by Tara M. Bloom
The sky is completely cloudy here and there's not a ray of sun to be seen. Nevertheless, it seems like a good time to talk about the mask of pregnancy.
Every time I hear "the mask of pregnancy," I think of the Jim Carrey movie and picture a voluptuous pregnant woman with a cartoonish green face. The thought makes me smile, and sometimes laugh out loud, but the mask of pregnancy is no laughing matter. And it's certainly not fictional. Nor does the mask of pregnancy impart any super-hero-like powers to the afflicted woman.
What is the mask of pregnancy?
The mask of pregnancy is the common name for pregnancy melasma, or pregnancy chloasma -- a skin condition that can affect anyone, but that's most often seen in pregnant women.
Why is it called the mask of pregnancy?
The mask of pregnancy is hyper-pigmentation of the skin–darkening splotches that can look like anything from extra-large or extra-dark freckles to a large swath of light or dark brown skin. Because pregnancy melasma often manifests on your forehead, nose, and cheeks, it creates a dark pattern similar to a raccoon's black mask...hence, pregnancy melasma earned the nickname "the mask of pregnancy."
What causes the mask of pregnancy?
Reproductive hormones cause an increased production of melanocytes -- the cells in your skin that create pigment to protect you from ultraviolet damage. The extra deposits of melanocytes left by those industrious maternal hormones result in extra darkening when exposed to UVA and UVB rays.
How likely am I to get the mask of pregnancy?
Up to 70% of pregnant women will experience pregnancy melasma, so I'm afraid your chances are pretty high. Also, while you might think fair-skinned women would be more susceptible to the mask of pregnancy, the opposite is actually true: the darker your skin's complexion, the more prone you are to pregnancy melasma. And if you didn't get the mask of pregnancy with your first baby, you're not immune next time around. Your risk of pregnancy melasma increases with each subsequent pregnancy.
How can I prevent the mask of pregnancy?
To prevent the mask of pregnancy, stay out of the sun and wear a barrier sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, such as Anti-Chloasma Facial Sunscreen SPF 25 or Organic Anti-Aging Mineral Sunblock SPF 30. Use pregnancy-safe, barrier sunscreen all day, every day -- including indoors. Even indirect light through windows is enough to trigger those melanocytes to go into overdrive. Alternative ways -- or additional ways, for that extra peace of mind -- to prevent the mask of pregnancy include wearing mineral makeup (which contains titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide, giving it around an SPF of 15) and donning a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face. If you're not already taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid in it, you should be! Insufficient folate (a vitamin B-complex nutrient found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains and oranges) has been linked to melasma.
I'm no longer pregnancy, will the mask of pregnancy go away?
The good news about the mask of pregnancy is that it usually does go away on its own after baby arrives but it can be a long time (many months to a year postpartum) before it fades completely. In the meantime, continue to apply sunscreen and use makeup to lessen the appearance.
How can I get rid of the mask of pregnancy while I'm pregnant?
Unfortunately, pretty much all of the methods used for removing patches of hyperpigmentation aren't a good idea during pregnancy. Hydroquinone, or bleaching creams, are contraindicated for pregnant women. Laser treatment, chemical peels and microdermabrasion can aggravate sensitive pregnant skin and may result in worse skin conditions during pregnancy. They also haven't been proven to be safe for pregnant women.