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Is Tanning Safe During Pregnancy?

Dianna Graveman |13, February 2012


Is Tanning Safe During Pregnancy?

According to the American Cancer Society, the Skin Cancer Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tanning--inside or outside--is not safe, regardless of whether you are pregnant. In fact, ask any medical health care professional, and you are likely to hear, "Tanning is bad for you."

But many women (and men) feel that a sun-kissed appearance makes them feel better and look better, and they are not willing to give up the rays. When a woman is pregnant and possibly already feeling a little self-conscious about her temporary change in appearance, it can be difficult to find the motivation to avoid the tanning bed or the beach.

According to the CDC, "indoor tanning exposes users to both UV-A and UV-B rays, which damage the skin and can lead to cancer. Using a tanning bed is particularly dangerous for younger users; people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 75% higher risk of melanoma."

The Skin Cancer Foundation reminds us that "a tan, whether you get it on the beach, in a bed, or through incidental exposure, is bad news, any way you acquire it." The foundation says that if your skin is tan, you have sustained skin cell damage.

The American Cancer Society reported that in 2011 alone, more than two million people were expected to be diagnosed with squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas; over seventy thousand cases of melanoma were expected. The rate of melanoma has been increasing for thirty years, probably due to the continued practice of tanning outside and the growing popularity of indoor tanning devices.

Okay, so we know tanning is bad for us. But is it more bad for us during pregnancy? Will it harm an unborn baby?

Apparently, there are no studies that prove the use of inside tanning beds or prolonged exposure to the sun will hurt your unborn child. Experts insist there is no more danger from tanning beds than there is from direct exposure to the sun. However, your health care provide may have suggested you avoid saunas, hot tubs, or other devices that can raise your body temperature, and some studies have suggested that hyperthermia in mothers (becoming overheated) can contribute to spinal malformations in babies. In addition, exposure to UV rays have been linked to folic acid deficiency, which can cause spina bifida and other neural tube defects. This is especially a concern during the first trimester.

And while you may think that sunny glow will enhance your appearance, you are at an increased risk of developing Chloasma, sometimes called "the mask of pregnancy," if you spend prolonged time in the sun or use a tanning device. Chloasma typically presents on the face as irregular brown patches. It is true you can develop this condition even if you avoid the sun, but tanning can darken the appearance of the splotches.

Since pregnancy also increases your skin's sensitivity to the sun, you may be at higher risk for a heat rash or hives, as well.

If you decide to tan while you are pregnant, inside or outside, limit your exposure to avoid becoming overheated, and be aware your skin may be more sensitive to UV rays and that you might be at risk of a burn. Drink plenty of water, and immediately move to someplace cool if you begin to feel light-headed.

If you opt to use a lotion or cream to acquire an artificial tan, it is still preferable to wait until after the first trimester. Many health professionals advise against the use of self-tanning products, because the main ingredient, dihydorxyacetone (DHA), might be absorbed through the skin and, if so, could cross the placenta to your baby. New products are being developed each year, so check with your health care provider if you have concerns.

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