Pregnancy Melasma (Chloasma): What It Is, Causes & Treatment

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Pregnancy melasma, also known as chloasma, is a condition that causes dark or gray-brown patches on the skin. It is also sometimes called the “mask of pregnancy” because melasma patches generally occur on the nose, forehead, chin, cheeks, and upper lip. Sometimes, these patches also appear on the neck, chest, forearms, and other body parts exposed to the sun (1).

The condition is generally harmless and does not affect the baby. Although the patches can be treated with topical medicines, they fade with time in most women.

Read this post to learn more about melasma, including its causes and treatment options.

Is It Normal To Have Melasma During Pregnancy?

According to a research paper published in the Croatian journal Collegium Antropologicum, melasma affects around 50% to 70% of women in their pregnancy. The increased levels of estrogen, progesterone, and the melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) in the third trimester could trigger melasma (2). Melasma is not a painful condition and does not lead to any pregnancy complications. But what might cause it?

Causes Of Melasma During Pregnancy

  • The exact cause of melasma is unclear. It is likely to develop when the melanocytes of the skin produce extra color. Those with darker complexion are likely to develop melasma as they have active melanocytes than those with a lighter complexion (3).

Some of the common melasma triggers include

  • Exposure to the UV (Ultraviolet) light from the sun stimulates melanocytes, leading to melasma. The condition might worsen during summers (4).
UV rays may cause pregnancy melasma

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  • Hormonal changes is another reason for pregnancy melasma. The increased levels of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and MSH in the third trimester are likely to trigger the symptoms of melasma in pregnant women (5) (6).
  • Other factors include genetic history (if someone else in the family has been suffering from it), skincare products, drugs, multiple pregnancies, and older maternal age.

Melasma that occurs during pregnancy tends to go away after a few months of delivery when the hormonal activity stabilizes (7).

Ways To Reduce The Melasma Patches

Although melasma disappears with time, certain things might help in minimizing the flare-ups on your skin.

  • Stay out of the sun: The foremost step is to avoid sun exposure as much as possible, to prevent skin damage. If your work forces you to go out in the sun, apply a broad-spectrum sunblock. Choose sunscreens or blocks with SPF 25 or higher that may help to prevent exacerbating chloasma (8). Also, wear a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved dress, and sunglasses, and avoid tanning salons.
  • Avoid skincare products: Facial cleansers, skin creams, and make-up products may irritate your skin, making melasma worse. Avoid them until you have given birth, or the melasma disappears.
Avoid them until delivery

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  • Do not wax: Waxing for removing hair might worsen melasma as it could cause skin inflammation. The effect may be high, especially in the areas affected by pigmentation.

Can Pregnancy Melasma Be Treated?

Besides taking precautions to prevent flare-ups, you could talk to a dermatologist about the treatment options to minimize the patches. However, the treatment options are limited for pregnant women.

  • Topical medications such as retinoids and hydroquinone are usually prescribed for melasma, but their safety during pregnancy is not studied (9).
  • Plant products with vitamin C, glycolic acid, arbutin, azelaic acid, licorice extract, or soybean extract could be helpful. Again, you may only use them when their benefits outweigh their risks (8).
Plant products with vitamin C can treat pregnancy melasma

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Most women see a natural improvement in their skin tone postpartum, as the hormones return to normal levels. However, it is better to talk to your doctor for the right treatment, especially if you are on birth control pills after pregnancy.

Can You Prevent Melasma Or Chloasma In Pregnancy?

Preventing melasma during pregnancy may not be possible if the condition is due to hormonal changes or genetics. You might, however, take the precautions discussed above to prevent the patches from darkening further.

Does Melasma During Pregnancy Tell Something About The Baby’s Gender?

No. It is just folklore that pigmentation in a pregnant woman could indicate the gender of the baby. There is no scientific evidence to support this.

Pregnancy melasma is temporary

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Pregnancy melasma is a temporary condition caused due to hormonal changes and UV radiations. The skin usually returns to its normal complexion after the baby’s delivery. However, if the patchy skin is uncomfortable, you may take a few preventive measures, such as applying dermatologically-approved sunscreen or wearing protective clothing. In addition, use skin products approved by a doctor. Also, check with your medical advisor before practicing any home remedies to treat melasma. Also, consult them if you notice any uncommon symptoms or if the discomfort increases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does melasma from pregnancy go away?

Usually, melasma fades away on its own three months after pregnancy. However, you may check with your dermatologist on tips to make the fading away effortless (10).

What foods make melasma during pregnancy worse?

Currently, there is limited evidence on foods that could trigger melasma (10). If you notice flaring up of the skin after eating food, restrict its intake and consult your doctor to understand the trigger.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Melasma; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (2018)
2. Bolanca I et al.; Chloasma–the mask of pregnancy; Collegium Antropologicum (2008)
3. David J. Leffell; Melasma (Chloasma); Harvard Health Publishing (2019); Yale School of Medicine
4. ajira Basit et al.; Melasma; StatPearls Publishing (2019)
5. Jp Ortonne et al.; A global survey of the role of ultraviolet radiation and hormonal influences in the development of melasma; University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
6. Gertrude-Emilia Costin and Stanca-Ariana Birlea; What is the mechanism for melasma that so commonly accompanies human pregnancy; IUBMB Journal – Wiley Online Library
7. Melasma; British Association of Dermatologists; The British Skin Foundation
8. Debabrata Bandyopadhyay; Topical Treatment of Melasma; Indian J Dermatol (2009)
9. Pina Bozzo et al.; Safety of skin care products during pregnancy; Can Fam Physician (2011)
10. Melasma; Cleveland Clinic
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Rebecca Malachi

Rebecca is a pregnancy writer and editor with a passion for delivering research-based and engaging content in areas of fertility, pregnancy, birth, and post-pregnancy. She did her graduation in Biotechnology and Genetics from Loyola Academy, Osmania University and obtained a certification in ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle in Pregnancy’ from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). She has been into health and...
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Dr. Christian Pope

(DO, FACOG)
Dr. Christian Pope is Board-certified in Obstetrics & Gynecology, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He is a long-standing medical staff member and past chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. Luke's Hospital of SouthCoast Hospitals in New Bedford, Massachusetts and is in private group practice at Hawthorn Medical Associates, Inc. He is a member...
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