Tanning While Pregnant: Is It Safe Or Harmful?

Winter’s over, summer’s here, and you can’t wait for the first chance you get to go to the beach to get yourself some sun love and some much needed bronze skin. But then it hits you – you’re pregnant!

Or, you might just want to feel better about how you look and feel more confident in your own skin. All that morning sickness and pregnancy stress may have you looking paler than usual, so you decide to up your beauty game by getting a tan and – perhaps – a hair dye to add to it.

So, what’s the deal here? Can you go tanning while pregnant? Your “maternity glow” isn’t really bringing its A-game to the table, so you’re stepping up to do your part. Or will this need to be another item added to your pregnancy off-limits list because of potential dangers?

Let’s have a look.

Is It Okay To Tan While Pregnant?

If you want to err on the side of caution, it’s best that you avoid tanning while pregnant. The effects of exposure to excessive amounts of UV (ultraviolet) rays when pregnant are just not worth it.

If you decide to do the opposite, make sure you at least avoid any sort of tanning during your first trimester.

There’s nothing bad about being exposed to the sun while pregnant, as long as it’s within reasonable amounts. Excessive exposure for tanning purposes no longer falls within the category of reasonable amounts, which is where things can get dangerous very easily.

Does It Matter How I Do My Tanning?

In the context of tanning safety during pregnancy, no, it doesn’t really matter how you try to get your tanning done – it’s all the same.

Whether you’re doing indoor tanning and using a bed or tanning on the beach, the risks are quite similar and just not worth it when you’re expecting.

Why Should I Avoid Tanning While Pregnant?

1) Skin Cancer

Regardless of whether you’re bronzing during the context of a pregnancy or while not expecting, being exposed to the sun this way increases your chances of developing skin cancer with time. You’re getting hit by more UV (ultraviolet) radiation than your body can handle.

If you think it gets better when you’re tanning indoors by using a bed and that the risks are less serious, think again.

It’s actually worse inside a tanning bed, since the UV (ultraviolet) radiation that’s hitting your skin is even more concentrated than would be the case with you exposed to natural sunlight.

In other words, the risks of getting skin cancer from tanning beds indoor is actually higher than the risks of getting skin cancer from exposure to natural sunlight.

It’s not a coincidence that more and more states across the USA – and more and more countries across the world – are starting to ban the use of indoor tanning beds for certain age groups.

2) Advancing Aging

Besides skin cancer, you also have to worry about how these UV rays damage your skin by causing premature aging and wrinkles.

This whole pregnancy and parenting thing is going to take its toll on you real soon and make you look older than you actually are, so why further contribute to this and make things even worse?

3) Melasma

You should think a million times before getting a tan during pregnancy if you have Melasma.

Melasma, a condition that previously used to be referred to as Chloasma (or the mask of pregnancy), usually prevents itself as dark spots and patches on the face.

Pregnant women that already have Melasma have to be extra careful, since exposure to UV rays during tanning aggravates this condition.

And this is not something you want to mess around with, because these dark spots become incredibly more difficult to get rid of once aggravated by further sun damage.

4) Sensitive Skin

Pregnancy is a time where sensitivity is on the rise – your hormones are fluctuating all over the place, taking you on an emotional roller coaster and always keeping you guessing what’s going to happen next, and your skin becomes significantly more sensitive to sunlight exposure.

If you talk to your doctor, they’re more than likely to advise you to avoid excessive sunlight exposure during pregnancy and seek shade instead – not the other way around.

The same holds true for UV rays exposure from indoor tanning beds – your skin is also significantly more sensitive to these harmful rays during the course of a pregnancy because of hormonal fluctuations.

5) Harming The Baby

Even though there still isn’t any conclusive research to back up this claim, but experts believe that tanning in beds during pregnancy might cause harm to your unborn baby.

Because tanning beds tend to raise the body temperature of whoever sits inside for a set period of time, this increase in body temperature might lead to overheating, which – in turn – might cause birth defects in babies.

Experts warn that increasing body temperature levels beyond 102 degrees Fahrenheit can have adverse effects on an unborn baby’s health, something indoor tanning beds can easily achieve.

It’s also not just about the rise in body temperature – the position you’re in for prolonged periods of time at once inside tanning beds is risky enough on its own.

During pregnancy, experts advise that you keep up your blood circulation and stimulate it as much as possible – but laying on your back in a tanning bed for prolonged periods of time at once does exactly the opposite of that.

Such poor blood circulation can have adverse effects on your unborn baby because of insufficient oxygen supply and decreased transportation of nutrients to the fetus, and can leave you feeling nauseous.

6) Dehydration

When exposed to sunlight for tanning purposes, you’re going to sweat more than usual, which puts you at a risk of dehydration during pregnancy if you don’t make up for it in adequate amounts of water intake.

7) Multiple Sclerosis

Not enough research has been done on the relationship between these two to make a certain correlation, but one study conducted in Australia found that mothers who were exposed to UV rays during pregnancy – especially during their first trimester – went on to give birth to babies with higher rates of Multiple Sclerosis than normal.

Why Should I Avoid Any Sort Of Tanning During My First Trimester?

If you’re adamant on tanning during pregnancy, experts advise that you avoid doing so during the first trimester and at least wait until you reach your second trimester.

Why exactly should you be avoiding any of this during the first trimester? Because that’s when it’s easiest for UV radiation to break down folic acid in your body during a pregnancy.

Folic acid is responsible for preventing birth defects in babies, and a deficiency in folic acid ends up increasing the chances of defects in babies related to the spinal cord (spina bifida) and the brain.

All of this becomes of lower risk when you’re towards the middle of your second trimester, since the most important part of your baby’s brain development happens during the first trimester – but that’s not to say that the risks can, at that point, be dismissed.

How Do I Know If Something’s Wrong When I’m Tanning During Pregnancy?

If you experience any of the following symptoms while tanning during pregnancy, regardless of the tanning method you’re making use of at the time, you should stop immediately.

  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diziness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

The Safest Options You Might Want To Consider

Now that we’ve gone through why you should avoid classic tanning methods while pregnant – through direct exposure to sunlight or indoors by making use of a tanning bed – the good news is that not all hope is lost.

Bottles/Self Tanning Lotions

The safest option you might want to consider for your tanning needs during pregnancy is bottles (i.e self tanning lotions or sunless tanners).

You end up avoiding harmful UV rays from direct sunlight exposure and avoiding harmful side effects associated with tanning beds, and there’s all sorts of different types of products you get to choose from as well (lotions, creams and foam, for example).

With that being said, and even if you do end up going the sun-less route to get a tan while pregnant, experts still recommend that you don’t use these tanning products before you reach your second trimester.

If you use a self tanning lotion while still in your first trimester, make sure you’ve carefully went through the list of ingredients first and know that it doesn’t contain any harmful chemical whatsoever.

Specifically, most self tanning lotions on the market today contain an active ingredient called Dihydroxyacetone (DHA).

How much of this chemical is able to be absorbed deep into your skin is still up for debate by researchers, and not enough studies have been conducted about this to give a definitive answer.

Some experts believe that DHA doesn’t penetrate past your first layer of skin, and hence doesn’t pose any sort of danger to the baby you’re pregnant with.

The claim here is that only 0.5% of DHA in self tanning products can get absorbed through the skin, which is a very small percentage that barely poses any kind of danger to your unborn baby.

On the other hand, other experts believe – and argue – otherwise.

So, what should you do in situations of uncertainty such as this? Stay on the safe side and avoid using any self tanning lotion before you’re well into your second trimester.

By then, even if your skin does manage to absorb a significant amount of DHA that does end up reaching your unborn baby, the effects won’t be as bad as they would have been had you done this during your first trimester.

Also, a good rule of thumb to follow is to always check the percentage of DHA listed on any self tanning product you’re thinking of picking up before you purchase it and put it to use.

Not all self tanning products are alike – some contain between 3% to 5% DHA, while others can contain between 10% to 15% DHA.

Obviously, going with the one that contains lower levels of DHA is the safer (and smarter) option when erring on the side of caution.

No Spray Tanning

Speaking of self tanning options, one you’ll want to stay as far away from as possible is spray tans.

Not only do many women find it difficult to apply spray tanning products evenly and get the look they’re looking for, but spray tans also pose significant danger to your unborn baby.

These products contain harmful chemicals that you’ll inevitably be breathing in during application, chemicals which easily make their way (when inhaled) to the baby you’re pregnant with.

If you insist on using spray tans, at least wear appropriate gear (such as high quality masks) that prevent you from inhaling harmful DHA in the process.

Also make sure you cover your nose completely so you don’t smell any fragrance the spray might have – since that might make you nauseous and get you vomiting.

A word of caution for all pregnant women who haven’t tried self tanning products before: run a small test on your skin first. When you apply a small amount on a small area of your skin, you can monitor how your skin and body react to it before going all-in and applying the full amount.

If 24 hours pass and you don’t notice any adverse effects, you can most likely go ahead and apply the product on your skin in full doses without much risk.

No Tanning Pills

Whatever you end up doing, do NOT take any sort of tanning pills while pregnant. Not only are these self tanning tablets not approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), but they also contain an active ingredient called canthaxanthin that can wreak havoc on a pregnant woman’s body.

Experts warn of the dangers that canthaxanthin has on the human body in normal circumstances and outside the context of a pregnancy, so you can only imagine how more serious the situation is in the context of a pregnancy.

But What About My Vitamin D Intake?

When pregnant, many women consider going to the beach and soaking in the sun to up their vitamin D levels – thinking the boost will greatly benefit both them and their unborn baby.

In reality, though, that’s not really the case.

First things first, you don’t need that much exposure to direct sunlight to ensure enough vitamin D levels.

Also, exposure to direct sunlight isn’t the only way you can up your vitamin D levels. You can get more than enough vitamin D during pregnancy by following a proper diet and eating specific foods and by supplementing with vitamins (are you taking your prenatal vitamins?).

Take Your Precautions

If you’ve made up your mind about going to the beach while pregnant to get a tan, even after everything you’ve read so far, the choice is up to you to make – there really isn’t anything anyone out there can do to stop you.

The absolute least you can do to ensure your own well-being and that of your unborn baby, though, is to take your precautions.

For starters, first use an effective sunscreen that has an SPF level of anywhere between 30 to 50.

You should also ensure that any sunscreen you do apply on your body is pregnancy-safe, meaning it doesn’t contain any ingredients or harmful chemicals that might be absorbed into your skin and cause problems.

Take an appropriate hat with you, and appropriate sunglasses too. You might as well protect your eyes from the harmful UV rays while protecting your skin.

Avoid going to the beach during peak sunlight hours (between 10 A.M and 2 P.M), because that’s when the UV rays you’re getting exposed to are at their strongest – and able to deal your sensitive skin with the most possible damage.

While some experts advise avoiding direct sunlight exposure between 10 A.M and 2 P.M, others go the extra mile and advise avoiding direct sunlight exposure between 10 A.M and 4 P.M. It’s up to you and how safe you want to be.

Avoid being exposed to sunlight for excessive periods in one stretch. Seek shade any time there’s no real reason for you to be laying in the sun.

Drink enough water while you’re there so you avoid getting dehydrated.

And, last but not least, get your priorities straight – momma!

You look awesome and beautiful just the way you are right now, showing off your bump to the world and letting everyone know you’re caring for another human being inside of you.

Now is not the time for you to be worried about whether you’re bronzed enough or not, now is the time for you to take care of yourself and the unborn soul depending on you to the best of your abilities!

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