Mask of pregnancy

More than half of all pregnant women develop mild skin darkening on the face. Commonly called the mask of pregnancy, this brownish coloration is also known as chloasma or melasma. It can affect any woman who's pregnant, though women who are dark-haired and fair-skinned are more susceptible. Melasma usually appears on sun-exposed areas of the face, such as the forehead, temples, cheeks, chin, nose and upper lip. It tends to be matching on both sides of the face (symmetrical).

Melasma is often aggravated or intensified by exposure to sunlight or other sources of ultraviolet (UV) light. The condition usually fades after delivery, although it may not fade completely, and it can return with additional pregnancies.

■ Prevention and self-care for mask of pregnancy

Because exposure to sunlight often worsens skin darkening, protect yourself from getting too much sun:

• Always wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater when you're outdoors, whether it's sunny or cloudy. The sun's UV rays can reach your skin even when the sky is overcast.

• Avoid the most intense hours of sunlight, during the middle of the day.

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face.

• If your mask is extreme, covering makeup may help.

■ Medical care for mask of pregnancy

Avoid creams or other agents that bleach the skin. If your skin darkening is extreme, your health care provider or a dermatologist may prescribe a medicated ointment. If melasma persists long after you've delivered your baby, consult a dermatologist. He or she may recommend a medicated cream or ointment or a chemical peel.

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