlying cause. Nevertheless, peppermint oil can be considered a safe and effective addition to our treatments for pregnancy-related itch.
Do you have experience with pregnancy-related itch? Comment below about what has worked for you!