You like to keep your skin tanned. You do it regularly, especially if it is the summertime or you are going on a holiday. During pregnancy, stress and morning sickness might make your skin look paler, giving you another reason to get your skin tanned.
But, can you go for tanning during pregnancy? What are the risks involved and the precautions to take? This MomJunction post answers all these questions and more on tanning while pregnant.
Can You Go For Tanning When Pregnant?
It is good to avoid overexposure to the sun or the sunbeds during pregnancy, especially if you have sensitive skin. The ultraviolet radiation could increase the risk of skin cancer, premature aging, and wrinkles (1).
During pregnancy, your skin becomes more sensitive than before, making it more vulnerable to the risks of tanning.
Risks Of Tanning During Pregnancy
The process of tanning involves UV radiations, overexposure to which can pose a risk to you.
- Could cause skin cancer: Severe exposure to the sun could increase the risk of skin cancer as you receive more UV radiation than your body could hold. Same is the case with indoor tanning where UV radiations are even more concentrated (2).
- Causes premature aging: Referred to as photoaging, exposure to UV rays breaks down the elastin and collagen fibers, and leads to loosened folds and wrinkles. Frequent tanning could, therefore, result in pigmentation, leathery skin texture and dark spots, all being the symptoms of premature aging (3).
- Aggravates melasma: The common pigmentation disorder causes brown/ gray patches on the skin. The patches appear due to pregnancy hormones and can worsen with excess exposure to the sun. If you have melasma, tanning will aggravate the condition (4).
- Increases skin sensitivity: Pregnancy hormones make your skin sensitive. The radiation might make the skin more sensitive and cause photosensitive reactions (5).
- Causes birth defects in babies: UV rays can break down folic acid that is an essential nutrient for the development of the baby’s nervous system. Getting tanned in the first two trimesters could increase the risk of neural tube defects in the baby (6). The highest risk period for the fetus is during organogenesis, which is six to ten.
- Leads to dehydration: As you sweat more during tanning, it could increase your risk of dehydration (7), especially if you do not drink enough water.
Instead of direct exposure to sunlight or UV rays, you may opt for safer options such as artificial tanners.
Self-Tanners During Pregnancy
These are used as an alternative to sun tanning but there is no information on their safety during pregnancy.
The active components in it react with dead skin cells to darken the skin, thus resembling a tan. Most of the self-tanners available in the market contain an active component, Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) approved by the FDA. It is a skin coloring agent extracted from plant sources such as sugar cane and sugar beets.
Researchers believe that DHA cannot penetrate beyond the first layer of skin, and therefore may not harm the fetus. According to studies, only 0.5% of DHA is absorbed by the skin and it is too low to cause any danger to the fetus (8).
Tips To Use Self-Tanners
- Wax and exfoliate before tanning to apply the self-tanner on the fresh skin layer.
- Do not take a shower for at least seven to eight hours after tanning.
- Avoid using harsh products and those containing alcohol as they fade away the tan.
- Avoid using sprays as you may accidentally inhale DHA that could be harmful to the baby.
- Apply gentle skin moisturizer regularly to extend the life of the tan.
While you may try self-tanners occasionally, there are certain tanning methods that you need to avoid during pregnancy.
Tanning Methods To Avoid During Pregnancy
These tanning methods could be risky:
- Tanning beds: Tanning beds elevate the core body temperature due to the enclosed space. Temperatures can rise to such an extent that they affect the womb and cause spinal malformations in the baby (9). The effect is the same as saunas.
- Tanning pills: Self-tanning pills contain high levels of color-based components such as carotenoids or canthaxanthins. Salons also offer tanning injections called melanotan. Neither the pills nor the injections are safe during pregnancy (10).
- Beach tanning: Concerns with beach tan are the same as tanning beds. Exposure to the sun for a long time causes hives and heat rashes on the body. Though drinking enough water, applying sunscreen, and wearing a hat and shades might help when the sun is not intense, it is good to avoid it during pregnancy (11).
If you have a strong urge to get beach-tanned during pregnancy, you need to take some precautions.
Precautions To Take While Beach-tanning
Here are a few precautions you may take while getting beach-tanned:
- Apply a sunscreen of SPF level between 30 and 50, around 20 minutes before tanning.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes from harmful UV rays.
- Do not go to the beach when the sun is intense (from 10am to 3pm) since UV radiations are concentrated at this time.
- Do not get exposed to sunlight for a prolonged time at a stretch.
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Do not stay under the direct sun rays as it can cause sunstroke and burn the skin.
- Do not eat a lot, and do not starve either. Both heavy feeling and hunger could cause dizziness.
- Wear loose clothes made of natural light fabrics that allow air circulation.
Tanning is not a part of a necessary beauty regimen. Therefore, see if you can postpone it until after your delivery. Remember that yours and your baby’s health is more important than any cosmetic upgrades during pregnancy. In fact, bask in the glory of pregnancy glow rather than trying something artificial like tanning. But if you strongly want to get tanned, then try some less harmful fake tans.
What is your take on tanning during pregnancy? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below.
2. What are the risk factors for skin cancer; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018)
3. The risks of tanning; U.S. Food and Drug Administration
4. Unmasking the causes and treatments of melasma; Harvard Health Publishing (2018)
5. Health effects of tanning; Boston University Medical Campus
6. Jablonski NG; A possible link between neural tube defects and ultraviolet light exposure; Med Hypotheses (1999)
7. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph; Pregnancy precautions: FAQs; Wake Forest Baptist Health (2013)
8. Self-tanners, tanning pills, tanning booths and pregnancy; Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (2010)
9. Frequently asked questions for obstetrics patients; Baylor College of Medicine Obstetrics & Gynecology
10. Is it safe to use fake tan during pregnancy; NHS (2018)
11. Are sunbeds safe to use during pregnancy; NHS (2018)