Sunbeds During Pregnancy: What Are the Risks?

Perhaps you like to use sunbeds during the winter months and wonder about the safety of doing this while pregnant. You are probably concerned about the sunbed affecting your growing baby. Let's discuss the safety considerations surrounding sunbed use while pregnant.

Key takeaways:

Sunbeds during pregnancy – are they safe?

The short answer is no. It is not safe to use tanning beds while you are pregnant. In fact both the British Association of Dermatologists and the American Academy of Dermatology advise that it is never safe to use sunbeds.

Dangers of sunbeds

While it can be tempting to top up your tan during the winter months, there are many dangers associated with the use of sunbeds.

  • They cause skin cancer;
  • The rays penetrate the skin deeper than the sun and destroy collagen causing skin to age more quickly;
  • They suppress the immune system.

What are the risks to your baby

When pregnant, we want the best for our growing babies. It's important to know the risk factors surrounding sunbed use while pregnant so we don't inadvertently cause harm. There are a variety of issues that can arise from using a tanning bed while you are pregnant.

Neural tube defects

Using a sunbed can and likely will raise your body temperature. This is called hyperthermia. Hyperthermia during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause your baby to have a neural tube defect (NTD). As your baby is developing, the early brain and spine make up the neural tube. If the neural tube doesn’t close properly by being covered with skin your baby will be born with a birth defect. One type of NTD is called spina bifida which affects the spine and the other is called anencephaly, which affects your baby’s brain.

Although pregnant women are encouraged to supplement with folic acid to support neural tube development, there are still about 2,300 babies born with an NTD each year in the US.

The use of sunbeds is associated with decreased levels of folic acid. The ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the tanning bed can actually destroy folic acid. This means that using a sunbed increases the risk of your baby being born with an NTD.

Mental illness

There is also some evidence that exposure to high levels of UVR during pregnancy can cause severe mental illness. UVR from sunbeds is about 3 times greater than the UVR from the sun. This means that the potential risk for your baby suffering from severe mental illness is greater when using a sunbed rather than spending time in the sun.

Tanning while pregnant

Tanning is not recommended during pregnancy either. Dermatology groups say that there is no such thing as a safe tan, either. Although you won't get the deep UVR from the sun as you do from a sunbed, you are still in danger of raising your body temperature which decreases the folic acid in your body and puts your baby at risk for developing an NTD. UVR damage from the sun can also cause your baby to develop severe mental illness.

UVR from the sun can cause skin cancer, premature aging, and eye damage, and depress your immune system just like tanning beds can. Also tanning while pregnant can worsen the 'pregnancy mask', also known as melasma. This is where dark patches can appear on your face. Although it is very common in pregnancy the cause is unknown. What is known is that sun exposure can make it worse. This is because of the elevated hormones in pregnancy which also make you more prone to sunburn.

Always use sunscreen

If you spend time outside it is recommended that you use sunscreen, especially while you are pregnant. During the winter months when the sun reflects off the snow, the use of sunscreen is also warranted. If you develop pregnancy mask you could try using a tinted sunscreen to try and hide it.

The experts suggest that tanning and sunbeds are not safe for anyone and they can cause significant damage to your body. The danger is much greater for pregnant women because of the potential health risks to the developing baby. Sunbeds can cause birth defects and your baby could develop serious mental illness.

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