What You Need to Know About Tanning During Pregnancy

Excited for the warm weather to be here soon, but worried about spending too much time in the sun now that you have a baby on the way? Planning a tropical babymoon and wondering if you can pre-tan to help prevent sunburn on your growing belly?

Sun-kissed skin may help you feel more beautiful and confident when you’re not feeling your finest, but protecting your skin, your health, and your growing baby is now your number one priority. You have to ensure that everything you do and consume is safe for pregnancy.

So, what about tanning? Is it safe for pregnancy or is it on the list of things to avoid?

In this post, we’ll talk about all about whether tanning is safe for pregnancy. We’ll cover sunbathing, tanning beds, and self-tanners, like lotions and spray tans. 


Is Sunbathing Safe During Pregnancy?

Soaking in some sun can be relatively safe during pregnancy. After all, the sun is our number one source of vitamin D and can protect against a number of diseases, prevent depression, and boost the immune system.

But, very little sun exposure is needed to provide you with your body’s and your baby’s needs. Plus, supplementation is always an option, and your prenatal vitamin may already have some vitamin D in it (source).

While there’s no clear evidence that natural ultraviolet (UV) rays will directly harm your baby, your skin might be more sensitive during pregnancy because of all the hormones flooding your body. You’re more susceptible now to sunburns and dark-brown splotches known as chloasma, which is also called “the mask of pregnancy.”

You’re at higher risk of dehydration during pregnancy, as your blood volume is much higher, making it more difficult for your body to retain fluids. You’re also at higher risk because you’re more prone to nausea and vomiting.

Beware

Dehydration can cause some serious complications for both you and your baby, such as overheating, muscle cramping, low amniotic fluid, and premature labor.

If you’re going to be spending time in the sun, make sure you’re drinking lots of water, and watch for any signs of dehydration, like dark urine, headaches, infrequent urination, dry mouth, and dry skin.

How Can I Protect My Skin?

It’s important you take some extra steps to protect your skin, yourself, and your baby while you’re out in the sun.

Protect your bump from too much sun by following these tips:

  • Avoid peak hours: The stronger the UV rays, the higher the risk you’re at for sun damage. UV rays are strongest when the sun is at its highest in the sky, so avoid or limit your time going out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Slather on the sunscreen: Be sure to slather on some sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours. Use it even if it’s cloudy out (source). But now that you’re expecting, you’ll want to avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, as this chemical readily absorbs into the skin and has been linked to low birth weight, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and hormone imbalance. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and have an SPF of 30 or higher are best to use during pregnancy (source).
  • Sport sun hats and sunglasses: Protect your sensitive scalp with a fashionable sun hat and protect your eyes with lenses that offer 100 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Wear protective clothing: If you can, wear loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothes that cover your arms and legs. There’s also clothing made with special sun protective fabric to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Stick to the shade: Make sure to get plenty of shade if you’re planning on being outside for an extended period or during peak hours.
Another downside of tanning the abdomen, in particular, is that, when the baby is born and the skin shrinks, the abdominal skin becomes much darker than the rest of the body so it looks unsightly. I’ve had patients do this who later regretted it.
Headshot of Christine Traxler, Medical Doctor

Editor's Note:

Christine Traxler, MD, BS
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Are Tanning Beds Safe for Pregnancy?

Indoor tanning beds are not a good idea whether you’re pregnant or not. The ultraviolet rays in tanning beds are more concentrated than what the sun provides, and the kind they use (UVA) has a clear link to skin cancer.

Several studies have shown that people who use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent (source). I don’t know about you, but that’s certainly not a risk I’m willing to take.

UVA rays can also cause premature skin aging, sun spots, blemishes, and damage to the eyes, such as conjunctivitis and cataracts. Your children are already going to give you wrinkles, so why add more?

UV rays could also break down folic acid, which is a crucial building block for developing your baby’s nervous system. Your baby is at higher risk of negative effects from UV rays during the first trimester, as this is when the foundation for brain development is being built (source).

Protecting Our Health

The dangers of tanning beds are now widely known, and policymakers are finally starting to take them more seriously. Sixteen U.S. states have banned the use of indoor tanning beds by minors, including California, Illinois, Texas, and Oregon (source). Brazil has even banned indoor tanning beds altogether.

But concentrated UV rays aren’t the only concern with indoor tanning. The extreme heat of tanning beds also poses a danger to pregnant women. If your body temperature rises above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, you could cause some serious developmental damage to your unborn baby.

You’re also not supposed to be lying on your back for a long period either, as this can restrict blood flow to your baby and leave you feeling dizzy, nauseous, and short of breath.

But Doesn’t Getting a Base Tan Help Protect Your Skin?

A base tan does help protect the skin but only does so minimally. Your skin is still going to get damaged if you don’t take any other precautions.

If you’re going on a beach babymoon, you’re much better off just slathering on some sunscreen and wearing a sunhat and sunglasses. They worked wonders for me on my babymoon.

Are Self-Tanners Pregnancy-Safe?

The evidence is unclear if self-tanners, such as lotions, gels, and sprays, are safe for pregnancy. Therefore, most providers recommend avoiding them during pregnancy.

The main concern is with dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the active ingredient in all tanning products which creates the brown pigment on the skin. Doctors don’t know for sure, but DHA is thought not to be able to make it past the first layer of skin.

Therefore, your body doesn’t absorb it in a way that could reach your baby. But again, this is uncertain.

And, as mentioned earlier, all the extra hormones make your skin more sensitive, so while lotions and gels may perhaps be safe, you’re more prone to allergic reactions and general irritation. If you do decide to use bottled tanning lotion during pregnancy, start by applying some in a small area to see how your body reacts before applying it everywhere.

Stay Away From Spray Tans

The real danger is with inhaling DHA, as this route has a much higher chance of reaching, and potentially harming, your baby. Therefore, you’ll definitely want to avoid spray tans while you’re expecting.

If you’re a beautician who does spray tan applications, make sure you wear a mask or speak with your boss about avoiding these for the remainder of your pregnancy.


Think Before You Bronze

So, is tanning safe during pregnancy?

Sunbathing might not harm your unborn baby, but you’re at higher risk for sunburns and dehydration now that you’re expecting.

What about lotions? Perhaps, but the facts aren’t clear.

And tanning beds and spray tans? Definite no-no’s. Your best bet is to skip the tanning altogether and embrace that pregnancy glow.

Remember, pregnancy is beautiful and natural, and it only lasts for a short while, so get out there and strut that baby bump! Bronzed or not.

Did you do any type of tanning during your pregnancy? If you avoided it, did you use other types of products to bronze your skin?

Share your experiences with us in the comments and be sure to share this post with other moms-to-be.

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