Getting even a few extra rays during pregnancy can put you at risk for developing melasma, a skin discoloration that’s also called chloasma or “the mask of pregnancy.” While the condition does not cause medical complications in mom or baby, it is visible as brown patches, often on the face. Why does melasma crop up? “During pregnancy, the skin cells that make pigment become overly sensitive to sunlight due to excess hormones in the body,” says Joel M. Gelfand, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Once melasma appears, it can be difficult to reverse, Gelfand says, so prevention is key. Try these tips for keeping it a bay.
Slather on sunscreen.
Pick one with a minimum SPF of 15. Because most sunscreens only protect from UVB rays, you should look for one that also protects against UVA rays, which can trigger melasma. The main ingredient should be a physical blocker like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both of which are known to partially block UVA. Products with the ingredient Mexoryl offer the best protection from UVA.
Cover up. A wide-brim hat will help keep the rays off of your face. “However, if you’re at the beach, the hat will not help much because the sunlight will reflect off of the sand and water,” Dr. Gelfand says. Wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts will also protect your skin.
Look for shade.
Pick up a beach umbrella if lying on the sand is high priority for you. When you sit outdoors, choose a spot under an overhang or an umbrella. And don’t forget sunshades in the car. “You can also get a fair amount of sun exposure in the car, since UVA can penetrate window glass,” Gelfand says.
Limit your sun time.
The best advice, according to Dr. Gelfand, is to minimize sun exposure as much as possible. Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when it is most intense. “The early morning or early evening is the best time to do outdoor activities,” Dr. Gelfand says. “It doesn’t take much sun to get a sunburn. Fair skin can burn in 10 minutes under noon-time-strength sun.”
And too much sun exposure is never a good thing. “Women can develop skin cancers at any time,” says Dr. Gelfand. He recommends checking your moles once a month for any changes in shape or color and to keep an eye out for new ones. ◗
—Corinne L. Domingo