Don’t worry; it is common for pregnant women to develop skin discolouration, commonly called the mask of pregnancy (scientifically known as melasma gravid arum or chloasma).
Women with darker complexions are more prone to this condition than women with lighter complexions. One is more likely to develop chloasma if it runs in the family. The effects of chloasma may become more noticeable eventually during pregnancy.
The spots can show up around the upper lip, nose, cheekbones, and forehead, sometimes in the shape of a mask. They may also appear on the cheeks or along the jawline of a pregnant woman. It is likely that a pregnant woman will develop dark patches on the forearms and other parts of the body that are exposed to the sun.
What’s more peculiar is that the skin that is already pigmented – such as nipples, scars, freckles and the skin of the genitals – becomes even darker during pregnancy. This also tends to happen to the areas prone to friction, such as underarms and inner thighs.
These changes may be prompted by hormonal changes during pregnancy, which stimulate a momentary increase in your body’s production of melanin (the natural substance that gives colour to your hair, skin, and eyes). Sun exposure also plays a role.
The areas of increased pigmentation will perhaps fade within a few months after delivery and your skin should return to its normal shade, although in some cases the changes never completely disappear.
Is it possible to prevent skin discolouration during pregnancy?
Though skin pigmentation usually disappears on its own after delivery, but you can take few safety measures to minimize its effect:
Protect yourself from the sun
This is vital because exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays increases pigmentation. Use a broad-spectrum sunblock (a formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with SPF 30 or higher every day, irrespective of whether it’s sunny or not. Re-apply the sunscreen during the course of the day if you are outside.
In fact, make applying sun protection part of your morning routine even if you don’t plan to leave the house or spend much time outside. The American Academy of Dermatology says that your skin is exposed to a substantial amount of UV rays when you do things like walk down the street, ride in a car, or even sit near a window.
When you are outside, wear a shirt with long sleeves if you have pigmentation changes on your arms. Do not spend more time in sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Use gentle cleansers and facial creams
But do check the preparations you are going to apply to your skin, to avoid any irritations.
Apply a concealing makeup
If pigmentation bothers you, cover them up with concealing makeup. Don’t use skin-bleaching products while you are pregnant.
Can these skin changes ever be a sign of illness?
Certain types of skin discoloration can be a symptom of skin cancer or other medical problems. However, changes during pregnancy are mostly benign but you should always discuss them with your doctor. Let him/her know if these changes in skin pigmentation are accompanied by pain, redness, tenderness or bleeding, or if you notice any changes in the colour, shape, or size of a mole. Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist who can determine the actual cause of the changes.