Tips for Avoiding Sunburn During Pregnancy

Avoiding sunburn while pregnant

Verywell / Jessica Olah

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Most people enjoy a day at the beach or the pool, where the warmth of the sun kisses their cheeks. While a little bit of sun provides much-needed vitamin D, too much is not good for anyone. And if you are pregnant, the risks increase.

Aside from skin cancer, pregnant people have a number of other risks to consider if they spend too much time in the sun. These include everything from burning more easily to becoming dehydrated and depleting folic acid stores.

Sunbathing Risks

When you are pregnant, the increased hormone levels coursing through your body cause your skin to become more sensitive and burn more easily. Your pigment-producing cells are in overdrive, causing your skin to be more susceptible to discoloration when exposed to the sun's UV rays.

Instead of a tan, you could wind up with a plethora of freckles or even melasma, gray-brown patches often found on the cheeks. Combine that with the fact that pregnancy alters the immune system, and you can see why the risk of developing skin cancer is escalated when you are pregnant if you do not take precautions.

Sunbathing also can drain the body of fluids causing you to become dehydrated and overheated. This lack of fluids can then cause undue stress, which in turn could lead to pre-term contractions. What's more, when your body is overheated, your core temperature is elevated, which could cause birth defects.

And finally, the UV rays of the sun can break down the folic acid in the body, which reduces the chance of birth defects. This is risky to your baby's neurological development, especially during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Take Precautions in the Sun

Despite the risks, many people simply cannot avoid being in the sun. Do not despair if this is your situation. As long as you take precautions, you should be fine. Even if you are just going to be outside for an hour or so, you still need to be careful and take steps to protect your skin.

Use Sunscreen As a Last Resort

Sunscreen should be your last line of defense against protecting your skin. Instead, cover your body. This includes wearing a hat, sunglasses and lightweight clothing that protects your skin from the sun's rays. Then, apply sunscreen as your final layer of protection.

Bring Plenty of Water

Keep your body cool and prevent overheating by drinking plenty of plain water. This also will help you stay hydrated.

Remember, you do not want your core temperature to become elevated. The best way to stay cool if you are going to be outside is to keep drinking water. You also may want to use a battery-powered fan to keep your body cool, especially if it is an exceptionally hot day.

Avoid the Sun During Peak Hours

If at all possible, try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Remember, the sun's rays are dangerous even for the healthiest people. If you find that you have to be in the sun when its rays are strongest, try to create a little shade for yourself and your unborn baby with a large umbrella.

Cover Your Bump

Because your protruding belly catches rays from every angle, there is a greater risk that it will get sunburned. Plus, if you do not want your linea nigra, or the pregnancy line that runs up and down on your belly, to get darker, you might want to cover it up by wearing a one-piece suit or tankini.

Choose a Sunscreen Wisely

The effect of the sun's UV rays on a person's skin is well documented. In addition to the potential for skin cancer, these harmful rays can also cause sunspots and premature aging. As a result, sunscreens are often the best option for blocking out these harmful rays.

Typically, sunscreens block UV rays with one of three ingredients—oxybenzone, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide. Of these, avoid oxybenzone during pregnancy. Unlike zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which lie on top of the skin, oxybenzone is absorbed into the skin and is often used to help other chemicals absorb into the skin, and it eventually ends up in the bloodstream.

Dangers of Oxybenzone

According to the Environmental Working Group, many sunscreens, body lotions, lip balms, and lipsticks contain oxybenzone. Not only has oxybenzone been linked to allergies, but it also has been known to damage cells and disrupt hormones.

In one study, researchers found traces of oxybenzone in 97% of the participants. Women and girls had the highest concentrations, presumably because they use skincare products more frequently.

Read the Label

Make sure your sunscreen does not list oxybenzone as an ingredient. This chemical, which readily absorbs into your skin, has been linked to low birth weights. It also is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases. Oxybenzone is also known to interfere with the body's hormones, which may, in turn, cause developmental problems in unborn babies.

Opt for Lotions Instead of Sprays

The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens has indicated that titanium dioxide is a possible carcinogen when inhaled in high doses. For this reason, the Environmental Working Group suggests avoiding sunscreen sprays. What's more, sprays make it too easy for you to miss a spot or to apply too little sunscreen.

Understand SPF Labels

It is tempting to let a super high SPF give you a false sense of security. But SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun's rays and SPF 50 blocks 98%. Regardless of the SPF that you choose, you still need to reapply at least every two hours and more if you are in and out of the water a lot.

Treating a Sunburn

Just like selecting sunscreens, be careful about what you put on your skin to treat a sunburn. Many products used to treat sunburns have lidocaine, which is a local anesthetic that numbs and cools the skin. Unfortunately, it is best to steer clear of any products containing this ingredient while pregnant.

Take a Cool Bath or Shower

Remember, your skin hurts because it has been burned and overheated. As a result, you might find some short-term relief by hopping into a cool tub or taking a shower with cool water. Although it won't make the pain go away indefinitely, it will provide some short-term relief.

Apply Aloe Vera

Pure aloe vera gel or oil works wonders on sunburns. And if you keep it in the fridge until you need it, it will provide extra cool relief. You also might want to consider buying an aloe vera plant and harvesting the oily substance directly from the plant. Not only is this plant ideal for treating sunburns, but it also is great for any type of burn or skin irritation.

Add Something Extra to Your Bath

Some dermatologists recommend adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar to a cool bath. When added to the cool water, the vinegar acts as an astringent to soothe your sunburn. Meanwhile, others recommend adding oatmeal to help soothe your burn.

Stay Calm

Remember that a sunburn is usually only skin deep. So, your unborn baby will likely not be affected by your burn. Fevers are rare when recovering from a sunburn, but if you do develop a fever of 100 degrees F or more, you should contact your doctor. Otherwise, rest and allow your skin to heal and avoid any further exposure to the sun until you are completely recovered.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, you do not have to stay indoors all the time simply because you are pregnant. You absolutely should get outside and enjoy the sun and the fresh air. You just have to make wise choices and take precautions to protect your skin and your unborn baby.

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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.