About 50-70% of women experience darkening of the skin of the face during pregnancy. Also women experience the same during oral contraceptive intake or while on hormone replacement therapy in menopause due to the increased hormones, Estrogen and Progesterone. This occurs in a particular pattern, in the shape of a butterfly with darkening of the cheeks, nose, upper lip and forehead; or else it may occur as blotchy, darkened patches distributed over the face. This is known as the ‘mask of pregnancy’ or melasma or chloasma.
What causes the mask of pregnancy?
This represents an increase in melanin which is the pigment which gives skin it’s colour. It’s main purpose is protection of the skin from the harmful effects of sunlight. In most women this discolouration is a temporary phenomenon which will most likely disappear after pregnancy, or soon after breast feeding is over.
How to prevent the mask of pregnancy?
One way to prevent this mask of pregnancy from becoming semi-permanent is to take care during pregnancy by protecting the skin from exposure to sun. Even a 5 minute sun exposure is enough to cause changes in the skin. This means that during pregnancy even if you go out to put washed clothes out to dry, you should be having your sunscreen on.
You need sunscreen even at home since windows do not filter out the harmful rays of the sun. Generally speaking, a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 will protect you for 150 minutes. Therefore you need to renew your sunscreen application every 2- 4 hours depending upon the protection factor of your lotion.
SPF of more than 50 has not found to be more effective. Most sunscreens protect against UVB (Ultraviolet rays B) which are responsible for skin cancer and sunburn.
Choose a lotion which provides protection against both, UVB and UVA since the latter too can cause skin cancer.
Your dermatologist can help with several medicated options too. In the meanwhile, in addition to sunscreen/sunblock lotions use sunglasses to protect your eyes and an umbrella every time you go out in the sun.
Check your vitamin D levels in the blood because you are limiting sunlight exposure and vitamin D is prepared in the skin from sunlight. If deficient, add vitamin D to your diet but be safe from cosmetic and otherwise harmful effects of sun.