After you conceive, you might experience a “pregnancy glow.” Your skin will appear to glimmer and gleam, and your family and friends will constantly be commenting on how good you look.

However, your glow might be darkened by a common condition  called melasma. Melasma causes the skin on the face to darken in certain areas and it’s often referred to as a “pregnancy mask.” Melasma can happen both in pregnant women as well as in women who are not pregnant. Most commonly, the dark patches appear on the cheeks, upper lip or forehead. As many as 70% women will experience melasma during their pregnancy, but some get a much more severe case than others. In some women, the patches are light and barely noticeable. In others, the patches are dark and impossible to ignore. 

The condition can be unsightly, but it is completely harmless. It’s caused by the increased levels of hormones in your body, which cause changes in your skin’s pigmentation. Since the changes are purely hormonal, the color of your skin on your face will completely return to normal a few weeks after you’ve delivered and your hormones have calmed down. 

One of the most common treatments for melasma is sun protection. To prevent getting a severe case of melasma, make sure you limit your exposure to the sun, as getting a tan will only make matters work. Always wear SPF on your face, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours,  and use mild soaps and creams to keep your skin less irritated. Sunscreen alone may not give you the protection you need and dermatologists also recommend wearing a wide-brimmed hat when you are outside. Once you have melasma, one study shows that chemical peels might be an effective treatment. Both glycolic acid peels and amino fruit acid peels were effective in reducing the darkness of melasma spots. However, the amino fruit acid peel was less irritating to women, so if you have sensitive skin and are considering a peel, it should be your top choice. If you’re self-conscious about your melasma, you should also consider speaking with your dermatologist about concealers that would help lighten it temporarily. 

A Cochrane review in 2010 did not find good enough studies to recommend one treatment over another.

In another publication, several different treatments were compared including:

  • topical agents,
  • chemical peels,
  • laser and light therapies.

The authors concluded: "Topical depigmenting agents were found to be the most effective in treating moderate-to-severe melasma, with combination therapies, such as triple- combination therapy (hydroquinone, tretinoin, and fluocinolone acetonide), yielding the best results. Chemical peels as well as laser and light therapies were found to have moderate benefit but more studies are needed to determine their efficacy and long-term safety." 

Luckily, melasma is harmless to you and your baby. It is a skin condition that will fade away after you give birth. However, you should get your melasma checked by a doctor when it starts to appear so that he or she can rule out any more serious skin conditions such as melanoma. The dark patches do resemble skin damage, so it’s important to make sure you don’t have a more serious problem. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait until after you’ve given birth for those unsightly patches to go away once and for all.