Safety of Sunbathing While Pregnant

Pregnant woman sunbathing next to pool
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Having a tan was once considered a healthy look, but that was before we knew about the health risks of too much sun exposure. If you're pregnant, getting too much sun can even more dangerous.

While sunlight is an important way that we get vitamin D to keep our bodies healthy, getting too much sun can have health consequences—some of which are serious.

Here's what you should know about the risks of sun exposure or tanning while you are pregnant. You'll need to balance these risks with your body's need for vitamin (and that's true even for people who are not pregnant).

Risks of Sunbathing While Pregnant

The risks of regular sunbathing (like sunburn and skin cancer) also exist when you are pregnant. However, sunbathing while you are pregnant adds a new dimension of risk that you need to consider.

  • Cancer risk. Exposure to the sun, particularly if it results in sunburn, can increase your risk of skin cancer (melanoma).
  • Raised body temperature. Sun exposure can raise core body temperature. When you're pregnant, you can become dehydrated more easily, which could lead to symptoms of preterm labor. When mom's body temperature rises, so can the temperature of the fetus. If raised high enough or for long enough, elevated body temperature can cause fetal brain damage.
  • Skin changes. During pregnancy, the estrogen in your body can increase your risk of chloasma (mask of pregnancy) when you are exposed to the sun and its ultraviolet radiation (UV) rays. The darkened spots (which usually appear on the forehead and across the nose) may or may not go away after pregnancy.

Artificial Tanning

Tanning beds and self-tanners have been around a relatively short period of time, so there are few studies on their short- and longterm effects—particularly as it relates to pregnancy.

Many health care providers suggest that pregnant women avoid artificial tanning methods (including self-tanners or tanning beds).

Tanning Beds

Even though tanning beds reduce the risk of overheating, they still carry the risk of pregnancy skin problems and sun-related disorders. The UV light from tanning beds increases the rate of skin aging and substantially increases skin cancer risk.

Self-Tanning Products

Tanning creams, or self-tanning lotions, are another product heavily marketed during the summer and winter months.

The active ingredient in these products is commonly dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is absorbed through the skin. Through maternal skin exposure, DHA is absorbed and crosses the placenta to the baby.

The amount of DHA transmission to the fetus varies depending on how much is applied, the frequency of application, and whether there are open areas of skin (such as abrasions or sores)

DHA products do not provide protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays. You still need to use commercial sunscreen for UV protection.

Advice for Pregnant Women

In the end, the big question is one that must be answered by the individual. Despite years of research and warnings, millions of people all over the world are dedicated sun worshipers. For many, pregnancy will not change this.

Taking precautions and understanding the risks is important. Drink enough water and minimize sun exposure to prevent overheating, and make sure you are using proper sunscreen to minimize skin damage.

Here are a few other steps you can take:

  • Avoid going out during the middle part of the day
  • Buy a large, floppy hat and sunglasses that protect your eyes, ears, and face
  • Look for appropriate and approved sunscreens for use in pregnancy
  • Talk to your doctor or midwife about vitamin D supplementation
  • Wear to loose, light clothing that covers your skin
4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kuehn L, McCormick S. Heat Exposure and Maternal Health in the Face of Climate Change. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(8). doi:10.3390/ijerph14080853

  2. Bolanca I, Bolanca Z, Kuna K, et al. Chloasma--the mask of pregnancy. Coll Antropol. 2008;32 Suppl 2:139-141.

  3. Nilsen LTN, Aalerud TN, Hannevik M, Veierød MB. UVB and UVA irradiances from indoor tanning devices. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2011;10(7):1129-1136. doi:10.1039/c1pp05029j

  4. Gallagher M. Exposure to Dihydroxyacetone in Sunless Tanning Products: Understanding the Risks. Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association. 2017;10(1):11-17. doi:10.1097/JDN.0000000000000366

Additional Reading
  • Buck Louis GM, Kannan K, Sapra KJ, Maisog J, Sundaram R. Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Dec 15;180(12):1168-75. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu285. Epub 2014 Nov 13. Urinary concentrations of benzophenone-type ultraviolet radiation filters and couples' fecundity.
  • Handel AC, Lima PB, Tonolli VM, Miot LD, Miot HA. Br J Dermatol. 2014 Sep;171(3):588-94. doi: 10.1111/bjd.13059. Epub 2014 Aug 7. Risk factors for facial melasma in women: a case-control study.
  • Pérez-López FR, Pasupuleti V, Mezones-Holguin E, Benites-Zapata VA, Thota P, Deshpande A, Hernandez AV. Fertil Steril. 2015 May;103(5):1278-88.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.02.019. Epub 2015 Mar 23. Effect of vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy on maternal and neonatal outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.