Sunscreen While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

Cynthia Dermody
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pregnant woman sitting in the sun
Flickr photo by jefield
With all the talk about sunscreen safety, specifically the potential risks from chemicals absorbed by the body while wearing lotions and sprays, those in the motherly way might be wondering if they should just stay indoors this weekend.

Not at all, pregnant women can and should use sunscreen, says Joanne Hasman, a certified midwife with the Special Beginnings Birth and Women's Center in Arnold, Maryland, and a spokesperson for the American College of Nurse-Midwives.

She tackles some common sunscreen questions so you can enjoy the outdoor festivities without worry. But no guarantees for good weather. Sorry.

What ingredients in sunscreen should pregnant women be looking for?

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are minerals that reflect lignt and are used in the natural products. These are the ingredients to look for. On the list to definitely avoid: PABA. It's the one ingredient that is not used as much because many people have had allergic reactions, and a lot of sunscreens will say "PABA free."

There are many good companies that make skin care products with "all natural" ingredients, and don't use ingredients that are questionable as far as safety is concerned. Burt's Bees and Aveda are just two.

Are pregnant women more susceptible to sun damage than when not pregnant?

Yes. That little dark line on our bellies that gets darker during pregnancy is called the linea nigra. The labial tissue and areola all get darker during pregnancy too. Some women will also develop dark patches on their skin, especially the face, during pregnancy or with birth control pill use. These dark patches will generally resolve after the baby is born, but may take years to totally resolve. In some cases they never go away. A very good reason to protect your skin from the sun.

Should pregnant women wear more sunblock than they are used to normally?

Not really. If we would all follow the recommendations for proper amount and reapply times we'd all be protected better. Most people don't use enough or reapply often enough. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going out into the sun, to ALL the exposed areas. We forget about our lips or behind our ears, the back of our necks. The American Academy of Dermatologists advises reapplying every two to three hours, and after swimming, or sweating.

Is a chemical sunblock really dangerous? I mean, we use them on little kids.

I don't know if any research has been done on the individual chemicals in sunscreens to know if they cross the placenta. I do know anything that a pregnant woman ingests or uses has the potential to get to the baby. Things applied to the skin may not, or may be only minimally absorbed into the blood stream. If the molecular size is too large then the substance won't be transmitted to the baby. Also, our bodies metabolize what we put into them, so only a part of a chemical may get to the baby. Our livers and kidneys do a lot of that work.

Clothing can also protect us from the harmful rays of the sun. If you can see your hand through a piece of clothing it won't give you full UV protection. You can now also find clothing with an SPF rating. And don't forget wide brimmed hats, sunglasses and a nice shady spot!

Should expectant moms avoid the sun?

No, because they need vitamin D. About 15 minutes a day in the sun will give us enough. If people don't get that much, fortified foods and a supplement should do it. Also avoid the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. time slot. The rays of the sun are most damaging at that time.

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