Monday, September 10, 2012

Melanoma and mommyhood: Is it safe to tan when pregant?

Even Snooki gave up tanning beds while
she was pregnant. Image: Twitter.

Last week, my friend Cher, a melanoma buddy and expecting mom, forwarded me her weekly pregnancy update: 
"Is it safe to use self-tanning lotions or tanning beds during pregnancy? Expert answer: Sandra Johnson, dermatologist: If you're not feeling attractive during pregnancy, the look of sun-kissed skin may do wonders for your self-esteem. The good news is that the ingredients in self-tanners are harmless, so it's fine to use them during pregnancy. These lotions and sprays are basically dyes that stay on the surface of your skin and won't harm your developing baby. Best of all, self-tanners have improved dramatically over the past few years, so you don't have to worry about looking like an extra from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Tanning beds are a different story. There's no conclusive evidence that they're harmful to a developing fetus, but there's plenty of proof that they're dangerous to you. Tanning beds pose the same dangers as the sun: They emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes skin cancer. Don't believe anyone who tells you that because tanning booths emit only UVA rays, they're not hazardous to your health. One study suggests that visiting a tanning booth ten times in a year can double your chances of developing melanoma – one of the most deadly types of cancer. Melanoma is the only type of cancer that spreads to the placenta, which could be disastrous for both you and your baby. Lying in a tanning bed can also raise your body temperature to a level that may be hazardous to your baby, particularly during your first trimester. Having an elevated body temperature during pregnancy – that is, above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, which can happen in a tanning bed, hot tub, or sauna – has been associated with spinal malformations in developing babies. And then there's the concern that lying on your back too long could restrict blood flow to your heart and thus to your baby as well. (If this happens, you'll feel lightheaded.) Finally, yet one more downside to tanning: Pregnant women with sensitive skin who expose themselves to UV rays – whether from tanning beds or the sun – may be more prone to chloasma, those dark splotches that can appear on the face and occasionally the arms during pregnancy."
I was just as shocked as Cher to read this email. Do women really care that much about maintaining their tan that they'll continue using tanning beds throughout their pregnancy? On the same website, I did a quick search for "tanning," which pulled up a discussion board thread on the same topic. Some of the responses were quite remarkable.
smckeever371 said: "I work for a tanning salon and i am also pregnant. you do not want to over heat yourself when you are pregnant, however if you choose a tanning bed (lay-down or stand-up) with good fans there is no way for the uv light to cause any harm to your baby because it only penetrates the first two layers of your skin. If you feel that it is too hot in a tanning bed you can always use a spray tan. There is nothing wrong with tanning while pregnant. I wouldn't reccomend over-doing it. But all pregnant women like to feel beautiful and if that means hitting the tannng salon then by all means ladies go tanning! I have been tanning through my entire pregnancy using the stand up tanning bed and the spray tan once a week every week alternating and my baby boy is doing just fine and docs say he is healthy inside the womb waiting to come out."
cottonlily said: "My dr didn't say anything about tanning. However you must not overheat your own body whether from sun tanning, bed tanning, saunas, hot tubs, workouts, etc. He says (not specificially about tanning) that the baby is very well protected in the womb, inside your tissue, inside your skin. That's why you can continue to exercise, have sex, etc. We're not the delicate little flowers that some people believe we are while pregnant! While tanning may not be the healthiest thing to do for yourself, I challenge someone to find any medical evidence indicating it causes miscarriages. You can find someone in the world who would tell you anything - from raising your arms above your head to taking a bath - causes a remote chance of harming your baby... I'm choosing not to live out my pregnancy in a bunker afraid of the entire world and I'll be enjoying my tanning this summer!"
Daniellevi said: "I asked the same thing when I found out I was pregnant (with my first) and my Dr. said NO. Because you are still in the early first trimester, right now is a crucial developing time for the baby. Things like tanning beds or hot tubs are something you really want to avoid durring pregnancy. You'll hear of women who do tan in tanning beds (I know I did), but I really dont think a tan would be worth the potentially loosing your baby"
Amandatj1 said: "I'm so sick of seeing these questions and reading an answer like the one from bucalovsme. Some women don't lock themselves in a vault for nine months because they are expecting, I started tanning at 20 weeks, yes I did wait til after the danger zone, plus I wear a cover up over my belly just in case. Really if taming harmed a baby the it would harm our intestines, lungs, pancreas, stomach, heart etc. there are the normal doctor says no because of skin and we all know those issues. But come on, don't put us mothers down that feel more beautiful tanning, it has always made me feel better and trust me my husband likes me in a better mood. So if u have a crappy opinion keep it to yourself. This was an honest to goodness question. She didn't ask if she could take heroin."

Clearly I've been living in the dark. I didn't realize tanning bed use was such a hot topic among mothers-to-be. Heath issues aside, it really concerns me is this blasé attitude about tanning beds in general. If your more concerned about how you look during pregnancy, is that maybe some indication of how you'll take care of your child? Will you insist that your kids wear sunscreen, or will you let them burn their shoulders on vacation and drive them to the tanning salon before prom? What kind of example are you setting for your kids?

Stay tuned. Melanoma and Mommyhood Part 2 coming later this week!


  1. Gosh Katie some of the statements and responses left me speechless. Shall I be as speechless when Part 2 arrives? :)
    Take care.

  2. Oh gosh. I blogged about this sometime last year. I know exactly what discussion board you are talking about! ;-)

  3. amazing post! The line "Melanoma is the only type of cancer that spreads to the placenta" is very powerful...but sadly seems ignored by many. Incredible post Katie!

  4. That is astonishing - not only that they would put their babies at risk but they seem to have completely forgotten about the risk to themselves. As a mama-to-be i've been doing my own research on how to still feel beautiful when all you feel is bloated and unattractive. While they say the self tanners are safe - they also say your added hormones can do some unpredictable things with the color. My vote? Stick with bronzer if you're needing a touch of "sun".

    1. Megan, you will be 8-and-a-half-months pregnant and still look FABULOUS. Does Banana make maternity clothes? :)