Changes in Skin Color During Pregnancy

Almost all pregnant women experience at least one skin change during pregnancy

Pregnant woman standing in the sun, leaning against a tree
Credits: "Egor105 at Pixabay.com"

Did you know that almost all pregnant women experience at least one skin change during pregnancy? In this article, we’ll explain the most common skin color changes experienced during pregnancy and share tips and treatments to keep them feeling and looking their best during this exciting time.

 

Melasma 

What is it?

Dark and hyperpigmented patches on the face. This usually affects pregnant women of darker skin color, but can affect anyone. It can even occur men and non-pregnant women.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons as to why melasma occurs that include a combination of multiple factors. We know that UV radiation (sun exposure), hormone changes during pregnancy, genetics, certain drugs, and thyroid disorders can all play a role. Melasma doesn’t occur in all pregnant women, and even those who have frequent sun exposure will not always develop this condition. However, with the right mix of genes and melasma-causing hormones or exposures, the pigment-producing melanocytes can go into overdrive, leaving unwanted dark patches.  

How do you treat it?

Most dermatologists may recommend waiting to treat melasma until post-pregnancy. However, since UV radiation and sunlight can make melasma worse, wearing sunscreen (at least SPF 30) to protect skin from aging and to avoid worsening melasma.  For those who want to start treating melasma early, there are a few topical treatments that are generally considered safe during pregnancy. These include kojic acid, glycolic acid, and azelaic acid. Pregnant women need not worry, these aren’t the only treatment options forever.  After pregnancy, there are many melasma treatments, including hydroquinone cream, triple combination cream therapy, chemical peels, and laser/light therapy.

 

Striae Gravidarum (Stretch Marks)

What is it?

This is commonly referred to as “stretch marks,” a very common, frustrating condition during pregnancy. At first, stretch marks will appear as a deep red or purple mark. Over time, they turn into a paler and possibly permanent while marks. Their most common location is the abdomen, but they can occur on the breasts, hips, and legs as well.

Why does it happen?

Unfortunately, there is no clear or definite scientific explanation for why this condition occurs. However, it most likely has something to do with changing hormones and the extreme stretching of skin that occurs during this time. Collagen and elastin, proteins that help the skin stay firm and youthful, can be affected by the extra hormones surging through the body during pregnancy. This means that skin may become more susceptible to stretching and the damage that ensues. There are other factors that play into stretch marks as well, genetics being one of them. If a woman has had stretch marks in the past, or if they have a family history of stretch marks, there’s a higher chance that she will be dealing with them too.

How do you treat it?

Many treatments have been suggested for stretch marks. Unfortunately, these treatments have not been shown to work all the time. This means there isn’t one stretch mark silver bullet that a dermatologist or doctor can prescribe. The following is a list of treatments that have been used in the past, but have not necessarily made stretch marks disappear altogether:

  • Tretinoin
  • Trofolastin
  • Alphastria
  • Cocoa butter
  • Olive oil
  • Silicone gel

Further, laser therapy is a new advanced method of treating stretch marks after pregnancy. Lasers have been used safely for many other conditions, from zapping warts to removing unwanted hair. Unfortunately, their safety during pregnancy is unknown, so there are no formal recommendations for their use. An expectant mother should consult an experienced professional, such as a dermatologist, about the safety of lasers with her skin color, as side effects can sometimes be worse in those with a darker skin tone.

 

Hyperpigmentation (Skin Darkening)

What is it?

Hyperpigmentation is basically too much color, usually in the wrong places. In pregnancy, specific areas on the body start to slowly darken. It is reported that around 90% of women experience this condition during pregnancy. Common areas affected include the areola and the midline of the abdomen. Hyperpigmentation also occurs in the armpits, labia of the genitals, inner thighs, and the anal area. Moles have also been thought to darken during pregnancy, but researchers have recently reported that this is not necessarily true

Why does it happen?

The exact causes of hyperpigmentation are still being researched, but the changes in hormones are thought to create an environment where the color-producing cells in skin go into overdrive, make more pigment, and then transfer this extra pigment right to the surrounding surface of the skin.  

Treatment options

Many of the darkened areas will improve shortly after pregnancy, however, this is not always the case. Sometimes these changes last for years post-pregnancy. Currently, there is no recommended therapy for hyperpigmentation since, more often than not, the darkened areas will lighten on their own after your body returns to its pre-pregnancy state.

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