The number one concern for any new parent is the well-being of their child, and those that are pregnant will be auditing their diets and care regimens to ensure the baby is getting everything they need—and nothing they shouldn't have. Now, you may be wondering, is it safe to wear sunscreen while pregnant?
If you're reading this piece, you already understand the importance of daily sunscreen. But, is the same sunscreen you've always worn safe for both you and your baby? With so many changes going on in your body, you're right to ask these questions.
Sun Protection During Pregnancy
You'll probably be relieved to hear that ultraviolet (UV) radiation will not cause any direct harm to your baby while in the womb. However, you are still at the same risk as always for photoaging and skin cancer caused by UV radiation. These outcomes are easily preventable, given that the majority of UV exposure can be drastically reduced with daily sun protection.
The bottom line is that sunscreen is just as important during pregnancy as it is at any other time, and is perfectly safe with the right practices.
That said, there are so many sunscreen options on the market that you might be wondering where to begin. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing your sun care products.
Understanding Sun and Skin Care Products
First, you should know that there are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical filters.
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV radiation and turning them into harmless heat that doesn't damage your skin. Chemical sunscreens commonly include ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, which have been the center of some concern to consumers. Limited data in animal studies show chemical ingredients may cause endocrine disturbances, but nothing has been demonstrated in humans. Although a recent dermatological study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that systemic absorption of oxybenzone is possible when applied frequently and extensively throughout the body, experts don't have a solid understanding of the significance. No study to date has shown that chemical sunscreens play a direct role in causing harm to human health.
Understandably, however, pregnant individuals do not want to take on this risk. The easy answer is to use mineral sunscreens instead. Not only are they perfectly safe and environmentally friendly, but they're a bit more stable when exposed to sunlight in the bottle. Mineral sunscreens work by blocking UV radiation, rather than absorbing it, so they do not degrade as easily as chemical sunscreens. Look for zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Make sure the product is labeled broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher, and don't forget to apply daily, even during cloudy weather.
Additional skin care ingredients to avoid during pregnancy include oral and topical retinoids, salicylic acid, and hydroquinone, as these may cause harm to a developing fetus when used in large amounts. Oral retinoids can cause cardiac, neurologic, and other birth defects. Although topical retinoids have very low systemic absorption when applied to the skin, the risks are unknown. Similarly, there isn't enough data on hydroquinone and salicylic acid, but enough doubt exists that experts recommend avoiding these if possible.
The Sun's Other Effects on Pregnancy
Aside from guarding against sun damage, pregnant individuals should be on guard against developing melasma, also known as the "mask of pregnancy." Melasma is the result of increased hormones and UV radiation. It presents itself as darker hyperpigmented patches on sun-exposed areas, including the shoulders, forehead, cheeks, and chin, giving this condition its nickname.
Although melasma is mostly a cosmetic concern, it's very challenging to treat once it occurs. Melasma can affect any skin type, but darker-skinned individuals are at slightly higher risk. Daily sunscreen protection not only helps to prevent melasma but is also a very important part of treatment for the condition.
As you navigate pregnancy, childbirth, and the early days of parenthood, you'll read countless opinions on the very best this or that to use. Still, Dermatologists agree that pregnancy is no time to stop protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. If anything, it's the time to reaffirm your commitment to the health of your skin and body. So do yourself a favor and keep on using a daily sunscreen—consider it an investment in your family's future.