During pregnancy, your body is going through some incredible — and sometimes unbelievable — changes. There are the less exciting changes like morning sickness and cramps as well as aches and pains you might not have been expecting. And then, of course, there are the amazing ones, like feeling your baby kicking for the first time.
Many women also experience changes in their hair and skin while pregnant (as well as after, hello postpartum hair loss!) and a skin condition called melasma is incredibly common during this time. In fact, it's often referred to as the 'pregnancy mask'.
If you've noticed dark patches of skin on your face during pregnancy, you may have melasma, so let's look at what it is and how you can treat it with pregnancy-safe skincare as well as after you've given birth.
What is melasma?
Melasma is a pigmentation disorder and will appear on the skin as dark spots and dark patches in sun-exposed areas.
Both men and women can develop melasma, however, it's more common in women and those with a darker skin tone, including those with Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ancestry and it often gets darker in the summer months.
According to peer-reviewed studies, this skin condition can occur in up to 50% of people with darker skin, and up to 90% of women during their reproductive years .
Melasma can be triggered by pregnancy, hence being known as the mask of pregnancy, as well as hormonal birth control pills and sun exposure. While melasma isn't an overly serious or painful condition, it can make people feel self-conscious .
Why does pregnancy cause melasma?
Melasma can be triggered by hormonal changes caused by pregnancy — this is why it can also be caused by some birth control.
Between 50-70% of all melasma cases are in pregnant women . Interestingly, however, it's actually unknown why it occurs in pregnancy, other than the overproduction of melanin.
Increasing estrogen and progesterone levels trigger melasma making pregnant women more susceptible to sunlight and can stimulate excess melanin production, also known as skin hyperpigmentation, which can lead you to develop dark patches and skin discolouration.
It's important to remember that if you have melasma during pregnancy, unprotected sun exposure can worsen it, so always wear sun protection and cover up with a hat where you can.
Melasma during pregnancy is totally normal, and, as we mentioned before, it's not a serious condition, as it doesn't cause skin cancer or turn into cancer. However, some skin cancers can look similar to melasma, so you should always make sure to visit your dermatologist if you're unsure.
For many women, pregnancy melasma can improve when you're no longer pregnant and your hormone levels have returned to their pre-pregnancy levels. However, if you have previously experienced melasma in one pregnancy, you're likely to experience it if you become pregnant again.
Aside from pregnancy hormones, the sun and genetics, other possible reasons for melasma include medication, makeup and cosmetic products that irritate your skin or make it more susceptible to sun damage.
You may also experience linea nigra, which is a dark line that appears due to hyperpigmentation and gets darker when you're pregnant . It will also usually fade once your hormone levels return to regular levels, which will likely take a few weeks or months.
However, in some cases, it might not go away without treatment, but it's not recommended that you use topical medications on your skin while pregnant.
What does pregnancy melasma look like?
Melasma doesn't itch or cause pain so you may not even realise you have it. However, it will usually appear as dark, blotchy, brown patches of skin, and it's most common on the cheeks and nose, as well as the forehead and upper lip. It may also cause any freckles and moles to look darker.
The discolouration is usually clustered, asymmetrical and flat, and can be commonly mistaken for freckles, however, they tend to be smaller.
The intensity of pregnancy melasma can also change throughout the year and will likely be darker in summer and lighter in winter.
At what stage of pregnancy does melasma occur?
While melasma can occur at any point during your pregnancy, it's most likely to begin during the second or third trimester. This will be determined by your skin colour, genetics and other factors such as how much time you spend in the sun or the time of year you're pregnant. Too much sun exposure can make melasma worse.
Your skin colour may also make the skin discolouration more or less noticeable.
Can melasma be prevented during pregnancy?
There is still a lot unknown about what causes melasma, so there isn't currently much you can do to prevent melasma completely. But, there are precautions you can take to lower your risk of developing it while pregnant.
These steps include wearing sun protection every day (as you should be doing regularly anyway!) and reapplying every two hours while swimming or sweating, as well as staying out of the sun for long periods or during peak hours.
Alongside sunscreen, it's also important to wear sun-protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved clothing and sunglasses. And, where possible, try to limit your time in the sun as it could help you could lower your chance of getting pregnancy melasma by up to 90% .
Does melasma from pregnancy go away?
Melasma from pregnancy can begin to fade roughly 3 months after your baby arrives as your hormones have begun to stabilise.
However, it may take longer to go away if you choose to let it fade without using any topical treatments.
How to treat melasma after pregnancy
There are a few ways to target melasma after pregnancy including chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser treatments and light therapies. However, having a newborn may make it difficult to get out and about, which is where Software's prescription pigmentation treatment comes in.
Receiving treatment is so easy and you don't even need to leave the house. Simply complete a 100% text-based consult and our Australian doctors will create a custom formula just for you, based on your skin goals. From here, your formula is compounded and delivered straight to your door.
Plus, a new bottle will arrive automatically every 2 months, so you don't have to leave home to get a script filled or see a skin specialist. And, you can chat with your doctor about your formula when needed.
Software's custom formulas contain medical-grade ingredients like azelaic acid, prescription retinoids, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to help lighten dark spots, reduce inflammation and reveal brighter skin.
What can you do to treat melasma while pregnant?
While pregnancy melasma isn't dangerous, some people may simply not like how it looks and might want to find ways to cover it up, which is totally understandable.
You should always seek professional medical advice when treating melasma while pregnant and our local Software doctors can advise you on a pregnancy-safe formula that targets this condition without ingredients that are potentially harmful to the baby, including vitamin A derivates like retinoids and retinol.
The most common treatment options for melasma are skin-lightening medications that are applied topically and usually contain mixtures of ingredients like azelaic acid, kojic acid, niacinamide and vitamin C. These medications work by reducing pigment production, inflammation and blood vessels in the skin that might contribute to melasma.
We know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.