Pregnancy was extremely unkind to my skin and not in the way that I imagined. I anticipated acne and breakouts that were reminiscent of my puberty days, but instead, I looked in the mirror and saw dull, blotchy skin. Worse, the condition persisted beyond my pregnancy, and people definitely noticed. I eventually came to understand that the cause of my uneven skin tone was a condition called chloasma, also referred to as the mask of pregnancy.
“In melasma –or chloasma, if you are pregnant — hormones along with sun exposure stimulate the melanocyte to make pigment in uneven patches on the face (and sometimes arms),” Dove Dermatologist Dr. Alicia Barba told MadameNoire. “It can also occur in men. I find that once this condition has woken up the melanocyte to make uneven pigment, it is very difficult to make the cell act normally again. Sun avoidance is key, which is very hard in the summer and in cities where there is a lot of sunshine.”
But all is not lost. As with other forms of hyperpigmentation, melasma can be addressed clinically, says Dr. Barba.
“Dark spots can absolutely be treated but the success for treatment depends on what kind of dark spots they are (the cause) and the lifestyle of the person,” she explained. “For those with melasma or mask of pregnancy, called chloasma, when it occurs during pregnancy, I suggest avoiding direct and indirect contact with the sun, as sunshine always feeds the pigmentation, in addition to hormones. Sometimes stopping birth control is necessary.”
She went on: “Hyperpigmentation disorders are skin issues that affect skin of color quite often and sunscreen is a pivotal tool in helping prevent them. Melasma is treated with a combination of topical creams, and when very resistant, a pill can sometimes be prescribed. When treating melasma or skin that tends to develop dark spots, avoid inflammation at all costs unless under the supervision of a physician. Use products that are gentle on the skin, that won’t cause stinging or burning.”
One such product is the Dove White Beauty Bar, Dr. Barba said. “The brand’s signature one -fourth moisturizing cream and DEFI technology, a unique blend of mild cleansers that gently cleanses washing away dirt and germs, while replenishing nutrients, won’t strip away skin’s moisture like ordinary soap can – leaving skin soft, smooth, and fresh. This will allow your skin to receive the treatments prescribed by your doctor.”
If you’re pregnant or nursing, you may want to postpone treatment until you’ve delivered on weaned your baby, Dr. Barba noted.
“I do not treat brown spots during pregnancy as the hormonal surge during pregnancy can make the skin more sensitive. I wait until my patients are done breastfeeding, then we tailor a regimen based on the patient’s severity and lifestyle.
“Lifestyle is so important when treating pigmentation,” she added. “If the patient is in the sun, then I know right off the bat that it will be extremely difficult to make the person better. I would also never laser anyone who is active outdoors (playing tennis, boating, swimming, beach lover, biker, golfer, runner…etc.). Sunscreen never completely blocks UVA rays and I find the pigmentation is more resistant, even when wearing sunscreen. It is important to note that sunscreens are never sunblocks, as a result, some UVA rays still penetrate. UVA are the rays that tan us, age us, and cause brown spots. UVB rays are the ones that burn us and cause most of the skin cancer. Sunscreen does a good job at protecting against the burning rays, but not as good as protecting against the UVA rays that stain us. I am meticulous at educating my patients on this so that they understand what they are up against when treating pigmentation.”