What is melasma?
Signs of melasma during pregnancy
Melasma occurs most often on the face as brown or grayish-brown patches that sometimes look blotchy. In pregnant women, it most often appears on the:
Other skin changes often occur with melasma during pregnancy, including:
- Darkened nipples, armpits, and genitals
- A darkened line on the belly called linea nigra
People who have melasma don’t feel anything as melasma appears. It’s not itchy or painful, but it can cause significant changes to the skin. These changes may cause emotional symptoms. Sometimes women become distressed about their appearance, which can lead to anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem.
Causes of melasma during pregnancy
Melasma is the result of increased melanin production in the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to skin, eyes, and hair. The exact cause of melasma is unknown. However, people who have melasma and melasma during pregnancy may have more active skin cells, called melanocytes.
Some other factors may trigger melasma, including:
During pregnancy, the body produces more hormones to sustain life and grow a baby. This increase is a factor in developing melasma.
Birth control pills, which contain synthetic hormones, and hormone replacement therapy are also a risk factor. People who take these hormone medications and pregnant women who have taken them may develop melasma.
Steroid medications and photosensitizing drugs may also cause melasma.
Skin care products
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs or salicylic acid)
Products that irritate the skin may also worsen melasma. Retinoids should not be used during pregnancy.
Sunlight affects the way skin cells produce melanin. Exposure to the sun and not wearing sunscreen may cause melasma.
Thyroid disease and adrenal disease
If you have a close family member who has melasma, you may have an increased chance of developing it. However, the condition is not hereditary.
Melasma during pregnancy is usually caused by an increase in hormones, but it is possible to have some of the above conditions that also contribute to melasma while pregnant.
Tests for melasma during pregnancy
Your prenatal doctor or your dermatologist will examine your skin and record your medical history. Extensive tests usually are not required because your doctor can often diagnose melasma by its appearance.
Treatments for melasma during pregnancy
There isn’t a cure for melasma, but it can be treated. Some treatments for melasma during pregnancy include:
Skin care procedures
For nonpregnancy melasma, your doctor may use laser treatments, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion. During pregnancy, laser treatments are usually safe, but make sure to receive this treatment from a board-certified dermatologist.
Skin care products
Some skin care ingredients may help slow melanin production and can be used to treat melasma during pregnancy, including:
- Azelaic acid
- Kojic acid
Good sun protection is recommended to keep skin healthy and for melasma because exposure to the sun can worsen the condition. This involves wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade, and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
Treating other diseases
Treating underlying conditions like thyroid disease and Addison’s disease may help reduce melasma. Your doctor will monitor your disease for appropriate treatment.
Make sure to speak to your prenatal doctor and dermatologist if you have melasma during pregnancy. If melasma causes emotional distress, speak to your doctor for medical advice.
Pregnancy and Parenting Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Academy of Dermatology Association: "Melasma: Signs and Symptoms."
American Family Physician: "Skin Conditions in Pregnancy."
Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia: "Melasma: a clinical and epidemiological review."
British Skin Foundation: "Melasma."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Unmasking the causes and treatments of melasma."
Skin Cancer Foundation: "When Beauty Products Cause Sun Sensitivity."