There were plenty of unsightly symptoms the baby books prepared me for during pregnancy. Stretch marks, (raging) heartburn, insomnia — I didn’t welcome them with open arms, but I at least felt ready for them. So you can imagine my shock and horror when, one day, I spotted a dark shadow forming on my upper lip. Within a week, the shadow had darkened from a questionable trick of the light to a full-on mustache: the dreaded “melasma mustache,” I would later learn.
So, WTF is this hormonal nightmare, and is there anything you can (safely) use to treat it during pregnancy and postpartum? To shed some light on the subject, Scary Mommy spoke with The Hormonal Mama founder Cara Drescher, a licensed esthetician and infertility, pregnancy, and postpartum coach.
What causes a melasma mustache?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), “Melasma is a skin condition that causes patches and spots, usually on the face, which are darker than your natural skin tone.” The darkened pigmentation can show up as blotchy patches on skin at any time, but can be especially common during pregnancy.
“Melasma (often called Chloasma during pregnancy) is caused by an increase in estrogen, one of the main hormones involved in pregnancy,” Drescher explains. “Estrogen stimulates melanocytes (specialized skin cells that produce the skin pigment melanin). This stimulation causes them to produce even more melanin, which results in [the] darkening of the skin.”
Melasma is not contained to just the upper lip, either. Drescher shares that melasma could show up on the cheeks, forehead, chin, or above the lip. “This is commonly referred to as the ‘mask of pregnancy’ as these locations make it look like a mask,” shares Drescher.
How long does hormonal melasma last?
If you experience melasma during pregnancy, don’t panic — it doesn’t mean the changes are permanent. Drescher explains that melasma will typically fade a few months after giving birth “as hormone levels begin to even out.”
However, it is possible for melasma to last longer than a few months postpartum as well. As Drescher explains, “all bodies are different, so [the fading] can take longer in some cases.”
One major way to ensure that melasma does not get worse during this time is to make sure to protect yourself from the sun. Exposure to sunlight can trigger melasma, so the American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing sunscreen at all times to protect your skin — even on cloudy days!
The AAD also recommends choosing gentle, non-irritating skincare products and taking a break from waxing any spots with melasma during this time. Irritating your skin can make your melasma worse, so ensuring you are gentle with your complexion and protecting it from the sun are both key to ensuring it doesn’t get any worse.
How do you treat hormonal melasma during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, your options for treating melasma can be a little more limited. However, Drescher stresses that there are still safe alternatives to use to help make those dreaded spots start fading.
“While skin discolorations such as melasma are typically treated using ingredients such as hydroquinone, arbutin, retinoids (vitamin A derivatives), and so on, these ingredients are generally considered unsafe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding,” Drescher explains.
A few ingredients Drescher recommends for safer alternatives are:
- Vitamin C derivatives
- Green and white tea extracts
- Beta carotene
- Azelaic acid
- Kojic acid
“[These ingredients] are generally considered safe for pregnancy and can help lighten melasma spots. Azaleic acid and kojic acid are typically considered safe at lower concentrations and only used topically,” Drescher shared.
That being said, it is always vital to speak with a professional about your specific case. “It’s always best to trust your gut and speak with your doctor or midwife regarding any ingredient concerns,” Drescher continued. Your care professional will be able to make solid product recommendations to help you protect and treat your skin safely during pregnancy and postpartum.
After months of feeling like your body doesn’t just belong to you, it can be incredibly frustrating to hear that your unwanted melasma mustache will be staying with you even after baby arrives (trust me, I know). However, time, treatment, and protection are all important in making sure that “mask of pregnancy” goes away and stays away.