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Linea Nigra and the “Mask of Pregnancy”: Skin Discoloration during Pregnancy

Posted Sep 30 2010 12:00am

During pregnancy, a woman’s skin can undergo any number of changes .  This article will exam two of the most common of these dermatological changes:  ”linea nigra” and the “mask of pregnancy.”

Linea nigra, which is Greek for “black line,” is a dark line that develops on a pregnant woman’s abdomen and can stretch from the pubic mound up to the navel or beyond.  (The length of the linea nigra can have great variation.)  Approximately three-quarters of all pregnancies exhibit linea nigra.  Scientists have not determined what exactly causes linea nigra, and its causes my vary from person to person.  The linea nigra can be more than just a colored line beneath the skin–it can include a new growth of dark hairs along the same axis.  This is all quite normal and no reason to worry

Linea nigra is more common among women with darker skin, hair, and eye pigmentation.  These lines usually appear approximately half-way through a pregnancy and can last well beyond the time of birth.  In some women, the line may persist throughout one’s life.  In others, the lines may disappear but recur due to increased sun exposure.  In most women, though, the linea nigra will eventually completely fade.  If you develop a linea nigra and you really don’t like it, the absolute worst thing you can do is to try to tan your skin to match.  Tanning will only make the line darker and darker and less likely to go away.  In general, it is good to a void too much UV radiation (sunlight, tanning bed, etc.).  It is especially good to avoid UV radiation during pregnancy so as to prevent problems.  If you are worried about your linea nigra (the color, size, direction, etc.), make sure to consult a physician.  Overall, though, a wide range of different linea nigra is totally normal.

The second skin change I mentioned earlier is usually referred to as the “mask of pregnancy,” though its technical name is melasma .  Melasma is a discoloration of the face in a mask like pattern (think of masquerade masks).  The discoloration is a darkening of the skin and usually appears to be brown (light or dark).  The change in color primarily affects the nose, upper cheeks, and forehead.  In some cases, the melasma can affect other parts of the face.  Melasma can actually occur in both men and women, but it is most common in women who are pregnant.  Melasma also occurs frequently in women taking oral contraceptives (“the pill”).

Melasma, like linea nigra, usually fades with time and intensifies with exposure to sun (as well as tanning beds).  Melasma is totally normal but is more common among women who have naturally dark skin and who are often exposed to high amounts of sun.  There are several treatments to speed the fading of melasma, though they should not be used until after the pregnancy has finished because the chemicals involved may be harmful to the fetus.

Also note that moles, freckles, and areola (the area around the nipples) can also darken during pregnancy.  Like the above-mentioned skin changes, they are perfectly normal, can last for various amounts of time, and usually fade away after pregnancy.  The body goes through so many changes during pregnancy but these changes are among some of the most visible.  If you are ever worried about any of these changes, seek the advice of a medical professional.  Any questions or comments?  Please feel free to leave them here.

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