Hyperpigmentation or excess pigmentation refers to the development of dark patches on the skin. Pregnancy often makes the body susceptible to hyperpigmentation, which may darken the skin on various parts of the body, including face, hands, neck, and abdomen. While it usually affects the skin that is more exposed to the sun, it may also turn the already dark skin (e.g. at nipples and genitals) even darker. Sometimes, areas like underarms and thighs are also affected due to regular friction at these places.
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation during the first trimester. However, in first pregnancies, it’s often delayed until several months. Pigmentation in subsequent pregnancies usually appears much earlier and is often darker than in first pregnancy.
What Causes Hyperpigmentation in Pregnancy?
Although the exact cause of hyperpigmentation remains uncertain, it’s thought to be associated with hormonal changes in the body that take place during pregnancy. The increased levels of hormones result in excessive production of melanin. Since melanin is the substance responsible for giving color to our skin, hair, and eyes, its excessive production turns the skin darker.
Sun exposure and friction further increases the effect of hyperpigmentation or melasma. Genetic factors too have a role to play. Women with darker skin are at a higher risk of developing hyperpigmentation than those with lighter skin.
How to Minimize the Symptoms of Hyperpigmentation During pregnancy
Although there is no foolproof method to avoid hyperpigmentation altogether, there are certain things you can do to prevent its symptoms and effects from getting worse.
- Minimize sun exposure because ultraviolet rays intensify the effects of pigmentation. Wear protective clothing and use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
- Avoid waxing, especially in the areas affected by hyperpigmentation. It can cause skin inflammation and worsen the scars.
- Avoid using creams, cleansers, and skin care products that irritate or do not suit your skin.
Post-Pregnancy HyperPigmentation Treatment
Hyperpigmentation usually fades on its own within a year of delivery. However, sometimes, the changes in your skin shade may not disappear completely. If your skin remains blotchy after delivery and does not seem to be returning to its normal state, you may want to consult your healthcare provider or a dermatologist for a safe treatment option.
In most of the cases, a skin lightening cream is prescribed for topical application. To the extent possible, ask for a natural cream without any side effects. You need to be even more careful if you are to use it on intimate areas of your body. Laser treatment is another option, especially for stubborn hyperpigmentation, but you should keep it as your last resort.
Irrespective of the type of treatment you decide to go with, it’s always advisable to wait until after delivery, since nothing is more important than the safety of your pregnancy.