Pregnancy shouldn't make your skin suffer, but it often does. Spider veins erupt, stretch marks creep, and strange, blotchy, dark pigmentation appears on your face. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), this type of hyperpigmentation -- chloasma -- is extremely common, affecting up to 70 percent of expectant mothers.
Melasma is the medical term that refers to the brown or grayish brown blotches of excess melanin that form on your cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) indicates that blotches can also extend to your neck and forearms as well. Chloasma, also called the "mask of pregnancy," refers to melasma that occurs while you are pregnant. These patches of pigmented skin look a lot like age spots, but they cover more ground. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy may cause your skin to create too much melanin, or pigment.
Who Gets It
Melasma is almost entirely specific to women, affecting only some 10 percent of men. This type of hyperpigmentation isn't reserved just for mothers-to-be, however. According to the AAD, if your skin is naturally dark, you're more likely to get melasma. Women of Latin, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African roots tend to be more at risk for melasma. Pregnancy can trigger melasma, but so can hormone therapy, sun exposure, skin-irritating cosmetics and certain prescription medications, such as birth control pills.
What to Avoid
If you notice blotches of brown on your face, you may be tempted to even out your complexion with a tan. However, this is the worst thing you can do if you have chloasma, because the exposure to the sun's ultraviolet light only makes the patches of melanin darker. Whenever you are outdoors, protect your face with sunscreen, no matter how briefly your skin is exposed to the sun -- even on overcast days.
Managing the Mask
Use a sunscreen every day until brown blotches fade away. The AAD advises selecting a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor, or SPF, of 30 or more, while the American Pregnancy Association, or APA and the ACOG suggest a SPF of at least 15. Look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide. These ingredients form a thin barrier on your skin and give you more thorough protection against UV rays. For a strictly cosmetic approach to reducing the appearance of chloasma, the ACOG advises using a yellow- or white-based concealer under your makeup to even out your skin tone
On the brighter side, hyperpigmentation that occurs during pregnancy generally starts to lighten a few months after you give birth. But the AOCG indicates that brown blotches probably won't fade away completely. Prescription bleaching creams and medical treatments can help restore your complexion after pregnancy. A dermatologist can tell you which treatment is best for you.