Sunbeds/tanning booths

Date: March 2016, Version 2

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

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.