Tanning During Pregnancy: Safety, Risks And Precautions

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Little is known about the effects of tanning during pregnancy on the mother or baby. Paler skin due to stress and morning sickness in pregnancy may be why some women think of tanning, either through sunlight or tanning beds. Pregnant women may have increased skin sensitivity to sunlight, and tanning could lead to skin irritation problems such as itching and rashes. There can also be a risk of increasing body temperature due to excess sun exposure. So, you may choose tanning with caution during pregnancy.

Read on to know more about the risks and other factors related to tanning during pregnancy.

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.

  1. 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).
  1. 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).
  1. 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).
  1. Increases skin sensitivity: Pregnancy hormones make your skin sensitive. The radiation might make the skin more sensitive and cause photosensitive reactions (5).
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Will I tan faster while pregnant?

Yes. Some women have reported that they tan faster during pregnancy (12). It may be because pregnancy makes the skin more sensitive (13).

2. Can sun tanning cause miscarriage?

No studies conclusively prove that sun tanning can harm your baby. However, overheating your body may lead to complications in the baby (13).

It is safe to avoid tanning during pregnancy since you may face skin sensitivity issues. Also, the tanning process uses UV rays to darken the skin tone. UV rays may destroy folic acid, a vital nutrient for a fetus, increasing the risk of congenital anomalies in babies. However, if pale skin is bothering you, you may use a self-tanner to darken your skin tone after consulting a medical professional. Follow the application procedure as prescribed by your doctor. Also, check the ingredient list and only opt for tanners that do not contain any harmful substances.

Key Pointers

  • If you are pregnant and are keen to try tanning, it is wise to comprehend this process’s risks, safety aspects, and precautions.
  • Your skin might turn sensitive during pregnancy, putting you at more risk of side effects of tanning. • Avoid harsh products, bathing for at least 8 hours, and apply gentle moisturizers routinely after self-tanning.
  • However, tanning methods such as tanning pills and beds must be avoided during pregnancy.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. By the way, doctor: Is a tanning bed safer than sunlight?; Harvard Health Publishing
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)
12. Common concerns in early pregnancy; The Royal Women’s Hospital
13. Pregnancy and Tanning; American Pregnancy Association
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Shikha Thakur

Shikha is a writer-turned-associate editor at MomJunction. Having done a certification in Relationship Coaching, her core interest lies in writing articles that guide couples through their courtship to marriage and parenthood. She also specializes in baby names. Being a postgraduate in Human Resources from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, she likes understanding people and their relationships. This reflects in her relationship... more

Dr. Erica Montes

(MD)
Dr. Erica Montes is a Fellow of the American College of OB/GYN. She specializes in minimally invasive surgical procedures having done her training in the daVinci Robotic Surgical System. The Texas-based doctor has keen interest in high-risk obstetrics, gynecologic surgery, and abnormal uterine bleeding. She won the "Arizona Big Shot" award from the Arizona Partnership for Immunization in 2014, in... more

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