What is Melasma, the ‘Mask of Pregnancy’?

We’re unmasking some of the causes behind this vexing skin condition, and finding out once and for all whether it’s ‘just a pregnancy thing’...

During pregnancy your body goes through so many changes it’s easy to lose track, but one that stands out on our skin is Melasma. Also known as ‘The Mask of Pregnancy’ or ‘Chloasma’, this pigmentation is very common, with up to 70 per cent of expectant mothers experiencing it in some form. The condition is fairly harmless, but can be aggravated slightly by spending lots of time in the sun. 

What is Pregnancy Melasma?

Melasma is a pigmentation that affects the skin, it’s usually represented by dark, sporadic and almost confetti-like patches of pigmentation, often more prominent on the forehead, cheeks, nose and upper lip. The name comes from melas, the Greek word for black, or cholas, from the word green-ish.

If you have melasma, your freckles and moles may also look darker, there's probably a dark line down the center of your abdomen (the linea nigra) and your areolas could be a deeper shade.

Why does it happen? 

Pregnancy Melasma or Chloasma is thought to be caused by the combination of pregnancy hormone changes and UV exposure. Estrogen can increase the amount of pigment-forming enzymes in the body, as well as make skin more sensitive to the sun. 

Melasma typically becomes more noticeable in the summer and improves during the winter months. It’s not an infection; therefore, it’s not contagious, and is not due to an allergy. It isn’t cancerous and thus won’t develop into skin cancer, so the condition shouldn't cause concern for those experiencing it.

Do only pregnant women get it?

No, you can get melasma on all skin but it’s just much more common in women, with the American Academy of Dermatology reporting that only 10 per cent of those who experience melasma are men. Those taking HRT or oral contraceptives can also be prone to hormone-related melasma, as can those with darker skin tones.  

Will it go away and how can I treat it?

For most, the pigmentation will begin to fade when a pregnancy ends or once you finish breastfeeding. If it does persist beyond that, it’s best to speak with your GP or dermatologist for further solutions. 

Although it cannot be prevented, using sun protection every day and avoiding sun overexposure is the best defence for avoiding aggravation of the condition.  

An SPF 50 facial sunscreen like SUN DAY is ideal, as long as you make sure to reapply every two hours as necessary. It’s a broad-spectrum formulation, thus helping to protect from both UVA and UVB rays. 

Some research has suggested that a diet low in folic acid can exacerbate melasma, so making sure that you’re getting a healthy diet full of whole grains and leafy greens will lower your chances of experiencing the condition. 

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