Pregnancy and pigmentation

Pregnancy and pigmentation

You’ve been warned that your body might change dramatically during pregnancy – but perhaps the last thing you expected were dark patches of skin on your face! We look at why it happens – and what you can do about it.

It’s known, rather ominously, as the “mask of pregnancy,” and in medical circles (no less ominous) as chloasma or melasma gravidarum. Basically, we’re talking about unattractive, splotchy patches of darkened skin that can develop during pregnancy – these may show up on or around your nose, lips, eyes and jawline, on your cheekbones or as a kind of mask around the face – and might not disappear afterwards (and if you’re a sufferer, it is likely to get worse with each successive pregnancy).

If you have a dark complexion, and/or other women in your family have experienced pigmentation during pregnancy, your odds of developing it are increased. And if you already have pigmentation, such as freckles, these may darken further, as might the skin around you under-arms, scars and your nipples. In addition, a line will probably form down the centre of your abdomen and around your genitalia and perineum. Lovely! As my mom likes to say, pregnancy isn’t for sissies.

The reason for melasma gravidarum is pretty simple: during the hormonal rollercoaster caused by that bun in your oven, your body produces more melanin (than usual (melanin is the pigment that gives your hair, skin and eyes their colour).

In most cases, pigmentation caused by pregnancy fades after about three months, but for some women, the effects might not wear off.

The good news? There are a number of ways to deal with the Pregnancy Mask.

Protect you skin from the sun. This is preventative measure numero uno, and something you should be doing anyway. UV rays are a major trigger for melanin production, so you need to block them with an SPF of at least 30, all over your body, all day, every day. Reapply halfway through the day if you’re going to be spending time in water or outdoors.

Use only hypoallergenic make-up, creams and facial washes, and avoid any products that irritate your skin, as they might exacerbate your pigmentation problem.

Avoid any products with high doses of hydroquinone. This mineral ingredient may lighten your skin by breaking down melanin, but could also damage the protective surface of your skin. There are also concerns about the effects of this ingredient on the health of your child if used when pregnant or breastfeeding.

A course of gentle facial peels, such as the one offered by SA beauty brand OptiPhi, can help to resurface your skin and substantially reduce pigmentation. Laser treatment, intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment and dermabrasion are also effective options – speak to a dermatologist to find out which is most appropriate for your needs.

Other articles you may be interested in:
Products to avoid while you’re pregnant
Hair and your baby bump
Should you wear fragrances while you are pregnant?
Natural cures for those pregnancy pains
Our top five skin-saving facials


6 Responses

  1. Good article, up until today, I was not sure if I had pigmentation marks or if my marks are due to skin damage.

  2. I have been lucky enough that after 5 pregnancies I have not experienced this. I’ve seen what it looks like on other women and I know that they are very self conscious.

  3. You mention IPL treatment to help pigmentation but I am not sure if this has aggravated my pigmentation. I had a little patch but now it is getting worse.

  4. What a great article. Many pregnant women go through this and dont know what to do. My cousin had pigmentation throughout her pregnancy but luckily her skin got back to normal after giving birth.

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