The list of things its safe to do and unsafe to do while breastfeeding, and while pregnant, is enormous. This list is also constantly changing. Remember when you weren’t supposed to give peanuts to kids under one? Oops. Now we’re supposed to give peanuts to kids under one. And alcohol. Is Guinness a galactagogue or is alcohol dangerous while breastfeeding? Ugh, so much to deal with!
So what about tanning and breastfeeding? Is tanning while breastfeeding safe? What about spray tans while nursing? And tanning beds? Is it ok to use a tanning bed while breastfeeding?
For the most part, there is no more risk of engaging in these activities while breastfeeding than there is while not breastfeeding. But there are a few points to keep in mind, and I’ll go over these issues in this article.
Is Tanning While Breastfeeding Safe?
This depends on how you plan to acquire your tan. There are a few different ways to achieve a luminous, beautiful tan. These include tanning outdoors, tanning indoors in a tanning bed, spray tanning, and using sunless tanners (fake tans).
Let’s look at how each of these might interplay with breastfeeding.
Also, it’s very important to consider the safety of using various sunscreens while breastfeeding. I’ll touch on that below as well.
Tanning Bed While Breastfeeding
Tanning beds are the worst choice for those who want to get a tan. Tanning beds are unsafe to use, and many health agencies including the WHO consider tanning beds a class 1 carcinogen. That puts them on the same level as cigarettes and asbestos.
The reality, however, is that many people simply love the feel of a UV tan on their body, and for whatever reason, can’t get that outdoors. So is tanning in a tanning bed dangerous for breastfeeding?
Using a tanning bed is no more dangerous when breastfeeding than when not breastfeeding. The main dangers of UV Tanning are:
- Skin Cancer (particularly Melanoma)
- Premature Aging (wrinkling)
Neither of these is really impacted by breastfeeding.
If you are determined to use a tanning booth while breastfeeding, here are a few aspects to consider.
Tanning in a tanning booth will cause you to sweat and will dehydrate the skin. This can impact milk production.
Be careful when using tanning oils, tanning accelerators, and the like. Some of these substances may be absorbed through the skin and may be present in breast milk.
Consider skipping the tanning oil while breastfeeding, or use something like coconut oil instead.
Recent studies have found that some types of sunscreen can be absorbed into the skin, and may be present in breast milk. They may be dangerous to babies, though this is still under investigation.
See below for more information on sunscreen and breastfeeding, but the bottom line is that you should only be using a zinc oxide or titanium oxide sunscreen while breastfeeding. The Blue Lizard Broad-Spectrum SPF30 Sunscreen is a good choice.
Sensitive Nipples and Skin
Keep in mind that the nipples and breasts are extra sensitive while breastfeeding. For this reason, tanning the breasts, and especially the nipples, can result in pain. Burns may be amplified due to the breastfeeding process. And you won’t want your baby to be suckling on burned nipples.
So be sure to wear nipple protectors while tanning in a tanning booth. And better yet, wear a bikini top to provide protection to the entire breast. It’s best to avoid nude tanning while breastfeeding.
Tanning Outdoors While Nursing
Getting actual sun exposure is absolutely a better choice than getting UV Exposure in a tanning bed. There are numerous benefits to outdoor tanning, and sun exposure in general. You need to be careful when exposing your body to the sun, and you should pay close attention to the UV Index Forecast for your area. If the UV Index is over 3 and you’ll be outside for any significant length of time, you should be applying sunscreen or covering up.
Australia’s SunSmart is an excellent resource for sensible sun exposure advice. It’s a bit more forward-looking and updated than the current American Academy of Dermatology advice. The AAD basically advocates constant sunscreen use, and sees essentially no benefit to UV exposure.
Sunscreen and Breastfeeding
Back when the various sunscreen chemicals were originally approved by the FDA, it was tested as if they were going to be used 1-2 times per week. The FDA assumed people would only wear sunscreen when they were planning to be outdoors for a long time.
The problem is that the advice has changed completely, and for the last several years the recommendation has been for all people to essentially wear sunscreen every day and to reapply every two hours. This translates into much higher exposure to sunscreen than originally assumed. These chemicals were not tested assuming much higher exposure levels.
Over the past few years, new investigations have found that some sunscreen chemicals are considered unsafe, and several have been found in blood and breastmilk.
Further testing is being done, but we’ve reached the point that the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that new mothers avoid using sunscreen containing Oxybenzone. As they write, “You may want to select a sunscreen that does not contain the ingredient oxybenzone, a sunscreen chemical that may have hormonal properties.”
Sun Protection and Sunscreen for Babies
If you’re planning on tanning outside, you’ll need to think about your baby as well. Babies and young children should avoid direct sunlight. If you’re bringing your baby to the beach, plan to keep the baby out of the sun as much as possible. Use a beach umbrella, sun shelter, or pick a shady area for your child.
And you should apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+, appropriate for babies. Ideally, it will be zinc oxide. This Badger sunscreen for kids is a great choice.
Spray Tan While Breastfeeding
Spray tanning and sunless tanning are probably the safest ways to tan. You’re not exposing your body to the potentially-harmful rays of the sun, or the almost certainly harmful rays of a tanning bed. Spray tanning is definitely better than using a tanning bed.
Spray Tanning works by applying a chemical bronzing agent called DHA (Dihydroxyacetone) to the skin. DHA reacts with the outermost layer of the skin (actually dead skin cells) and turns these cells a dark brown color. The end result of this is a tan look, without any of the UV exposure required to get a “real” tan.
Spray Tanning is quite safe for both mamma and baby. DHA is not found in the skin or blood, so the baby won’t be ingesting it.
That said, you definitely should wear nipple protectors to keep any spray tanning solution off of your nipples. You want to ensure that your baby doesn’t ingest any of the spray tan solution through their mouth while breastfeeding. The spray tan solution isn’t healthy when ingested, so you don’t want your baby to ingest the solution that might be present near your nipples while suckling.
Nose guards are also a wise choice, as you don’t want to inhale the spray tan solution either.
Other than this potential risk, spray tanning is almost certainly the best option while breastfeeding.
Spray Tans and Sun Protection
You should keep in mind that spray tans provide no actual protection from the sun, and you’ll need to wear sunscreen while outside. As mentioned in the sunscreen section, be sure to choose a sunscreen that uses zinc or titanium oxide, as they are safest to use.
Sunless Tanners and Breastfeeding
Most sunless tanners like Loving Tan’s Self Tanner work in a similar way to spray tans. DHA is used to bronze the skin, which is a safe process for both mother and baby.
As with spray tans, avoid the area around the nipples when applying a self-tanner. This way, you’ll ensure that your baby won’t be ingesting any of the sunless tanner chemicals.
Conclusion: Tanning While Nursing
There’s not much difference between tanning while breastfeeding, and tanning in general. Do your best to avoid letting your child ingest any of the chemicals that you might put on your skin like oils, lotions, and bronzers. And stick to sunscreens that use a broad spectrum zinc oxide formula, for both you and your baby.
Keep your baby away from direct sun as much as possible, and try to avoid tanning beds. They’re just a bad choice in general.
Be safe, luminous, and beautiful!