For most of us, summer to make the
most of the sunshine and fresh air, spending time outdoors with our loved ones.
It’s also a time when we need to take extra precaution to protect ourselves
from the sun. We tend to be quite good at practising sun safety when it comes
to our babies and children — but what about pregnant women? Do they need to
take extra care when it comes to sun protection?
Let’s go over some of the ways that
pregnant women can be affected by the sun.
Many women experience changes to
their skin when they fall pregnant: some may find that their skin gets oily or
acne-prone, others may find that existing conditions like eczema can get worse.
One common symptom is sensitive skin that feels dry as it loses elasticity,
stretching and tightening to accommodate your growing baby. This is also due to
the changing hormone levels in your body, specifically estrogen and
In addition to being more sensitive
to laundry products, fabrics and skincare, you may find that your skin is
particularly sensitive to the sun during pregnancy. For this reason, it’s a
good idea to avoid prolonged sun exposure and take care to use the right
sunscreen, cover up your skin where practical and wear a hat to protect your
face from harmful UV rays.
Pigmentation and melasma
Melasma is a condition where brown or grey patches
appear on the skin after sun exposure. The skin changes colour when the UV rays
stimulate pigment-producing cells called melanocytes to produce more melanin.
Melasma affects both men and women but is more common in pregnant women, and
especially pregnant women with darker skin. The prevalence of melasma during
pregnancy tends to vary between countries — for example, studies have shown that melasma was identified in 10.7% of pregnant women
in Southern Brazil, 37% of pregnant women in Morroco, and 46% in Pakistan.
While not all women will experience
pigmentation or melasma, the best way to prevent it is to practice sun
protection during pregnancy, when the likelihood of melasma is higher. If you
do experience melasma, one of the best treatment options is to use sun
protection to prevent the condition from worsening.
Some pregnant women also develop
linea nigra (literally meaning ‘black line’) which is a visible lown down the
centre of their belly. This line can become more visible with sun exposure, so
if you’re not a fan of this change to your body, you may wish to protect your
belly from the sun when you’re at the beach or pool.
Overheating and dehydration
Many women say that they feel
hotter during pregnancy, and that swelling of the ankles tends to be worse
during the warmer months. A summer pregnancy can be uncomfortable, and you may
find relief by staying in the shade where possible and avoiding exercise during
the sunniest hours of the day.
Staying hydrated can also be a
problem for pregnant women, particularly those who experience morning sickness.
Vomiting leads to hydration, although during extreme morning sickness it can be
difficult to keep anything down. It’s best to ensure you’re staying hydrated
during the times you feel less nauseous, and try an electrolyte drink or ice
block to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes.
Pregnant women need to not only
make sure that they’re drinking enough fluids to keep themselves hydrated but
also their baby. Dehydration can decrease the amount of blood available to the
foetus, so it’s a good idea to take extra care in staying hydrated,
particularly during hot and sunny days.
What to do?
Pregnant women certainly don’t need
to avoid the sun altogether, but there are a few things you can do to minimise
the risk to your skin and overall health. These include:
breathable clothing that covers the skin where possible
Wear a hat
with a broad brim
plenty of water
shade, particularly if you’re outdoors for a long period of time
exercising during the hottest and sunniest part of the day
broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF
What to look for in a sunscreen
Some women are particularly careful
about the products that they use on their skin during pregnancy. However,
sunscreen is an important tool for sun protection that should be used by all
Australians, including pregnant women.
In the past, there has been concern
over the use of nanoparticles such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens, for fear
that they are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) found that evidence shows that the particles
stay on top of the dead skin cells, and therefore don’t pose a threat to human
The best sunscreen is one that is
high protection (at least SPF 30) and broad-spectrum, meaning that it protects
your skin from both UVA rays (the rays that cause sunburn) and UVB rays (which
penetrate the skin and cause longer-term damage). If you’re swimming or
sweating, it’s also a good idea to choose a sunscreen which is water-resistant,
and remember to reapply regularly.
If you’re pregnant and concerned
about protecting yourself from the sun, speak to your local Capital Chemist
pharmacist to discover which products are right for you.