A few weeks ago I received a call from a fashion stylist friend of mine who was in a panic about the strange darkening of skin that appeared suddenly across her cheeks after her Carribean vacation. She is never without a big floppy hat and sunscreen, but worried that the pigmentation might have been a result of her diet or face cream.
Then she confided in me that she is pregnant. After a flurry of congratulations, and a discussion of her due date in September, I reassured her that it was just nature taking its course.
The hyper-pigmentation called melasma that develops across the upper lip or cheeks is also known as “the mask of pregnancy.” It develops because of the change in hormones and the body’s reaction to the sun.
While this hyperpigmentation (too much pigment) is more likely among women with dark complexions, it can happen to anyone and sometimes only happens during only one of her pregnancies.
The linea nigra (“black line”) is a similar pigmentation, usually an amazingly perfect line down the middle of the belly.
The hyperpigmentation can also happen to women taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
What can a woman do? Here a few tips:
- Wear sunscreen and a hat when outside
- Keep your belly covered
When you are finished having babies, or have discontinued birth control pills, you may try to reduce the pigmentation with the following treatments, all of which should be done by a licensed dermatologist:
- Laser therapy such as Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
- bleaching agents such as hygroquinone,
- dermabrasion or chemical peels
- kojic acid, and azelaic acid, tretinoin
Most importantly, don’t worry about the hyperpigmentation because it fades with time once the hormonal changes have stabilized.