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If you’re pregnant and you notice the appearance of blotchy, dark spots on your face, you probably have what is commonly referred to as “the mask of pregnancy.”
You may be wondering what it is, what’s causing it, and if you need to worry about it. The good news is: it’s not going to hurt you or the baby, and the mask tends to disappear after the baby is born.
But what’s going on? What’s the mask of pregnancy?
The mask of pregnancy is also known as melasma or chloasma. It appears on areas of the face that receive the most sun exposure. Around 50 to 70% of pregnant women are affected by chloasma. The dark splotches are actually hyperpigmentation macules. They can appear on different areas of the face, but the most common locations are the cheeks, nose, upper lip, forehead and chin.
Although melasma is extremely common among pregnant women, non-pregnant women, and even men, can deal with melasma. It’s more common in individuals who have darker skin tones and tan easily than in those who have fair skin.
Chloasma appears differently than other dark spots, such as freckles. The “mask”, as it’s known, looks like irregular-shaped skin patches that sometimes have a net-like appearance. They are also darker than the surrounding skin, and they vary in tone from light to dark brown, although they can also be ash-blue. These patches can range in size from smaller than 1 centimeter to 10 centimeters.
Pregnancy mask occurs when melanocytes become overactive and produce an excess of melanin. There are a number of things that cause this process, namely: hormones.
Hormonal changes are the primary cause of the mask of pregnancy, which is why the mask is so common during this period. However, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapies may also cause chloasma.
Excess sun exposure may lead to melasma, as does using medications that make you more sensitive to the sun. Hyperpigmentation is also more prevalent in those individuals who have a family history of melasma.
If your chloasma is related to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, they should fade away on their own a few months after giving birth.
If you suffer from the mask of pregnancy or chloasma due to another reason, you may be wondering how you can get rid of it.
For others who suffer from chloasma and are not pregnant, the splotches may go away on their own or with strict sun protection. Treating melasma can be tricky, although there are some options worth trying.
Topical medications aim to reduce melanin production and lighten the hyperpigmented areas. People who do not respond to skin-lightening agents may want to try a chemical peel to remove the hyperpigmentation. Another option is laser or other light-based therapy.
With a combination of treatments, sun defense, and time, melasma often dissipates on its own. For some people, however, it’s a chronic condition that may return when triggered by something like a future pregnancy, sun exposure or other hormonal changes, including menopause.
If you have melasma due to pregnancy, many of the treatment options are off-limits. If this is the case, or for people who have tried treatments to no avail, the best option is to minimize the mask's appearance and work to keep it from getting worse.
One of the most imperative solutions to melasma is to protect your skin from the sun. UV rays are a big trigger for those at risk.
Along with using sunscreen with high SPF, it helps to wear a hat with a wide brim and to seek shade whenever possible. One thing to keep in mind is to look for natural and mineral-based options that are a good fit for your skin.
As part of your skin care routine, use cleansers and moisturizers for sensitive skin; irritants can exacerbate the issue and make chloasma worse. It also helps to apply a serum that contains vitamin C. This antioxidant can provide anti-aging benefits and may help lighten hyperpigmentation. Vitamin C is generally safe for use during pregnancy.
Most skin-lightening products are not safe to use during pregnancy. However, talk to a doctor and ask if there are any options that make sense for you.
One of the fastest ways to minimize the appearance of pregnancy mask is to diminish its appearance with foundation and concealer. To find the best shades for your skin tone, consult with a makeup specialist or dermatologist. You want the foundation to match the tone of your skin and, generally, the concealer to be one shade lighter. Apply the concealer to the dark patches first and then blend the foundation into the rest of the face, staying away from the dark spots. Choose makeup that is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic to prevent skin irritation or breakouts.
The reason that pregnant women should focus on minimizing the appearance of melasma as opposed to treating it is that most of the treatments are not ideal or safe for pregnant women. Although they may be effective for individuals with chloasma who are not pregnant, some may be harmful to the unborn baby. Most skin-lightening medications should not be used, nor should medium or deep chemical peels, as they penetrate deep into the skin layers and can enter the bloodstream. Light peels may be fine, as they only affect the outermost skin layer and remain on the face for a short time, but it may be worth consulting your physician first.
Some other things that pregnant women should stay away from include:
If you have a spa treatment when pregnant, let the esthetician know so that she or he can avoid using any product or service that may pose harm to the baby. Many of the skin treatments above should also be avoided when breastfeeding.
Although the pregnancy mask is a harmless skin condition, there are times when dark spots indicate something else. If you notice hyperpigmentation as well as redness, tenderness, pain or bleeding, it’s important to seek medical attention. A dermatologist can help if you notice a mole changing shape, color or size, as this may indicate skin cancer.
If you’re dealing with the mask of pregnancy or other skin conditions that are affecting your day-to-day, there are solutions.
At Nava MD, we’ve made accessing prescription skincare treatments easier than ever, when appropriate, with licensed clinicians available virtually to help you get a custom treatment plan. It starts with an online consultation, then a Nava MD clinician evaluates your situation and prescribes a custom regimen for your condition and complexion, if appropriate.
All you have to do is answer some questions and submit some photos. A clinician will review your information and design a treatment plan specific to your needs. Your formulation is delivered right to your door.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency