It can be difficult during pregnancy to know what you can and can’t do. While there’s a laundry list of foods that are considered off-limits and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists clearly recommends that you avoid things like contact sports, other things fall into a gray zone that isn’t clearly covered by medical guidance. So it’s only natural to wonder: can you get a spray tan while pregnant?
It’s a little complicated. If you want a quick answer, know this: doctors generally suggest steering clear of getting a spray tan while pregnant, and the reason is slightly complicated. Here’s what you need to know about spray tanning in pregnancy and why it’s probably not the best idea.
Can You Get a Spray Tan While Pregnant?
It’s actually not 100 percent clear. “We don’t have any literature to say whether it is safe or not to get a spray tan during pregnancy,” says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital For Women & Babies. Spray tans usually contain a chemical called dihydroxyacetone (DHA), and that’s the main concern, Dr. Greves says.
DHA “is a color additive that reacts with the outermost layer of the skin to darken it,” explains Ife J. Rodney, MD, the founding director of Eternal Dermatology in Maryland and a professor of dermatology at Howard University and George Washington University. “DHA is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in topical cosmetic products, including spray tans,” Dr. Rodney adds.
But the FDA has a caveat with that, suggesting that you try to avoid inhaling DHA. “They also recommend shielding the eyes, lips, and mucus membranes,” says Dr. Greves. “Due to those risks, I would not recommend a spray tan while being pregnant.”
Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, agrees. “Studies show that it is safe when applied topically to the skin, but the jury is out on its safety when inhaled,” she says. “The risk isn’t fully known, therefore most medical providers will recommend avoiding it.”
Risks of Spray Tanning When Pregnant
Again, there are a lot of unknowns about spray tanning while pregnant, along with what risks you and your baby may face. A big one, according to Dr. Rodney, is the risk of a skin reaction.
“There have been some reports of skin reactions, such as rashes, itching, and redness, associated with spray tanning,” she says. “However, these reactions are generally mild and temporary and are not specific to pregnancy.” She does note, though, that “pregnant women may also be more prone to skin allergies and sensitivities, so it is essential to be aware of any changes in the skin after the spray-tan application.”
Dr. Wider agrees that an allergic reaction is a potential concern. “But the inhalation of the active ingredient is potentially the highest risk to a developing fetus,” she says. As for what, exactly, could happen to your baby, it’s not clear.
Safety Precautions to Take When Getting a Spray Tan While Pregnant
Again, experts recommend against getting a spray tan while pregnant. “While DHA has not been shown to be harmful to pregnant women or their babies, it is always best to err on the side of caution,” Dr. Rodney says.
If you still want to get a spray tan while pregnant, Dr. Rodney recommends taking a few precautionary steps:
- Choose a reputable salon that uses high-quality spray-tan products or buy one that is hypoallergenic or has more natural ingredients.
- Do a patch test before getting a full spray tan to check for any allergic reactions.
- Avoid inhaling the spray-tan mist or getting it in your eyes or mouth.
- Wear protective clothing, like a nose filter, goggles, and lip balm, to lower your risk of inhaling and ingesting the spray tan.
- Moisturize your skin daily to prolong the life of the tan.
If you want a sunless tan during pregnancy but are nervous about a spray tan, Dr. Greves suggests using a tanning foam or lotion instead. “Fake tanning with the foam or lotion is not inhaled,” she says. But, Dr. Greves points out, there’s no data on the safety of foam or lotion sunless tanners during pregnancy either. “Although there is no literature, everything in moderation. I think that it’s less risky than a spray tan,” Dr. Greves says.
You can also consider this advice from Dr. Rodney: “If a pregnant woman is concerned about the safety of spray tanning, she may want to consider alternative methods of achieving a tanned appearance or wait until after the pregnancy.”