Pregnancy brings on a host of physical changes. Talk to each person and they can give you a completely different account of the symptoms they experienced. The reason, of course, being pregnancy interacts with everyone’s body chemistry differently.
That being said, not all symptoms are created equal. Sometimes the hormones released during the bodies HCG surge lead to some freaky sh*t. For some, this weirdness comes via a condition called pica where women get the desire to eat anything from dirt to toilet paper.
One of the less gross but equally strange pregnancy conditions is melasma. It’s not as bad as some pregnancy problems, but it stills sucks. Believe me, I had it BAD.
Melasma?! What is it?
“The mask of pregnancy,” formally know as melasma, is a condition experienced by anywhere from 50-75% of women. It is a specific form of hyperpigmentation that is most commonly associated with pregnancy. It’s caused by the increase in estrogen that happens during pregnancy. It’s often diagnosed through random dark blotches on various areas of the face like the forehead, cheeks, and lip area.
“The mask” can also target facial marks like moles and freckles causing them to become more pronounced. In my case, a facial mark that had been on my face since childhood went from being the color of my skin, which is typically caramel in color, to nearly black. Interestingly, the same chemicals that are responsible for melasma are responsible for the well-known linea negra that can be observed on the bellies of many women during pregnancy.
Who’s at risk?
Melasma is thought to be triggered by a combination of UV-ray exposure and hormones. Due to higher levels of darker pigment, it is more common in women of color and individuals with brown-based complexions.
Other triggers include: birth control use and hormonal therapies, particularly when an increase in estrogen is involved. Frequent exposure to heat and visible light and contribute to the spreading of this condition.
What can you do?
The best treatment for the “mask” depends on the cause. If it is birth control-related, one may choose to switch methods. If the cause is pregnancy, the symptoms typically go away either closely after pregnancy or when the individual is done breastfeeding. For individuals who cannot trace the condition to a specific cause, chemical peels and skin lighteners are often the preferred course of action.
Because melasma can be linked to high levels of sun exposure, wearing mid to high SPF sunscreen might prevent the condition from worsening in the meantime. Wearing long-sleeved light clothing, the use of large sunglasses, and wide brim sunhats also can’t hurt.
Some research suggests that there is a link between having a diet that is low in folic acid can lead to struggles with melasma. In that case, promoting good nutritional habits and having a diet that is filled with oranges, whole grain bread, and lefty greens might combat some of its effects. In other words, pregnancy is not the time to start skipping out on your vitamins.
Remember: This too shall pass.
In my case, six months after giving birth, I pulled the area off similar to how one would remove a scab (yucky, I know. But it worked for me).
Having had “the mask” myself for many months, I can attest to the way the change in appearance could affect one’s self-image and self-esteem. I got through it by remembering my body was changing for a reason. It didn’t solve all my insecurities, but it helped.
If you are particularly concerned about pregnancy-related hyperpigmentation, it can be helpful to schedule an appointment with a doctor or specialist, like a dermatologist. In some rare cases, melasma doesn’t fade and may require additional treatment.
Eat right, protect yourself from the sun, and keep moving. The mask shall pass.