Pregnancy mask

Hormonal upheavals during pregnancy often cause pigmentation disorders: expectant mothers thus see their face marked with brown spots known as the "pregnancy mask".

Submitted on 20/07/2012
 During pregnancy, more than two thirds of women see a multitude of irregularly shaped brown spots appear on their face converging into big areas of pigmentation and generally distributed symmetrically on the forehead and cheeks, and sometimes above the upper lip or chin. Known as the "pregnancy mask" or chloasma, this characteristic hyperpigmentation usually occurs between the fourth and sixth month of pregnancy. Although it is quite benign, it often bothers expectant mothers because it is unattractive.

In most cases, the pregnancy mask disappears during the months following childbirth. However, sometimes it persists: hence, it is necessary to go and see a dermatologist to receive the appropriate treatment (depigmenting creams, dermabrasion, peel, etc.).

Who is affected?

  • Dark-haired women with olive skin are most commonly affected. However, all women, whatever their skin tone, can be affected by it during their pregnancy.
  • Women whose face has brown spots during a first pregnancy are at high risk of seeing this mask reappear during subsequent pregnancies. With each new pregnancy, it will also take longer to fade.
  • Chloasma may also occur after taking a high dosage oestrogen pill, or other hormone treatments. It then tends to become concentrated around the mouth.
  • Using poor quality cosmetics, fragrances or products containing alcohol followed by exposure to sunlight can also trigger the appearance of chloasma.
  • In some cases a mask can form outside of pregnancy without any known cause, especially among women of Asian or Mediterranean origin.
  • It also seems that heredity plays a role in the development of the pregnancy mask.
  • In people who suffer from it, the chloasma often fades during the winter months to become clearer and darker during the summer as a result of the UV rays.

The origins of chloasma

Pregnancy is accompanied by a dramatic increase in the levels of many hormones in the blood. Among these,oestrogens have a stimulating effect on the melanocytes, the cells responsible for the production of melanin (the brown pigment responsible for tanning). In some areas of the face the melanocytes become disrupted due to this stimulation and produce melanin in excess: this builds up and forms clusters whose colour can range from light brown to dark brown.

This localised excess pigment can take on one of two forms:
  • It can remain superficial: in 70% of cases, the melanin granules are deposited only in the epidermis. The prognosis for recovery is therefore very favourable.
  • It can be deeper: clusters of melanin can colonise the dermis (10% of cases) or the dermis and epidermis at the same time (20% of cases). It is more difficult to get the chloasma to disappear.

How can you protect yourself from it?

  • To reduce the risk of a pregnancy mask appearing, the first step is to avoid exposure to the sun, or if that is impossible, to use a sunscreen with a high protection factor (SPF 50 and over, reapplied every two hours) and wear a wide brimmed hat, even in town. Indeed, UV rays stimulate the production of melanin in the cells of the epidermis and can thus trigger the appearance of a pregnancy mask or make it look considerably worse. UV beauty salon sessions must also be avoided at all costs.
  • Facial scrubs and any energetic facial cleansing should also be avoided: it can stimulate the secretion of melanin.
  • Also beware of fragrances and products containing alcohol: they can be photosensitising and lead to the appearance of brown spots.
  • If you have had a pregnancy mask, it is better to stop using the pill in favour of another method of contraception after giving birth, to reduce the risk of these unsightly spots reappearing.

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