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Sunburn during pregnancy

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

A sunburn on your belly while pregnant does not affect the baby directly, but it can indirectly. Excess sun exposure is linked to several health risks and pregnancy is no exception. The skin plays a significant role in temperature regulation. When the body starts to overheat, the skin’s ability to regulate temperature diminishes. Read more...

 

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pregnancy sunburn

Photo: Wix


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Video: Techei

Can a sunburn on your belly affect your baby during pregnancy?

A sunburn on your belly while pregnant does not affect the baby directly, but it can indirectly.


Excess sun exposure is linked to several health risks. The skin plays a significant role in temperature regulation. When the body starts to overheat, the skin’s ability to regulate temperature diminishes. When exposed to extreme heat, signs of heat exhaustion may appear first. As temperatures rise, your skin tries to help cool down your body by producing sweat through sweat glands. The sweat will evaporate off the skin to cool it. This is almost like built-in air conditioning. As we heat up, we produce more sweat in an attempt to cool down further. With this fluid loss through the skin we can start to experience signs of dehydration. The first signs of heat exhaustion are thirst, nausea, often dizziness, and an accompanying headache. Heat stroke is usually defined by the core body temperature exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. At this point other organs become involved. The central nervous system (CNS), kidneys, liver, and blood become involved. It is important to point out that these conditions can occur under a number of circumstances. People that are active, exercising, and exerting themselves but do not stay hydrated effectively can fall victim to heat exhaustion as can low activity level individuals such as the elderly, people with high blood pressure or diabetes, obesity, or alcoholism. The key contributing factor is heat. This is not exclusive to sun exposure as extreme heat from any source can trigger this response. Hormonal changes during pregnancy have been noted to lead to increased sensitivity to the sun during pregnancy. This could result in both a higher chance of sunburn and/or pigment changes. It is important to note that taking precautions to avoid sunburn is important during pregnancy since ‘sun poisoning’ during pregnancy could impact the baby by core body temperature changes, fluid imbalances, and other burn-related changes in our blood work.


Is your skin (especially on your stomach) more sensitive during pregnancy?



During pregnancy, the skin is actively stretching and expanding. This can result in thinning out the epidermis which makes it more sensitive and susceptible to irritation or inflammation. While I was pregnant with my oldest (he is now 19) I remember that my belly button stuck out so much I tried to tape it down :) it was such a mistake because my skin was red raw and sensitive within a couple of hours from an irritant contact dermatitis.


How can you best protect your skin during pregnancy?


The best way to protect your skin during pregnancy is likely through clothing and avoiding peak sun hours. Sunblocks are reasonable as well however there is the need to reapply routinely.


What are some pregnancy-safe sunscreens (or what should you look for/avoid in sunscreens) to slather over your stomach?



Studies on chemical sunscreens have shown that absorption does occur into the bloodstream after one day of use with unclear risks. The FDA has only listed two sunscreen ingredients as GRASE- generally recognized as safe and effective. These are zinc and titanium, physical sunscreen ingredients. The caveat is that these should not be nano-particle Zinc or Titanium given the unclear risk to the fetus with the use of nanoparticles versions of these sunscreens. The challenge is simply that we need more studies and data to define the safe amounts to use. I also ask my pregnant patients to seek sun protective clothing but make sure the company does not use nano-zinc or other sunscreen finishes in the clothing to avoid inadvertent exposure. Sun protective clothing without UV chemical finishes would be reasonable to use however as these are similar to regular clothing but tested to verify UV protection.



pregnancy sunburn


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