Melasma Development During Pregnancy


When women are pregnant, many experience a skin condition that seems to appear overnight, known as melasma. Also given the moniker of the “pregnancy mask,” melasma causes dark patches of skin that can range from barely noticeable to covering a good portion of the face. The patches of darker skin are not a health concern, as they are purely a change in aesthetics. But because melasma is front and center whenever women look in the mirror, it can cause those who have it to be dissatisfied with how they look. And as a result, want to know why pregnancy caused them to develop it.

Pregnancy can cause some women’s self-esteem to take a hit because of how the body changes. And while most thought that weight gain and some acne would be the extent to which their appearances would change, a vast majority of women also develop melasma while expecting. Some are able to roll with the new brown patches on the face, embracing the way they look as just part of the experience of bringing a new life into the world. Others begin looking for remedies to fade the spots as soon as possible. But the good news for those who would prefer a complexion without melasma is that as hormones begin to return to normal after delivery, the hyperpigmentation should fade as well.

RELATED: How To Get Rid Of Pregnancy Melasma: Dermatologist Tips & Healthy Tricks

Here is why women develop melasma during pregnancy.

Causes Of Melasma

Women can thank their increased hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, according to What To Expect, for causing melasma to appear. And while some women may develop the condition as a result of taking birth control, more often than not, it is a pregnancy that causes the hyperpigmentation of the skin to occur.

According to the publication, estrogen, and progesterone trigger melanin to be produced at much higher levels than it would be when the hormones are at pre-pregnancy levels. The increase in melanin causes small areas of the skin to become darker in color. When the small areas converge, they turn into larger patches that can cover the forehead, the cheeks, chin, or anywhere in between on the face.

When Melasma Begins During Pregnancy

While the biggest spike of hormones happens during the first trimester, it is not until later on in pregnancy that melasma begins to make its appearance.

According to healthline, while melasma can appear at any time during pregnancy, it is most often first noticed during the second and third trimesters. Those who have darker skin or spend time in the sun may begin to notice the change in skin color earlier than others. And because of this, there is no exact timeline that can be given as to when to expect melasma to appear.

What Melasma Looks Like

Because melasma is a change in coloration of the skin, according to VeryWell Family, if mirrors were not available, women would not know that they even had it. It does not cause irritation, does not itch, nor does melasma hurt. It is a change in appearance only.

Not all melasma looks the same. While melasma is characterized as being “flat, clustered, asymmetrical splotches,” per the publication, it can be mistaken for other skin conditions. This is because melasma can mimic the look of age spots, sun damage, or even freckles. Because of this, any change in skin condition during pregnancy should be checked by a healthcare professional to receive a proper diagnosis on the skin condition at hand.

Prevention And Treatment Of Melasma

While it is not possible to prevent melasma, there are ways to minimize its appearance once hyperpigmentation has begun.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, during pregnancy, keeping the face out of the sun will help keep the dark patches of skin from becoming darker. Therefore, wearing a hat and applying sunscreen every few hours is recommended.

Certain soaps can also exacerbate melasma and make it appear darker, per the publication. Because of this, using soaps that are not harsh on the skin and do not cause irritation makes for the best way to keep the face clean while expecting.

Although there are more aggressive treatments that can be done to try to remove melasma completely, they are not only not recommended during pregnancy as a result of their chemical makeup in topical creams and ointments but because they will not change the appearance. This is because hormone levels are still high during pregnancy and until they decrease, the melasma spots will not fade.

After pregnancy, however, most dermatologists will recommend prescription-strength creams to even out the coloration of the skin. And if that does not work, laser therapy may be suggested as well.

How Long Melasma Lasts

For some women, as soon as hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels, the melasma that they experienced during pregnancy will begin to fade. However, this is not always the case and it is not uncommon for melasma to last a few months or even longer.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, when melasma does not fade on its own and persists for years after delivery, professional intervention may be needed for those who want the dark patches removed. This can be in the form of topical creams available by prescription or laser therapy.

It should be noted that women who have had melasma in previous pregnancies are more prone to hyperpigmentation in subsequent ones, according to the Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery. Because of this, women may want to take this into consideration before beginning treatments if the plans are to have babies close in age so that the melasma is removed to just have it return a short time later.

Source: What To Expect, healthline, VeryWell Family, Cleveland Clinic, American Academy of Dermatology Association, Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery

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