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 nothing could be further from the truth. When you add pregnancy to the mixture, it can become even more dangerous. The problem is that sunlight is also the way that we get vitamin D, which is needed for a healthy body. The trick is to find a way to get the vitamin D we need without increasing the risks from too much sun exposure.

Risks of Sunbathing While Pregnant

In addition to the risks of regular sunbathing, like sunburn and skin cancer, sunbathing while pregnant adds a whole new dimension.

  • Exposure to the sun can increase the core temperature of the pregnant woman. You could more easily become dehydrated which would lead to symptoms of preterm labor. This, in turn, can elevate the temperature of the fetus, which can cause brain damage if raised high enough or long enough.
  • While pregnant, the estrogen in your body actually can increase the risk of chloasma or mask of pregnancy and other sun exposures when exposed to the sun and its UV rays. These darkened spots, usually on the forehead and across the nose, may or may not retreat after pregnancy.
  • Exposure to the sun, particularly on that results in sunburn, can increase the risk of cancer (melanoma).

Artificial Tanning

The answer for those who want a bronzed body might appear to be artificial tanning. But considering the fact that tanning beds and self-tanners have been around a relatively short period of time and have even fewer studies of their effects, particularly as it relates to pregnancy, the jury is out.

Many health care providers suggest that pregnant women err on the side of caution and avoid artificial tanning methods, such as self-tanners or tanning beds.

Tanning Beds

While tanning beds reduce the risks of overheating, there are the same risks of pregnancy skin problems and the usual risks of sun-related disorders. The ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the beds still increases the rate of aging of the skin and substantially increases the risks of skin cancer.

Self-Tanning Products

Tanning creams, or self-tanning lotions, are another product that is pushed hot and heavy during the summer and winter months. The active ingredient is commonly dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is absorbed through the skin. Because of the exposure to the skin, the DHA is absorbed and crosses through the placenta to the baby. Amounts of transmission to the baby will vary, depending on the amount applied, the frequency of application, and if there are any open areas of skin (abrasions, sores, etc.). The use of these products does not provide protection from the ultraviolet rays of the sun, therefore, you must still use commercial sunscreen for protection.

Best 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 very important. The biggest of these precautions is drinking enough water and minimizing exposure to prevent overheating and using the proper sunscreen to minimize damage to your skin:

  • Avoid the middle part of the day
  • Wear loose, light clothing to cover your skin
  • Large floppy hats and sunglasses will protect your eyes, ears, and face
  • Wear appropriate and approved sunscreens in pregnancy
  • Talk to your doctor or midwife about Vitamin D supplementation
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Article 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.
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  2. Bolanca I, Bolanca Z, Kuna K, et al. Chloasma--the mask of pregnancy. Coll Antropol. 2008;32 Suppl 2:139-141.

  3. Hoel DG, Berwick M, de Gruijl FR, Holick MF. The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermatoendocrinol. 2016;8(1):e1248325. doi:10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325

  4. 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

  5. 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.