Strange skin changes can be a normal part of pregnancy.

Hyperpigmentation During Pregnancy

by Holly L. Roberts

As if the changes in your belly, eating habits and number of daily trips to the bathroom weren't enough, pregnancy can also wreak havoc on your skin. When you're pregnant, you may find yourself dealing with breakouts worse than the ones you had in high school, suddenly sensitive skin or even weird dark patches of skin on your face and body known as hyperpigmentation.

1. Identification

Melasma is the most common form of pregnancy hyperpigmentation. It's easy to recognize because it appears as uniform, symmetrical patches of darker color on your upper lip, forehead or nose. Some women get it in all three places, creating a mask-like appearance and earning melasma its nickname "the mask of pregnancy." Some women also get melasma when they're taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, but it's most common in pregnant women, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center.

2. Cause

Melasma is often caused by excess estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that surge in production during pregnancy, explains Tina Alster, clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, in "O, The Oprah Magazine." If you're pregnant, your raging hormones are probably to blame for your hyperpigmentation, but Alster points out that accumulated sun damage over time can also cause melasma.

3. Significance

Melasma isn't a serious problem in the sense that it can negatively affect your health or your pregnancy, but if your hyperpigmentation is very dark or obvious, it can have a major impact on your appearance and self-esteem, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. For most women, melasma fades naturally when your hormones settle back down to their normal levels after your baby is born.

4. Pregnancy Treatments

Most of the treatments for melasma aren't recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women because research hasn't confirmed their effects on developing and nursing babies, explains Deborah Sarnoff, associate clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, in "Fit Pregnancy" magazine. The best thing you can do is apply sunscreen generously every day to keep the problem from getting worse -- sun exposure exacerbates pregnancy hyperpigmentation. If the discoloration bothers you, blend a little bronzer with your regular makeup to even out your skin tone.

5. Post-Pregnancy Treatments

If your melasma doesn't fade naturally after pregnancy, you can do several things to address it once your baby is weaned, says Saroff. Creams containing the more potent hydroquinone or gentler kojic acid can significantly diminish dark patches, but be aware that hydroquinone can cause skin irritation. If you don't want to self-treat, Alster says chemical peels and laser therapy can be very effective for treating hyperpigmentation, but you should make sure your dermatologist has experience with treating hyperpigmentation since careless treatment can make the problem worse.

About the Author

I'm the kind of writer who really wants to know about everything - so I can't imagine what it would have been like to try to navigate life in the days before the Web. How did we get anywhere without MapQuest? How did we settle bets without Google? I love the idea of readily accessible, accurate information, and while I love working in all media, I have to admit that the immediacy of online journalism is especially appealing to me. It's fun to have an excuse to be a know-it-all! You can see from my resume that I have a decade of experience writing for the Web and print, on everything from how to tell if you're a toxic girlfriend (hint: If you've hacked his email, you probably are) to how to get your child to potty train (who knew a star chart could be so effective) to how to convince your future mother-in-law that she shouldn't wear white to your wedding (good news: this one's your husband-to-be's job). I'd love the opportunity to explore even more subjects. Thanks for considering me.

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