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The lazy, hazy days of summer are upon us. As the welcome warm breezes encourage you to peel off those extra layers of clothing, remember that during pregnancy, protecting yourself from the sun is not only more important – it also can be more difficult.
Here are some of the challenges, along with some easy solutions, that will allow you to enjoy the summer weather – and sun – without worry.
Whether you’re pregnant or not, it’s no secret that the sun’s rays are damaging to your skin, may cause premature aging and wrinkles, and may lead to skin cancer. But in the early stages of pregnancy, your skin is extra sensitive and can burn faster when exposed to the sun.1
Limit your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays – without restricting your summer lifestyle – with these easy tips: 2
Exposure to UV rays is also linked to a deficiency in folic acid1, a B vitamin that helps prevent anemia in the mother as well as major birth defects such as spina bifida.
Block those UVA and UVB rays with protective clothing and sunscreen (at least SPF 15) for those areas of skin that you can’t quite cover up.2
The boost in hormones during pregnancy also increases the production of melanin, which produces skin color.3 In nearly 50% of pregnant women3, this can result in dark brown or gray patches of skin on the face, commonly called the mask of pregnancy or chloasma. The linea nigra – the line that runs from your naval to the pubic bone – also darkens, typically during the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy.4
Keeping the sun off of your face – and off of your tummy – will help you minimize any further darkening of the chloasma and the linea nigra. Hats and sunglasses can keep the sun from hitting your face, and a one-piece bathing suit will cover up your stomach. For extra protection, slather on a layer of sunscreen (at least SPF 15).
Sunscreen is a necessary tool in sun protection. Most sunscreens are considered safe for pregnant women – and their use is generally preferred by dermatologists over not using any sunscreen. Still, there are a few ingredients that doctors recommend you avoid, including retinol5,though no studies have specifically linked topical use of retinol to any impact on the fetus. 6
If you’re worried about the potential absorption of sunscreen ingredients into your skin, look for sunblocks that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These ingredients are physical sunscreens that sit on top of the skin and do not penetrate it.6 Combining these physical sunscreens with clothing choices that cover more of your skin than less – such as a one-piece bathing suit versus a bikini – provide safe protection for your skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Vitamin D is critical to bone health. Our bodies produce vitamin D when we are exposed to the sun – it’s one of the benefits of being outdoors. But using sunscreen and covering up when you’re outside limits the amount of sun you get, and therefore, reduces the amount of vitamin D in your body. A deficiency of Vitamin D during your pregnancy could impact your baby’s birth weight and bone formation, and could add to the risk of preeclampsia, increasing the need for a C-section.7
Luckily, we can get vitamin D safely from sources other than the sun, such as supplements and foods. Ten micrograms (400 IU) a day is recommended for pregnant women8, but a recent study found that women who were taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily had the greatest benefits in preventing preterm labor and births as well as infections.9 Check the label on your prenatal vitamin, then check with your doctor for a recommendation on an amount of vitamin D supplement that’s right for you. Many foods are also sources of vitamin D, including several types of fish (catfish, salmon, mackerel, and tuna) and milk and orange juice, which often are fortified with vitamin D.7
The information included in this article and on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation.