Tanning While Pregnant: Is It Dangerous?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan PhD, MSN , CNE,COI on March 18, 2016Written by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN on March 18, 2016
Tanning

When I was pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I planned a babymoon to the Bahamas. It was during the middle of December, and my skin was paler than usual because I was puking all the time from morning sickness.

Even though I was five months pregnant, I wondered if it would be safe to go tanning for a few sessions to get my base tan for the trip. Is it dangerous to go tanning while pregnant?

Here’s a look at the risks of going tanning during pregnancy and the safest ways to get a glow.

Is Tanning Safe During Pregnancy?

There’s no clear evidence that tanning — either outside or in a tanning bed — will directly harm your baby-to-be. Whether you tan outside or inside, the ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the same, although in a tanning bed it’s more concentrated.

But UV radiation, especially from indoor tanning, is the leading cause of skin cancer. It also causes serious complications like premature aging and wrinkles.

People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. Tanning literally damages your DNA and prompts your body to put out a "defense" response to the radiation. This is why your skin gets darker in the first place.
Bottom line: Tanning is dangerous.

Risks of Tanning During Pregnancy

One concern about UV radiation exposure during pregnancy is that UV rays can break down folic acid. Folic acid is a crucial building block that your baby needs to develop a healthy nervous system.

Your baby is the most susceptible to negative effects from ultraviolet (UV) radiation during your first trimester and at the beginning of the second trimester. The foundation for brain development is being laid during this time.

The highest risk period for the fetus is during organogenesis, which is two to seven weeks after conception. The early period (eight to 15 weeks after conception) is also considered a high-risk time.

UV radiation may be harmful for your baby. One study found that babies born to women in Australia who were exposed to higher levels of UV radiation during their first trimesters had higher rates of multiple sclerosis.

Considerations About Tanning During Pregnancy

Keep in mind that if you tan during pregnancy, your skin may be more sensitive to the effects of radiation. This is due to pregnancy hormones. It’s the case whether you go to a tanning bed or get a tan indirectly by forgetting to wear sunscreen outside.

Some women develop chloasma during pregnancy. This condition causes dark patches on the skin commonly called "the mask of pregnancy.” Sun exposure usually makes chloasma worse, so any type of tanning while pregnant may trigger or worsen chloasma.

Is Self-Tanning Lotion Pregnancy-Safe?

Self-tanning lotions are generally considered safe during pregnancy. The main chemicals in self-tanners don't absorb past the first layer of skin.

Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) is the chemical used in self-tanning lotions to make a brown pigment on the skin. Doctors don't know for sure, but DHA is thought to stay only on the first layer of skin, so it doesn't actually absorb in a way that could reach your baby. It's always best to check with your doctor before using a self-tanning product.
While self-tanning lotions may be safe during pregnancy, you’ll want to avoid spray tans. The chemicals used in the spray could reach your baby if you breathe them in.

The Takeaway

Pregnant women can't avoid all types of radiation exposure. For example, they’ll be exposed to a small amount during their ultrasounds. But the key is to understand the risk, and to limit any unnecessary UV radiation exposure.

If you must get a tan over the next nine months, your best bet is to reach for a pregnancy-safe self-tanning lotion. Tanning beds are never a good idea, whether you’re pregnant or not. Instead, the safest option is to skip the base tan and show off your natural pregnancy glow. 

Chaunie Brusie
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