Hi All, It’s Charlotte (briefly – again!). I just wanted to introduce you to Nicola who’s sharing her experience of Melasma during and after pregnancy. Nicola was a real bride with us a few years ago over on Rock My Wedding so we’re really glad she’s back to share her witty and honest writing style over here on our family pages.

I suffered from mild melasma for years due to the contraceptive pill, I would just have to look at the sun and my forehead would develop uneven brown patches. I still have a permanent patch on my right cheek. Nicola’s experience has therefore been particularly enlightening and interesting for me so please do give her a warm welcome and share your thoughts and advice in the comments box below.

Nicola: I’d just like to acknowledge before getting in to this post that of all the ‘negative things’ to experience during pregnancy; I would happily experience this over anything else. Ever. It is, after all, a cosmetic issue and on the grand scheme of things, I admittedly don’t think my pregnancy mask is even that severe.

Pregnancy Hit Me Like A Tonne Of Bricks.

Firstly (and immediately after seeing that little blue line appear on the preggo test) I found myself on the rocky emotional rollercoaster. Were we ready? Was it really the right life decision? Wow – we are so lucky it happened so quickly!
Sh*t, I drank loads of beer and ate raw beef yesterday – is the baby ok??!!

Secondly, I was absolutely floored with fatigue. I was aware of post-natal depression, but found myself googling ‘depression during pregnancy’ as I felt completely debilitated by tiredness and a bit lost as a person – which was at complete odds with my usual high-energy and happy-go-lucky self. I was constantly asking myself (and google) “is this normal?”

But, I consider myself very lucky. I thankfully escaped morning sickness entirely. Any slight nausea was cured by lashings of pasta… seriously people, I am talking breakfast, lunch and dinner (and in between meals, who am I kidding!).

I suffered no SPD; high blood pressure; preeclampsia; gestational diabetes and every doctor’s appointment was positive and on track. I remember feeling so, so grateful at the time that my pregnancy was progressing complication free, and feel even more appreciative in hindsight.

I feel so guilty saying it, but I didn’t really enjoy being pregnant.
I was looking forward to getting through the first trimester as I’d heard great things about energy levels returning by week 13 (was more like week 19 for me, but thankfully I did get the ‘back to normal’ feeling as I know some women experience fatigue for the whole 40+ weeks). I was also ready for the infamous pregnancy glow to kick in. But there was no glow on this mug.

Instead, I acquired more and more freckles and pigmentation patches across my cheeks and around my eyes, which I discovered was melasma, or chloasma or the pregnancy mask as it is colloquially called. I remember my Mum having a light brown patch on her jawline when I was younger and after a bit more googling found that it can be hereditary, was not dangerous (it isn’t cancerous and does not develop in to skin cancer) and couldn’t be ‘treated’ while pregnant. You can read more about it on the British Skin Foundation website.

Treating My Melasma/Pregnancy Mask

Throughout my pregnancy I was already conscious of what I was using on my skin, swapping many of my regular products for pregnancy friendly ones (I absolutely adored the sanctuary spa mum-to-be bounce back body butter from Boots and still use it as it smells soooo good) so I knew that using acidic and/or whitening products on my face to address the pigmentation was an absolute no-go. The best I could do while my baby was in my belly was maximise prevention.

As a matter of course, I wear SPF 30 on my face every single day (being aware of the well-publicised benefits) Even though I was pregnant during the brutal New York winter (I was stateside for the first 22 weeks of my pregnancy from Jan until May) the pigmentation got more dense and therefore darker, especially on the right hand side of my face, and it spread across my cheeks, around my eyes/temples and above my eyebrows. I’ve also heard it gets called a butterfly mask and that is exactly what it looked like.

As soon as there was a glimmer of sun, I wore a wide brimmed hat (as well as the SPF 30). I knew I was prone to pigmentation as during a summer holiday that coincided with my period week, I had a flare up of pigmentation above my right eyebrow and comes and goes with any level of UV exposure. This prompted me to be militant about SPF on my face at all times: so vain, I know.

Google, doctors, midwives and friends told me that pregnancy masks commonly fade after child birth. Sometimes it can be immediate. Baby out: mask gone. But that wasn’t my experience. I breastfed my little girl for the first four months, so continued using all of my baby friendly products and therefore didn’t touch any of the whitening products for a while.

It’s faded but not gone.

My little girl is now 16 months old and while the pigmentation has faded a lot above my eyebrows, around my eyes and on my left cheek, it is still dark and very noticeable on my right cheek.

I have been an avid SKII skincare user for a few years and have always raved about the cellumination range, in particularly the cellumination essence as it has always delivered great results in evening out my skin tone to create a brighter complexion, so I was desperate to start using that product again. But sadly, and I really dislike saying this – it just didn’t make a difference.
I went to a medispa that boasts a great reputation for a consultation and ended up buying over £300 worth of products in an attempt to ‘whiten’ my skin. Again, while the products are truly lovely, and overall has made my complexion brighter – it didn’t really address the pregnancy mask with any great effect.

The one topical product I am finding is having a positive affect is Resurface by Shani Darden retinol reform. I have never been brave enough to try a retinol (Vitamin A/retinoid) as I have heard scary stories about it thinning the skin and therefore exposing skin to sun damage and aging, as aforementioned I am rather particular in avoiding that. But I did a lot of research and felt very comfortable to try this one, and I have to say it appears to be fading the pigmentation after only two weeks (I use it every other night and continue to use the cellumination essence every other day, on the days I don’t use the retinol).
I am yet to invest in non-invasive treatments like hydro-derma or macro-derma facials, light therapy or peels. The main reason is simply not having the stash of cash to commit to them regularly, and I know a one off isn’t going to cut the mustard.

Affecting My Confidence

I have tried a few cosmetic products in an attempt to conceal the mask, treating it like a blemish. Namely, this colour corrector from Bobbi Brown and this concealer from Clarins (which gets rave reviews for its coverage efficacy from beauty bloggers) but I actually think it looks better ‘uncovered’. I do like those products but I think by trying to conceal the area actually made it look more prominent.

I get waves of feeling self-conscious about it. Oddly, not so much on no-make up days, which let’s be honest – is most days. But when I attempt to get dolled up, it seems to be stubbornly on my face. I have had to alter the colour blusher I wear as some pinker tones don’t look quite right on the darker patches.

I wouldn’t say it has made me less confident though. I didn’t get stretch marks and so in a way I feel like this is my aesthetic symbol of motherhood. Would I rather not have it? Of course I would. My husband likes it. When it first started to appear, he said ‘ooh love, your freckles are coming out (while kind of poking my face)’. I vividly remember saying to him ‘Darl, it’s minus 20 degrees outside and snowing, these aren’t freckles’! And so his endearing nature towards it has made me feel more comfortable with it. Maybe I have just got used to it?

Finally, I would absolutely consider having laser treatment to remove the pigmentation in the future. After doing some research (yup – you guessed it, another hefty googleathon and a conversation with a dermatologist) I was made aware that melasma can come back with further pregnancies. It is in the life plan to have a second child, so it seems silly to spend all the wonga and time and bare the pain (I believe the first couple of sessions are rather painful) only for it to potentially return during another pregnancy and have to do the whole laser thing again.

I’d love to know if any of you have had any experience with melasma and if you would recommend any silver bullet products or treatments that you found helped fade the pigmentation?