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Sunscreen use during pregnancy | What you need to know

Guidance for wearing sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer holds true during pregnancy as well, but there are other reasons to keep sunscreen as a part of your pregnancy skincare routine. Read more...



pregnancy sunscreen

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Why is it so important to wear sunscreen, especially during pregnancy?

Guidance for wearing sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer holds true during pregnancy as well, but there are other reasons to keep sunscreen as a part of your pregnancy skincare routine. Hormones from pregnancy can increase the risk of pigmentation of the skin known as melasma. The interaction between hormones and light sources such as UV and blue light can trigger pigmentation in exposed areas. Although we have treatments aimed at addressing this pigment once it is present, more often than not it is preventable through adequate photoprotection measures.

The other thing to remember is that severe sunburns and even sun poisoning can lead to a systemic or whole-body response to excess UV. This can result in fluid shifts and imbalances that have a potential impact on the baby as well.

Are there pregnancy-safe sunscreens?

I don't know that I have ever seen a label on sunscreen that specifically stated it was safe during pregnancy. However, when we hear about sunscreen safety concerns, the ingredients we tend to focus on are ones that have the potential for endocrine disruption. Knowing this, let's go through each known sunscreen ingredient to help you decide for yourself which may be best to choose. See below for a comprehensive table.

There are two main categories of sunscreen ingredients: physical and chemical.

What are physical sunscreen ingredients?

The two most common sunscreen additives that are physical sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

Zinc oxide is generally recognized as safe and effective as a sunscreen ingredient by the FDA however not necessarily in the nano-Zinc oxide form. When you see the word "nano" this means that the particle is extremely small and there can be a risk of absorption and potential impact on your health. Although most sunscreens do not have the nano-form of Zinc, some had this ingredient to make the sunscreen less noticeable when applied. This is also important to know because some sun-protective clothing brands actually embed Zinc oxide into the textiles to make the textile sun protective. This process often uses the nano-Zinc oxide form. This has not been well studied in terms of its impact on our health if the nano-Zinc is released from the garment over time through sweat, washing, or swimming.

Nano-Zinc oxide has been shown in laboratory studies to have the potential for toxicity to our cells, toxicity to our genes, neurotoxic, and can be harmful to development.

I recommend checking labels and avoiding nano-Zinc oxide and avoiding clothing that uses nano-Zinc or other nanoparticles in the textile to impart UV protection.

What should you look for in terms of the type of application- stick vs lotion vs spray?

Sunscreen sticks are more likely to use mineral sunscreens which are ideal and are much easier to apply in terms of avoiding the tendency to miss a spot. Lotions can vary widely so shopping by ingredient label is essential. It is rare but possible to find a sunscreen spray that uses mineral sunscreen ingredients. This is for the simple reason that mineral sunscreens tend to be thicker resulting in blockage of the nozzle. My only other concern with regard to sunscreen spray is inhaling the aerosol of the product during pregnancy.

Is it best to choose a water-resistant sunscreen?

To create water resistance in sunscreen, ingredients are added to help the product stay adherent to the skin such as acrylates, silicone, and polymers. These should have a minimal to low risk of absorption. During pregnancy, it is ideal to limit overall exposure to unnecessary ingredients if alternatives can be found. However, bear in mind that during pregnancy you may be more likely to sweat which will make a routine sunscreen less effective in certain circumstances.

Is it best to choose products for sensitive skin?

Skin sensitivities to sunscreen are usually a result of the active ingredients, the preservatives, and/or any fragrances added. From an active ingredient perspective, limiting to physical sunscreen ingredients such as zinc and/or titanium can help reduce irritation. Choosing sunscreens that are fragrance-free is also helpful.

Is sunscreen safe to use during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, it is best to rely on a combination of various sun-protective behaviors to reduce the need for excess sunscreen use. Using sun-protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, shade, and avoidance of peak sun hours can allow for limited usage of sunscreen products. Chemical sunscreens have been shown to be absorbed into the bloodstream with unclear risk to health. Using physical sunscreens such as zinc and/or titanium tends to be favored for this reason.

Why is chemical sunscreen not safe during pregnancy?

There have been associations made between chemical sunscreens and the possibility of endocrine disruption. Studies have confirmed that chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream with the amount absorbed dictated by the body surface the sunscreen is applied. There are unclear risks associated with this absorption, however, for now, the belief is that the known risks of excess UV exposure outweigh the unknown risks potentially associated with chemical sunscreen ingredients. I know during my three pregnancies I was always so worried about the products I used and the foods I ate that I think choosing sunscreens without chemical ingredients just makes sense.

When should a pregnant person apply sunscreen during pregnancy?

Ideally applying sunscreen at the beginning of the day for a “layer of protection” followed by reapplication midday if outdoors is best.

Lastly, are there any pregnancy-safe sunscreens that you'd recommend? Can you share why for each?

I personally tend to recommend sunscreens that have zinc and/or titanium as active ingredients.

pregnancy sunscreen


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