Why You Should Skip Tanning While Pregnant (Plus Safe Alternatives)

How to safely get a tan when you're rocking a baby bump.
Sun exposure during pregnancy is safe when you take precautions:

Use pregnancy safe, non-toxic sunscreen of SPF 30, cover yourself when possible with clothing and broad brimmed hats, avoid peak sun hours, stay in the shade and hydrate often.

When it comes to using the sun’s rays for cosmetic purposes, to get that coveted golden glow, you may want to think twice before exposing yourself to sunshine when you have safer alternatives for you and your baby.

Given that all babies start with a 3-5% chance of developing a birth defect according to the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), sun tanning presents unnecessary risks that could harm the development of your healthy baby.

  • Spina Bifida: Research by the International Life Sciences Institute showed that Ultraviolet (UV) light caused folic acid degeneration. This is especially dangerous in the first trimester when a folic acid deficiency puts your baby at risk for developing physical deformities such as spina bifida. This neural tube defect effects 7 out of 10,000 live births in the United States per year according to the American Pregnancy Association.
  • Multiple Sclerosis: Another study in Australia found a relationship between maternal exposure to UV radiation in the month of conception and multiple sclerosis.

Beauty to Beast

Hormones changes during pregnancy cause an array of unique skin conditions, as described by the American Pregnancy Association, including extra sensitivity to the sun.

Instead of developing a gorgeous glow you could worsen melasma and chlosma or what is referred to as “Pregnancy Mask”.

During pregnancy dark spots appear most commonly on the forehead, cheeks and upper lip due to increased pigmentation. These spots typically disappear postpartum or after breast feeding but sun damage can darken these spots permanently.

Lightening Agents to Treat Hyperpigmentation

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information lightening agents, such as hydroquinone, used to treat this condition are not recommended during pregnancy and breast feeding. While sunscreen used to prevent this condition and sunless tanners used as an alternative to sun tanning present no danger to pregnant women.

Are self-tanners safe when pregnant?

Sunless tanners do not damage your skin or tissue. The active ingredients react with dead skin cells on the surface to temporarily darken the skin and simulate a tan.

  • What’s in self-tanners? The active ingredient in FDA approved self-tanning lotions, gels, cloths and sprays is dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA is a non-harmful skin-coloring agent derived from plant sources such as sugar beets and sugar cane. Products bought in stores typically contain 3-5% DHA whereas professional products contain 5-15% DHA according to OTIS.
  • Is it safe? It is well documented that only 0.5% of DHA is absorbed through the skin and that this amount of DHA is safe during pregnancy even if it crosses the placenta. However, the danger of spray tanning is the possibility of absorbing an unsafe amount of this chemical through your mouth, nose and lungs while breathing or through unprotected membranes like your eyes. For these reasons, spray tans are discouraged in favor of a direct skin application of the product.

Tips on Self-Tanning

The coloring typically wears off after a few days, so wax beforehand and exfoliate so that the self-tanner can be applied to the freshest layer of skin.

Avoid exercise or showering for 7-8 hours after tanning and the use of harsh products, especially those containing alcohol that will cause your tan to fade.

You can extend the life of your tan by using moisturizer, especially if the moisturizer contains sunless tanner, gentle skin products and staying hydrated.

Tanning beds and pills: methods that are a definite no.

  • Tanning pills: Tablets containing the active ingredient canthaxanthin known as self-tanning pills are not approved by the FDA. Side effects from these include eye damage, liver damage, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, severe itching, and welts. Since they are not considered safe for general consumption they are especially hazardous to pregnant women.
  • Tanning beds: In addition to the concentration of UV light, according to the Mayo Clinic the elevated core body temperature that comes from the intense heat in the enclosed space of a tanning bed can lead to spina bifida. Spending extended time lying on your back in a tanning bed is also dangerous. The pregnancy weight on your uterus from lying on your back could slow blood flow to your heart, reducing blood flow to the fetus, thus giving baby less access to oxygen and nutrients according to Dr. Richard Henderson from St Francis Hospital in Wilmington, DE.

Make it up: Safe alternatives.

While self-tanners provide an alternative to the harmful effects of the sun, if you’re concerned about any chemical exposure whatsoever, some pro tips makeup application may be enough to get you through these 10 months and those first weary months of motherhood.

  • Foundation: Editorial makeup artist Pat McGrath suggests that changing your foundation is the key to “Makeup Math”, where finding a color two shades darker and warmer than your natural skin tone creates a middle ground for foundation and bronzer to meet for a more natural and blended look.
  • Powder bronzer: McGrath insists on using a bronzer that is not too strong and an expert at a beauty counter can help find the perfect match for you or if you’re purchasing a product over the counter, look for one that is just two shades darker than your skin tone. Apply bronzer to where the sun naturally hits your face: the apples of your cheeks, forehead and bridge of your nose using either a dense bronzing brush or a blush brush.
  • Liquid bronzer: The beauty experts at Glamour Magazine have found multiple uses for liquid bronzer: apply directly to contour cheekbones, mix with foundation or facial moisturizer for a healthy glow or add to body moisturizer for an all-over tan. There are many beautiful and lasting liquid bronzers that are specifically for the body according to Harper’s Bazaar.

For all the time we spend tending to what we must and must not do to have a healthy pregnancy for the sake of our baby, it’s equally important to carve out time to care for yourself.

Attending to your appearance isn’t selfish or unimportant if it boosts your confidence and makes you feel beautiful inside and out.

Self-care is not an issue of vanity because sometimes it’s the little things that make us feel whole when we’re in a whirlwind of change.

  1. I used to manage a tanning salon, and never got a real answer as to whether or not it was safe to tan while pregant. I heard during the first trimester it was ok, I’ve heard being in a Standup bed was ok, and I have also heard no tanning at all. I am a huge tanner and would like to know if I’m still ok to tan.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this!! I used to work at a tanning salon and tanning has become a large part of my life. Some women just don’t understand the need to give up tanning while pregnant, and some of these women are people I am friends with! And thank you for giving alternatives; I hate to be the bad guy and not let a woman get her bronze on but there are STILL ways.

  3. Hi Mickayla!
    Happy to help! I always want pregnant women to feel BEAUTIFUL. It’s hard. Your tired, hungry, hormonal, achy…so feeling pretty is hard. But I think the natural glow is underestimated. It’s the luminousity of hope for the life you’re bringing to this world.

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