What Is Linea Nigra?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 23, 2023
4 min read

When you’re pregnant, your body goes through many changes. This is especially true of the skin on your belly as it stretches to accommodate your growing baby. Linea nigra is one of those common pregnancy skin conditions. Many women who are pregnant experience a dark line that appears vertically down the front of their belly. 

More than 90% of women experience a change in their skin during pregnancy. Some women even report having healthier skin during pregnancy. Since each woman and pregnancy are different, there are many variables to consider when addressing skin changes. 

Doctors categorize pregnancy skin conditions into three groups: 

  • Physiologic changes in skin
  • Pre-existing conditions that change with pregnancy
  • Specific changes that are directly related to the condition of pregnancy

Linea nigra means “black line” in Latin, and that’s exactly what it is. It is caused by hyperpigmentation that often occurs during pregnancy and is harmless. It will slowly fade on its own after you give birth and your hormones return to normal. 

When you first notice a dark line developing down your belly, it may frighten you. But if you pay attention, you may notice other areas of skin on your body darkening, too. Other skin affected includes:

  • Nipples and areola
  • Vaginal skin
  • Freckles
  • Scars

You may even notice that these areas of skin seem to enlarge, or the darkness spreads. Just like linea nigra, this hyperpigmentation is directly related to your hormones changing and will go away on its own.

Anyone can develop a dark line down their belly, although women with fair skin are less likely to have it than women with darker complexions. Women with fair skin who develop linea nigra may experience development a comparatively lighter color than women with darker skin. This is because there is less skin pigmentation present to begin with. 

Linea nigra is specifically caused by increased levels of MSH (melanocyte-stimulating hormone), estrogen, or progesterone during pregnancy. As those levels return to normal following birth, your skin will, too. It may take up to a few months for your linea nigra to fade completely following birth.

Can I treat linea nigra? Unfortunately, there is nothing that can treat or prevent linea nigra. While lotion and skincare help with other conditions like stretch marks, linea nigra is caused by hormone changes during pregnancy. If the line hasn't faded within three months of giving birth, talk to your doctor.

Stretch marks. Probably the most prominent skin condition during pregnancy, these marks appear as your skin stretches to accommodate your growing belly. Your stretch marks may be thin or thick, dark or light. It all depends on your genetics and how well you care for your skin.

Since stretch marks can be itchy and painful, it's important to use a good moisturizer to alleviate any symptoms you experience. By using a good moisturizer from the beginning of your pregnancy, you may be able to reduce the number of stretch marks you have and their severity. Keep in mind that stretch marks don’t just happen on your belly — they can also appear on your breasts, sides, back, and legs.

Melasma. Very similar to the hyperpigmentation that occurs in linea nigra, melasma is a condition in which your face develops dark spots. These spots often resemble sun spots and aren’t usually a reason to worry. They will begin to fade once you give birth to your baby.

Breakouts and acne. Unfortunately, an imbalance in hormones can also lead to acne during pregnancy. For some women, it can be severe and painful. Before beginning an acne regimen, talk to your doctor. Many acne cleansers and moisturizers have strong ingredients. These ingredients are absorbed by your body and may pass to your baby inside the womb.

Varicose veins. Blood flow increases by up to 50% during pregnancy. While this is the reason for that motherly glow that many people may compliment you on, it also causes varicose veins to appear on your legs. These are thick blue veins that may be uncomfortable or even painful.
When you’re sitting down, try to prop your feet up. Avoid standing or walking for long periods of time since this can increase your symptoms. You can also wear support stockings that promote good circulation in your legs, alleviating some symptoms of varicose veins.

Skin tags. These small, fleshy flaps of skin often appear in the folds of your body. Since your body is growing quickly during pregnancy, there is more opportunity for skin tags to appear. If they don’t disappear after you give birth, they are easy to remove.