Are you pregnant and noticing dark spots on your face, arms, or legs?
Pregnancy comes with a lot of changes. But one of the most shocking can be your skin and freckles getting darker.
In this article, we’re going to discuss melasma (also known as “pregnancy mask”), one of the little-discussed symptoms of pregnancy. We’ll talk about why it happens, if it’s normal, and what we can do if it happens to us.
Is Skin Darkening During Pregnancy Normal?
Although it may not be one of the most talked-about pregnancy symptoms, skin darkening, known as melasma or chloasma, is entirely normal. It is sometimes referred to as “the mask of pregnancy” because it often appears on the face, especially the forehead, nose, and cheekbones (1).
But while the face is the most common area for discoloration to occur, it can happen anywhere on the body. Skin darkening is also common in areas often exposed to the sun, like your arms and legs, as well as your underarms, where friction can easily occur (2).
Another common pregnancy symptom, the linea nigra, is thought to occur because of the same process.
Causes of Melasma
Just as estrogen causes hair growth during pregnancy, and progesterone can cause bloating, hormones are also the likely cause of skin darkening. But no one is entirely sure which hormone is the culprit.
Melanocytes are the skin cells responsible for pigment. Melanocyte-stimulating hormones increase during the second and third trimesters. Some experts believe that melasma it is caused by increased progesterone during pregnancy because it is fairly common in menopausal women who take progesterone supplements (3).
Others think it is the increased estrogen levels that increase the production of melanin (4).
Who Gets It
Can I Prevent Skin Darkening During Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, you need the increased hormones that likely cause melasma to help your baby develop and grow. Estrogen, for example, helps your baby develop normally, while progesterone helps your uterus thicken and be a healthy environment for your baby .
Because these hormones are essential for your baby’s development, there is nothing we can do to entirely prevent skin darkening during pregnancy.
But while we can’t prevent melasma from happening, there are things we can do to stop it from getting worse.
1. Take Your Vitamins
Folic acid is an essential prenatal vitamin for pregnant women because it helps prevent neural tube defects. It can also help reduce your baby’s risk of cleft lip and palate and certain heart defects and can help reduce your risk of preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).
While skin darkening is not nearly as important as your baby’s brain health, folic acid also has another little-known bonus use — it can help prevent hyperpigmentation.
2. Cover Up
While sun exposure can help you obtain a summer glow, it also has a nasty side effect of making already dark areas of your skin darker. If you already have patches of skin discolored by melasma, exposing them to the sun can make them worse.
To prevent this, keep your skin covered. Long sleeves, pants, and wide-brimmed hats can help keep the sun’s rays off your skin and prevent the melasma patches from getting darker.
3. SPF Is Your Friend
If you’re pregnant during the summer, long sleeves and pants might not be a viable option for covering your skin and preventing melasma from getting worse.
Dermatologists recommend wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily as a part of your skincare routine to prevent skin cancer. It can also prevent chloasma from getting worse.
When choosing a sunscreen, avoid those with oxybenzone. Oxybenzone can cause low birth weight and problems with the baby’s hormone levels, which could lead to developmental problems.
An SPF sunscreen of 30 or more can block out 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays (6). Apply it to your face every morning along with your other skincare products and to any area of your body that will be exposed to the sun. Take care to reapply every two hours while exposed.
4. Say No To Waxing
While hair growth is another common symptom of pregnancy, it doesn’t always occur in the areas we want it to. To not look like an extra in Planet of the Apes, many women seek ways to get rid of it.
But if your extra hair growth has you heading to the waxing salon, you might want to reconsider.
While waxing is safe for both mom and baby during pregnancy, it can also cause skin inflammation, which can make hyperpigmentation worse.
5. Choose Your Skin Care Wisely
While your favorite lotion might have a scent that reminds you of rainbows and butterflies, if you’re suffering from melasma during pregnancy, chemical-free and fragrance-free soaps and skincare products are the way to go. The fewer chemicals in your products, the less likely they are to react negatively to the sun on your skin. And since your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, this will also help prevent other problems such as breakouts.
You may be tempted to try products with hydroquinone or retinol to lighten up those dark spots, but those are not safe during pregnancy. Using these products is safe only after pregnancy and after you are done breastfeeding (7).
9 Remedies That May Help
The best thing to do if you are suffering from melasma is to try to prevent it. But if you’re looking for a way to help get rid of hyperpigmentation that has already popped up on your skin, there are some remedies that may help.
Many of these remedies can be harsh on sensitive skin due to the acids they contain.
Before applying them to large areas, make sure to test them on a small section of skin first to ensure you won’t have a reaction.
- Exfoliate: Exfoliating once a week can remove dead skin cells, which are often darker than the healthy skin cells underneath. It also may help increase the penetration of the other remedies you may try.
- Potato: Cut a potato in half and rub the juice into melasma spots to help lighten the skin. Do this daily for the best results.
- Aloe: Pure aloe vera gel, whether bottled or straight from the plant, can help lighten dark spots. Apply the gel directly to areas of hyperpigmentation, let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently wipe it off with warm water. For best results, repeat this process daily.
- Yogurt: Yogurt contains lactic acid, which has bleaching properties that can help even out melasma spots. Apply plain Greek yogurt to your face like a mask, let it sit for 10 minutes, then rinse off gently with warm water.
- Onion: Onions contain many sulfur compounds called sulfoxides, which can help lighten dark spots left by hyperpigmentation. To use this method, quarter an onion and place it in a blender. Once it’s blended, squeeze out the juice, and rub the juice directly onto clean skin. Allow the juice to dry for 15 minutes, and rinse off with warm water. Use daily for best results.
- Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid that can help lighten your skin. Dilute the ACV with an equal amount of water, and apply it directly to problem areas.
- Milk, honey, and dried orange peel: Orange peels contain calcium and vitamin C and can help whiten dark spots on your skin. Process orange peels in a blender, then mix with milk and honey to form a paste. Use this as a mask to help lighten dark spots while also nourishing and pampering your skin.
- Tomato and oatmeal: Tomato juice can help lighten areas of hyperpigmentation because it contains vitamin A, and oatmeal can help exfoliate and remove dead skin cells that are darker than the healthy skin underneath. Mix these two to form a paste, and apply it like a mask. Leave it on for 20 minutes, then rub it into your face to scrub. Rinse off with warm water. You can also add milk or yogurt to this mask to give it more nourishing properties.
- Lemon: The citric acid in lemon juice has bleaching properties that can help make dark spots disappear. Cut a lemon in half, and rub the juice directly onto the affected area. Leave it on for 20 minutes for the best results.
Will It Go Away After Pregnancy?
Are you losing sleep at night wondering if these dark spots will remain on your skin forever? The good news is most women will see dark spots fade as their hormone levels go down after their baby is born.
Beware, though, because one in ten moms will find this condition worsens when taking hormonal contraceptives after giving birth (8). So, if you suffered melasma during pregnancy, talk to your doctor about what birth control will help you prevent this from occurring.
The Bottom Line
Hyperpigmentation is the last thing you want to deal with when pregnancy has already put things like nausea and heartburn on your plate. We get it!
While there is nothing we can do to stop skin darkening completely, with the tips and tricks listed in this article, you can help keep it to a minimum and help lighten any hyperpigmentation that has already occurred.