Sunbeds/tanning booths

(Date: March 2016. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

What are they?

Sunbeds and tanning booths emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation and are generally used for cosmetic purposes to achieve a suntan.

Is it safe to use sunbeds/tanning booths in pregnancy?

Users of sunbeds and tanning booths are at increased risk of skin cancer; for this reason the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend their use whether pregnant or not. No studies have investigated whether use during pregnancy is harmful to a baby in the womb and sunbed use during pregnancy can therefore not be recommended. 

What if I have already used a sunbed/tanning booth during pregnancy?

It is thought unlikely that use of a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy will increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. However, if a pregnancy is suspected or confirmed, further use of sunbeds/tanning booths is best avoided as a precautionary measure.

Can using a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy cause my baby to be born with birth defects?

A baby’s body and most internal organs are formed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is mainly during this time that birth defects can occur.

UV light omitted by sunbeds and tanning booths cannot penetrate to the womb and would therefore not be expected to harm the baby directly. However, there are theoretical concerns (based largely on the results of animal experiments) that use in the first trimester might increase the mother’s body temperature and therefore the chance of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the baby. No human studies have investigated whether an increase in body temperature caused by use of sunbeds/tanning booths specifically might affect a baby in the womb. However, studies of the effects of exposure to other external heat sources in pregnancy have been reassuring overall.

Some (but not all) studies have also shown that exposure to UV light from sunbeds and tanning booths might decrease the levels of folic acid in the body. These studies were not carried out on pregnant individuals, therefore possible effects during pregnancy are unknown. Folic acid is required for a baby’s neural tube to develop properly and low levels have been linked to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. All pregnant women are therefore advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is not known whether taking folic acid in pregnancy offers any protection against any possible risks to the fetus of sunbed/tanning booth use during pregnancy. For more information please see the bump leaflet on use of folic acid in pregnancy.

Can using a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy cause miscarriage or stillbirth?

No studies have investigated whether rates of miscarriage or stillbirth are increased in women who use sunbeds and tanning booths in pregnancy.

Can using a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy cause preterm birth or my baby to be small at birth (low birth weight)?

No studies have investigated whether rates of preterm birth or low birth weight babies are increased in women who use sunbeds and tanning booths in pregnancy.

Can using a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy cause learning and behavioural problems in the child?

A baby’s brain continues to develop right up until the end of pregnancy. It is therefore possible that taking certain medicines at any stage of pregnancy could have a lasting effect on a child’s learning or behaviour.

There are currently no scientific studies that have examined learning and behaviour in children of women who used sunbeds/tanning booths during pregnancy.

Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy or after delivery?

Most women will be offered a scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to look for birth defects as part of their routine antenatal care. Using a sunbed/tanning booth in pregnancy is not expected to cause problems that would require extra monitoring of your baby.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has used a sunbed/tanning booth?

No studies have specifically investigated whether use of a sunbed/tanning booth by the father can harm the baby through effects on the sperm, however this is very unlikely.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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