Chloasma During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy brings a whole host of changes to your body, with some more expected (and welcomed) than others. While a growing belly, fatigue, and nausea are par for the course, you might be surprised to notice your skin darkening in spots on your face. Rest assured, while possibly annoying, this hyperpigmentation or chloasma, is a normal part of pregnancy.

Overview

Chloasma, also called melasma or the “mask of pregnancy,” is a common condition in pregnant women. In fact, it impacts the majority of pregnancies, affecting up to 50% to 70% of expectant mothers. Chloasma usually presents as dark, brownish patches of skin, mostly on the forehead, nose, upper lip, and cheeks—hence the "mask" nickname.

These darkened areas, which can range from light tan to dark brown, are usually symmetrical, showing up evenly on both sides of the face. Less commonly, these patches can occur on other parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, like the neck or the forearms.

While chloasma may be bothersome aesthetically, it's not painful and doesn't carry any risks to the pregnancy. This hyperpigmentation will often fade away after the postpartum period.

Causes of Chloasma

Chloasma can occur at any time in life to both men and women. However, women are far more likely than men to experience it. In fact, around 90% of hyperpigmentation cases involve women, many of whom are pregnant.

Hormones

When chloasma happens during pregnancy, it is referred to as melasma. These changes in pigmentation are believed to be triggered by an increase in estrogen that stimulates the production of melanin. Women taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also experience chloasma due to hormonal changes.

The effect of the increased estrogen is magnified by the higher levels of progesterone that pregnancy triggers as well. This is also what often causes the linea nigra or the dark line down the center of your belly during pregnancy.

Sun

Sun exposure also heightens your likelihood of developing chloasma. The ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun encourages melanocytes to produce melanin, which can be a trigger for development and can also exacerbate existing chloasma. Other contributing factors may be stress and thyroid disease.

Heredity

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people of color are more likely than those with lighter skin to develop chloasma because their melanocytes are more active. Those with blood relatives who have had chloasma are also more likely to develop it.

However, these factors do not necessarily mean you will develop it, just that you are at a higher risk. Conversely, a person with light skin and no family history of chloasma can also develop the condition.

Tips for Minimizing Chloasma

There is no need to treat chloasma, as it typically goes away after you give birth, or for some women, once you are done breastfeeding. If you find it really bothersome, however, there are some measures you can take to try to minimize chloasma.

  • Make sure you are getting enough folate (vitamin B9). Folic acid, the synthetic supplemental form of folate, is in prenatal vitamins, but make sure you’re consuming folate in your diet as well. Foods to eat include spinach, citrus fruits, pasta, rice, and beans. Folic acid might help reduce hyperpigmentation and minimize your chloasma.
  • Wear sunscreen with a high SPF every day. Wearing sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) even on overcast days is crucial. The UV light can still be powerful, even on cloudy days. Sunlight and UV light triggers the release of melanin, and pregnancy can make you especially sensitive to this. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat can also help protect your face from the sun.
  • Makeup can help. Concealer and foundation can reduce the appearance of chloasma. During pregnancy, the skin tends to be more sensitive, so aim to get non-comedogenic, hypo-allergenic corrective foundation and concealer. Those that are specifically designed for hyperpigmentation can help even out your skin tone.
  • Choose skincare products for sensitive skin. Products that irritate or sting the skin (like astringent, for example) can worsen chloasma for some people.
  • Avoid waxing your face. If you wax your brows or upper lip, you might want to skip those treatments during pregnancy. Waxing can inflame the skin, which in turn, can make chloasma worse. Since the upper lip is a common area where chloasma is found, this one is especially important to avoid.

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, don’t use any chemical peels or bleaches, and stay away from skin-lightening treatments as they can be harmful to your baby.

A Word From Verywell

Give your skin time to recover after childbirth. Your body’s hormone balance needs time to even out after pregnancy and breastfeeding, which can take up to several months. At that point, if your skin has not returned to normal, see your dermatologist for possible treatment options, such as skin lightening creams, topical steroids, or laser treatments.

It is a good idea to speak with your doctor or healthcare professional to make sure your hormones are at typical levels as well. Most likely, once your hormones go back to pre-pregnancy levels, your skin will even out and the dark patches will fade away.

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Article Sources
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  • Vora RV, Gupta R, Mehta MJ, Chaudhari AH, Pilani AP, Patel N. Pregnancy and skin. J Family Med Prim Care. 2014;3:318-24. doi:10.4103/2249-4863.148099