Wednesday, April 22, 2015

surviving a puppp rash

I've had a few questions recently on whatever happened with that horrible pregnancy rash I had.

The short story?

It got really really really bad, I thought I was going to lose my mind (this is not even a little bit of an exaggeration. I really thought I was having some sort of nervous breakdown or something), and then it went away.

Key point? It. Went. Away.

That doesn't happen. Doctors know very little about PUPPP. They don't know what causes it, they don't know why it happens when it does, and they don't know squat about how to cure it. The only thing they do know is that the ONLY "cure" is delivery of the baby.

But mine went away about two or three weeks prior to my delivery.

I don't know if I was just infinitely lucky, majorly blessed, or if I found the right combination of creams and soaps that did the trick... but I'll share with you what I did in case you, like me, feel like you're going to lose your mind to the kind of itch that makes you want to cut your limbs off.

First off, if you're suffering with a PUPPP rash, my heart aches for you. That rash was one of the hardest trials of my life. There were nights I wanted to die, I itched so bad. I was on the verge of using a cheese grater on my skin. If you ask my husband about my time with the rash, he'll tell you about the nights I woke up screaming. He'll tell you about holding my hands in an iron-grip as my body shook and shivered like I had a fever because my need to scratch was so strong I couldn't control myself. He'll tell you (as he has told me) about the wild, crazed look in my eyes when my need to scratch hit a breaking point. He'll tell you about the times I lashed out and yelled at him when he tried to tell me not to scratch. And he'll also tell you how scared he was.

In some ways, I feel like my husband had the harder end of the deal. He had to watch, helplessly, as I tried to rip my skin off, crying in our bed at 2am. He had to help me in and out of countless oatmeal baths and had to help spread every cream you can imagine on my purple, raised skin. He had to be strong and fight my fingernails away from my raw flesh when I was so consumed by the itch I couldn't see the blood I was bringing to the surface. And he felt useless.

That itch was unimaginable. And I think that was what was the hardest thing for me about it. Others have no idea what an itch like that feels like. They dismiss it easily because they've had a mosquito bite before or they've had poison ivy or they've had chicken pox.

But if you're suffering from PUPPP, I want you to know. I know how you feel. I know that a PUPPP itch is unlike any itch anyone can imagine. I know that comparing PUPPP to a mosquito bite or the chicken pox is like comparing having your finger cut off to a papercut. I know it's bad. You're not alone.

Also, there is hope. My rash went away before I had my baby. It reduced to just a minor itch that was totally tolerable. Let me tell you what I did to get rid of it.

1Blazing hot water. I showered twice a day, and the first thing I did was turn the water to as hot as I could stand. I stood outside the stream of water and put each rashy part under it one at a time (except for my belly, since that kind of heat could probably be bad for the baby). Arms, shoulders, hands, hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, calves, and then the tops and bottoms of my feet. When I would put the rashy skin under the scalding water, it almost felt like I was scratching like crazy, and it felt euphoric. The rash would turn an awful violet purple color, but it felt SO good.

2Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap. This stuff smells absolutely awful. It smells like you roasted an animal over a campfire and then sweat all over it. Man, it's horrible. But that soap was my miracle. I swear by it. You can find it on amazon here or you can find it at a natural foods store. I found mine at Good Earth Foods. After soaking my skin in the hot water, I worked up a thick lather of this stuff on all of the parts covered with the rash. I scrubbed it in with a rag (which also felt like a good scratch). Then I let it sit for a few minutes.

3Freezing water. Then I would turn the water to the coldest I could handle and rinse off the soap with it. I hated this part, but I think it was key to closing up the pores after that hot water.

4Repeating that often. I followed this routine 2-3 times a day. It would give me relief for up to 2 hours after the shower... long enough to fall asleep, finally!

5Oatmeal baths. When I wasn't showering and I wasn't at work, you could find me soaking in oatmeal baths. They didn't do much at curing my rash, but as long as I was sitting in the oatmeal water, I wasn't as itchy. So I spent a lot of time wrinkling up like a prune. I just used the Aveeno Oatmeal Bath mixture.

6Various lotions to help combat the itch when I couldn't be in the bath (like when I was at work or in the middle of the night or at the doctor's office). These ones worked for me:

Sarna Lotion
Sarna Original Lotion, 7.5-Ounce (222 mL) Bottle
This stuff has a really intense cooling effect. I couldn't really handle it all over my whole body because then I started shivering. But if one particular spot got really itchy, the Sarna was great. I used it on my arms a lot. I just picked it up in the pharmacy section at my local grocery store. It was great and cheap.

Caladryl Lotion

This stuff is crazy. It is super runny and turns your skin pink (and anything else it touches, so be careful around clothes and carpet). It kind of dries you out, but it is really good at reducing an itch. I would put this on after showers sometimes if I was having a particularly itchy day.

Gold Bond Anti-Itch or Rapid Relief Cream
Gold Bond Medicated Anti-Itch Lotion-5.5oz

I used both of these. The regular anti-itch lotion was great but was more slow-working but created a bit longer-lasting relief. The rapid relief worked as soon as I put it on, but didn't last as long. I carried tubes of the rapid relief in my purse and applied it dozens of times during work. I kept a tube by my bed as well so that when I woke up clawing at my skin I could put some cream on to reduce the itch enough to stop the crazy.

Benadryl Itch Stopping Cream
Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Cream
This is what I used prior to finding the Gold Bond, and it definitely helped. I just liked Gold Bond a bit better. But the Benadryl is comparable to the Gold Bond regular itch relief. Great for carrying around in a purse or keeping on the bedside table for relief when you just can't HANDLE it anymore.

things that didn't work:
Pretty much everything my doctor told me to do. She said to use allergy medication (Benadryl, Zyrtec). They did NOTHING. She also told me to take sleeping pills to help me "sleep through the itch" since I was so exhausted from only sleeping 20 min at a time. Obviously she underestimated the itch because it's impossible to sleep through. And the sleeping pills only made me MORE tired so that when I woke up from the itch, I was beside myself with exhaustion. Cue nighttime meltdowns.

Also, the number one thing my doctor kept saying was, "try not to scratch." Ha. Good one. I burst into tears when she said that because... well... sometimes the itch defies all reason and you can't not scratch.

I started to get itchy around 33 weeks on my belly in my stretch marks. Those stretch marks became raised red hives by 34 weeks and before I hit 35 weeks, you couldn't see my stretch marks anymore because the hives had all blended together to form one big ugly rash across my belly. Also at 35 weeks, the rash spread to my hips. Between week 35 and week 37 it spread down my legs to my feet (even the soles of my feet blistered up) and it popped up on my arms and hands (even my palms).

I started using the Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap twice a day with that showering routine I talked about earlier around 36 weeks. I didn't see much improvement for about 10 days but after that, it slowly started to recede. By 39 weeks, I was only mildly itchy and the rash was a shadow of what it had been. I was rash-free by the time I delivered my baby at nearly 42 weeks, and the splotchiness on my skin went away once the baby was born. It truly was a miracle.


The two previous photos were in the beginning when the rash first spread from my belly. It looks tame, but it was awful even then.

These three photos are from when it got bad. That middle photo is a (blurry) closeup of my upper thigh of the same leg pictured in the other two. I'm including pictures of the same leg throughout so you can see the progression.

This was from a few days after the Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap started working. Still soooo itchy but working its way toward relief...

Around 38 weeks I think. Starting to really fade. Getting less itchy but not quite cured yet.

This is my fat, swollen, full-term pregnant leg. Haha ready to have a baby (though I didn't know that I'd still be waiting a while for him to come...). Don't judge my cankles. ;) The itch was pretty much gone at this point, just normal-type itching (kind of like when you have dry skin). I was so scared that I'd have scars on my legs from this rash because it actually took quite a while for the splotchiness to go away, and everywhere I read said that the more you scratched the worse off your skin would be. But it went away eventually!

 Post-baby and PUPPP-free!

And that's my story. I know that PUPPP rashes are unique to each person who has them. I had a pretty severe case, but there are way worse cases out there for sure. Different things work for different people, but I really wanted to share what worked for me so that if someone out there is suffering the way I was they might be able to find relief.

Anybody else have anything that worked for them? Feel free to comment and let me know!

I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have about my experience with PUPPP. Or if you just need someone to commiserate with. You can email me at:
peanutbutterproblem [@] gmail [dot] com.

Want to read more about my pregnancy and birth?
You can find the story of my emergency c-section here.
Read about the things I miss about pregnancy here.
Read the letter I wrote to my c-section scar here (my most popular post of all time).
Check out my post on when I found out I was pregnant here.


  1. I'm 33wks going on 34wks with triplets and my stretch marks have started developing red itchy bumps. I'm seriously afraid now. Haha. It currently isn't so bad (really itchy but not as much as I think yours were), but has progressed quite a bit in a few days and I see how quickly yours progressed!!!
    Here's hoping I don't have that degree of crazy itchy rash all over to add to my other pregnancy surprises this time around!
    I might just have to get this nasty smelling soap as a preventative measure. :)

  2. Thank you for this. i was told I had puppps AFTER my daughter was born, almost 4 yeas ago and was prescribed a cream. It seemed to help. They told me that getting it after a pregnancy is rare but happens.
    Now this being my 3rd pregnancy, I am 33 weeks and have been itching for about a week. My stretch marks are bright red and im starting to see a little bumps all over my tummy. I just realized, yesterday, that it the onset of puppps.
    Ive been looking for relief for a few days now, trying out different home remedies. I found a few oil blends to try, but I may have to just say screw it and go get some store bought creams to get me through.

  3. Im in tears reading this it is like you took the words from my own head....I will definitely be on a mission to find tgat soap tomorrow. Nothing the doctor has given me has helped and Im writting to you at 3:30 am because at 32 weeks I woke up in a fit and had to take a bath!

  4. Emily, I don't know if you have a CVS around you but there's a cream there in a yellow bottle, it says compared to gold bond anti itch cream. It cools and that's the only thing that helped me at 30 weeks when my rash started!

  5. im soo concernd abot the purple rashes that are left after the hot water treatment, will that ever go away? So worried about the pink and purple skin discoloration­čś×, i seriously don't no what to do.

  6. Hi ,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I am facing the same issue and I am on 25th week of pregnancy. I am more worried about dark brown scars , they look like , they will be there forever. Please advice what can I use to remove these marks .



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