We know you were smart about sun protection before you got pregnant (right?), but now it's even more important. Your skin is extra sensitive to rays in the early stages of motherhood. During pregnancy, pigment-producing cells called melanocytes kick into overdrive, making your skin more susceptible to discoloration (anything from freckles to melasma) when it's exposed to UV rays. "And pregnancy alters your immune system, which may put you at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you don't take precautions," says Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Santa Monica, California, and author of Heal Your Skin. "Your skin is your first line of defense against the sun, so it's essential to protect it with an SPF cream," she says. Follow these sun safety tips for optimal summertime protection.
Don't let a super-high SPF give you a false sense of security: SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97 percent; and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. That means, SPF 100 isn't exactly twice as good as SPF 50. A good rule-of-thumb? Use at least SPF 30, reapplying at least every two hours (more often if you're in and out of water). Reapplying is what really makes the skin-saving difference, says Dr. Stone.
Always opt for broad-spectrum sunscreens, which offer protection against UVA rays, in addition to UVB rays, both of which can cause skin cancer. Plus, UVA rays are infamous for causing discoloration (common during pregnancy), according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Sunscreens fall into two categories: physical sunscreens (which reflect UV rays using titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) and chemical sunscreens (which absorb UV rays using ingredients like oxybenzone). Even though people have expressed concern about the tiny "nanoparticles" in physical sunscreens, the European Union's Nanoderm Project and separate research conducted by the FDA found that nano titanium dioxide particles pose no significant risk of penetrating the skin: "We believe that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are among the best choices on the American market," says the Environmental Working Group's 2014 Guide to Sunscreens.
The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens has classified titanium dioxide as a "possible carcinogen" when inhaled in high doses. That's why the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding sprays. "They also make it easy to apply too little or to miss a spot," says Sonya Lunder, MPH, senior analyst with the EWG. Stick with tried-and-true lotions to best protect you and your little one.
Make sure your sunscreen doesn't list oxybenzone on the back. The chemical, which readily absorbs into your skin, has been linked to low birth weights—a risk factor for future coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases. It's also known to interfere with the body's hormones, which may cause developmental problems in unborn babies.
Pregnant celebs may parade their string-bikini bumps on the beach, but a one-piece or tankini is a smarter choice. Your prominent belly catches rays from every angle when you're lounging, so it's more vulnerable to getting burned, says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., a dermatologist in Washington, D.C. Don't want your linea nigra to get darker? Then it's best not to let it see the light of day. Cover it up!
Cheapie or luxe, a pair of shades are a must! In addition to slathering on sunscreen, you do your face a favor if you don sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection regularly, and a hat with a big brim when you're out in the sun for an extended time.