Is it Risky to Tan During Pregnancy?

Tan skin is attractive. However, it's not really an aesthetic response: the darkening is due to a measure of protection against ultraviolet rays. Therefore, excessive tanning can have severe consequences. So, is it safe to tan during pregnancy?
Is it Risky to Tan During Pregnancy?

Last update: 19 April, 2021

Sun and health go hand in hand, so it may seem a little strange to ask if it’s risky to get a tan during pregnancy. Well, the short answer is it can be if it becomes an activity that you do in excess without understanding the scope and limits.

Short-wave ultraviolet (UVB) and long-wave ultraviolet (UVA) rays have effects on the skin depending on their intensity and length. In this regard, we know that the skin under the action of UVB rays produces vitamin D3, essential for bone structure. However, only 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure is necessary to achieve its benefits.

Tanning requires more time and care. And if doing it under the sun involves risks and requires maximum caution, then tanning beds are completely out of the question.

In this article, we’ll explain the reasons why.

Why do we tan?

Tanning is a reaction of the skin to protect itself from the action of short-wave ultraviolet or UVB rays. The ozone layer intercepts this radiation, but the climate crisis has affected it and the incidence of these rays on the earth’s surface has increased.

The skin captures them and the natural response, when they pass through the epidermis, is darkening–a product of melanin. This is a biopolymer produced by melanocytes, which are present in the deepest layer of the epidermis (or stratum basale).

Melanin, which absorbs up to 99% of the sun’s rays, is deposited in the keratinocytes, the cells that form the skin. It’s here that it accumulates around the cell nucleus to protect the DNA from possible mutations due to the effects of solar radiation.

Extending sun exposure time means exceeding this natural barrier and moving from an attractive tan to a burn.

Is it risky to tan during pregnancy?

A woman sitting on the beach with a sun made of sunscreen on her shoulder.
Tanning’s basically a defense reaction of the body. It’s a way of protecting oneself from UV rays.

In general, tanning isn’t recommended. The excitement of summer, the feeling of freedom, and the idea that a little more won’t harm us can have serious repercussions. However, taking all precautions and being aware of the risks, a little sun will do you and the baby good.

The sun helps synthesize vitamin D, which contributes to the absorption of calcium, thus helping to strengthen the bones of both the mother and the baby, who receives calcium through the placenta. Vitamin D requirements increase by up to 300% due to the mineralization of the bones of the fetus.

At the same time, exposure to the sun for a maximum of half an hour doesn’t necessarily imply tanning. Receiving its light in the morning hours, before 11 o’clock, or in the afternoon after 17 o’clock, is already healthy. But tanning, besides its aesthetic appeal, is a response to solar radiation and its intensity will depend more on the type of skin than on the sun you receive.

If the skin is very white before tanning, it burns; therefore, to protect yourself you’d need a protection factor between 20 and 50. If your skin’s fair, it’ll tan gradually and the protection factor should be between 15 and 20.

Darker skin, on the other hand, tans quickly. Very dark skin tans deeply. In these cases, sunscreens range from 10 and 15 to 4 and 10, respectively. In short, without adequate protection, we shouldn’t expose ourselves to ultraviolet rays.

Possible consequences if you tan during pregnancy

During pregnancy, the skin becomes more sensitive, due to the increase in hormones and a greater blood supply. If UV exposure is a concern, it’s reasonable to consider it risky to tan during pregnancy.

Chloasma

Also called melasma, these are dark-colored spots caused by the increased production of progesterone. They’re usually seen on the face (upper lip, cheekbones, and forehead). The intensity will depend on the time in the sun.

Darker skins are more prone to their appearance. Once it appears, it’s very difficult to make it disappear.

Melanoma

This is a type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes grow out of control. Among the causes are genetic predisposition and sun exposure. It’s more frequent in white skin, very freckled skin, and in redheads.

Spina bifida

Exposure to ultraviolet rays causes overheating, which can affect the development of the baby’s spine. It also leads to a decrease in folic acid, increasing the risk of spina bifida.

The reason is that folic acid is sensitive to sunlight and degrades, especially under the action of the sun’s rays.

Tanorexia

For all of the above reasons, exposing oneself to the sun without being careful and with an obsessive eagerness to get tan can be an indication of tanorexia. An obsession with being brown can lead pregnant women to undergo sessions in tanning beds with a higher concentration of rays than natural and more aggressive.

We’ve already seen that the sun is, from every point of view, healthy at the appropriate times and moments. But, if we want to look tan, exposure to the sun isn’t the only solution.

Some special creams combine their active ingredients with keratin and other proteins in the superficial layers of the skin. Therefore, they produce a tan without melanin that adjusts to your aesthetic desire.

A woman laying out at the beach with a bottle of tanning oil next to her.
The obsession with tanning can be described as tanorexia. It’s a harmful and almost addictive practice.

We recommend you: Tanorexia: When Being Tan Becomes an Obsession

Tips to protect yourself from radiation during pregnancy

Within the care schemes dictated by common sense, such as the use of sunscreens and choosing the recommended hours, your first day out in the sun shouldn’t go beyond 15 minutes.

If your summer stay is prolonged, you can increase by 10 minutes the following day. And so on for up to 10 days, if necessary; this works as a mechanism to prepare the skin to withstand the sun.

With this tanning method,  you’ll be protected in the immediate, but not from the long-term effects, such as skin cancer or premature aging. Tanning your skin can’t be a recurrent practice.

By the way, umbrellas or sitting in the shade are no good, because sand and water act as mirrors that multiply irradiation. And the risk lies in being exposed while believing that we’re protected. The burns will appear later.

Yes, it’s risky to tan during pregnancy

If you can’t avoid going beyond 11 a.m. and you find lying in the sun or under an umbrella irresistible, then yes, it’s risky to tan during pregnancy.

In this case, sunscreens are of vital importance. All exposed areas of your body must be thoroughly protected.

You should apply them 30 to 60 minutes before exposure, in sufficient quantity. After bathing or sweating, sunscreen needs to be reapplied.

It doesn’t matter if the packaging says it’s water-resistant. If more than three hours of sun exposure have gone by, reapply. No precaution is too insignificant when it comes to protecting your skin and especially the healthy development of your baby.

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