No matter how old you are, sunscreen should be a vital part of your everyday routine — a point any dermatologist you speak to will hammer into your brain. You might need a particular type of sunscreen if you have a skin type or skin condition like oily or sensitive skin.
While our bodies naturally change as we age and progress through life, there’s no other time when the skin changes as rapidly as it does while pregnant or nursing. That’s right — while your body is undergoing massive internal changes, your skin simultaneously changes on the outside.
So how do you know which sunscreen to use while pregnant and nursing? Shop TODAY consulted the experts for how to navigate sensitive skin during this sensitive time.
How can pregnancy impact the skin?
Board-certified dermatologists Dr. Mona Sadeghpour and Dr. Noëlle Sherber tell us that during pregnancy, the skin can experience changes like hyperpigmentation, acne, topical sensitivities and rapid expansions in the skin, which often results in stretch marks.
Pregnancy- and nursing-safe sunscreen ingredients
Emily Spilman, a manager of the Environmental Working Group’s healthy living science team, alongside Sherber and Sadeghpour, calls out zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the only two active ingredients recognized by the Food and Drug Administration that are classified as generally safe in sunscreen.
“These products contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients and are better for people, like pregnant women, with more sensitive skin,” she says. “Most products are fragrance-free and also made without allergens and other skin sensitizers.”
Ingredients to avoid while pregnant or nursing
Spilman, Sadeghpour and Sherber call out the following ingredients as ones to avoid in sunscreen for pregnant and nursing women:
- Vitamin A and its derivatives (retinol, retinaldehyde, adapalene, tretinoin)
Spilman references a FDA study from 2019 that found that oxybenzone was one of the ingredients absorbed by the body after one use and can be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after that use.
“Studies have shown that oxybenzone can contaminate the placenta and breast milk of marine mammals and humans,” she tells us.
In addition, a 2022 study conducted on mice in perinatal development found that oxybenzone, even delivered in low doses, negatively altered the mammary gland stroma.
Other consequences of exposure to oxybenzone Spilman mentions include being a potential endocrine disruptor and linked to shorter pregnancies, lower birth weights and an increased risk of endometriosis. While she tells us that fewer sunscreens are currently made with oxybenzone, “the EWG still found it in 30 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens reviewed.”
Spilman also calls out retinyl palmitate (another vitamin A derivative) and fragrance as harmful. She references a 2012 FDA study that suggested retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin and exposed to sunlight, can potentially speed up the development of tumors and lesions. Fragrance (or parfum, as it may be called on some labels), can mean “an undisclosed mix of scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants,” and such mixtures have been linked to allergies, dermatitis, respiratory issues and reproductive system effects, she says.
Overall, she emphasizes the importance of reading sunscreen ingredient labels and avoiding the above ingredients in not just sunscreens, but any type of products, whenever possible.
Suitable sunscreens for pregnant and nursing women
This clear sunscreen boasts broad-spectrum protection and one verified five-star Amazon reviewer said it's perfect if you're "allergic to sunscreen" because it's suitable for sensitive skin and doesn't cause any redness. Plus, the small one ounce jar is TSA-friendly so it's perfect to keep on hand for all of your summer vacations.
A pick from the EWG's sunscreen guide for babies and children, this option offers broad-spectrum protection with SPF 50. It's fragrance-free and boasts lightweight, ultra-sheer and water-resistant coverage for up to 80 minutes.
This sunscreen boasts gentle and natural protection with simple and soothing ingredients like chamomile, calendula, sunflower oil and vitamin E. Another baby-safe pick from the EWG, it has just a 1 rating on their hazard scale.
This sunscreen formulation features a mineral and chemical hybrid with zinc oxide as its key ingredient. According to the brand, it's a "broad-spectrum SPF 50 specifically crafted for women" and is infused with aloe, shea butter and lavender to provide moisture in addition to sun protection.
Zinc oxide is the key ingredient in this SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen from fan-favorite beauty brand First Aid Beauty. Aside from protecting you from harmful rays, it also boasts the ability to combat skin care concerns like dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles.
Not only is this a fan-favorite with over 13,100+ verified five-star ratings on Amazon, it was also the sunscreen of choice for Shop TODAY editorial director Adrianna Brach and NBC News Digital's vice president of commerce Jen Birkhofer during their respective pregnancies (and well beyond).
If you hadn't guessed by the name, zinc oxide is the star active ingredient in this mineral sunscreen lotion from Supergoop!, a newer addition to the brand best known for their popular Unseen Sunscreen. Other highlighted ingredients include winter cherry to provide blue light and pollution protection and blueberry to help protect from infrared-induced free radical damage.
In addition to providing broad-spectrum protection, this sunscreen also touts the ability to minimize the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and photoaging. According to the brand, it contains 20 percent zinc oxide and "helps defend against free radicals and environmental aggressors."
A new release from the brand, this sunscreen has a laundry list of key ingredients including the namesake pentapeptides, red algae, peach and white mulberry and wild butterfly ginger. The active ingredients are the expert-recommended titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. According to the brand, it provides several additional benefits such as minimizing the look of excess oil and preventing the appearance of early signs of aging over time.
Frequently asked questions
Is sunscreen safe during pregnancy?
Overall, yes! Like foods, there are certain ingredients to look out for and avoid, but you should still be wearing sunscreen daily and taking sun protection measures while pregnant the same way you would when not.
Is there a certain SPF level that pregnant or nursing women should use?
Sherber, Sadeghpour and Spilman recommend choosing a sunscreen that is labeled broad-spectrum — meaning it offers UVA and UVB protection — with a SPF level of 30 or higher.
“Since [the] pregnancy state does not change the photosensitivity of the skin, the recommended SPF is the same during pregnancy as [the] non-pregnancy state,” Sadeghpour tells us.
Should women who are pregnant or nursing apply sunscreen more often?
If, while pregnant or nursing, you’re experiencing more perspiration, Sherber says these conditions could “warrant more frequent reapplication.”
More tips for choosing a sunscreen while pregnant or nursing
Each expert leads with the fact that sunscreen is only one part of sun safety and pregnant or nursing women should also employ other forms of protection like wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses; avoiding extensive sun exposure during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); and staying in the shade. Sadeghpour says they are “not only excellent measures of sun protection, but they don’t require reapplication.”
While you might be tempted to grab the sunscreen with the highest SPF levels, Spilman suggests avoiding SPF levels above 50.
“[They] may not give increased UVA protection and can fool people into thinking they’re safe from sun damage.”
Her final tip is to avoid sunscreen sprays. She says they can make it difficult to apply the necessary amount of product and actually coating the skin can be difficult, in addition to aerosol inhalation concerns.
Meet the experts
- Dr. Mona Sadeghpour, MD, is a board-certified laser and cosmetic dermatologist. She is currently practicing at SkinMed Institute in Lone Tree, Colorado.
- Dr. Noëlle Sherber, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical associate professor at George Washington University in the dermatology department.
- Emily Spilman is the healthy living science program manager for the Environmental Working Group where she manages consumer databases, focusing on cosmetics and sunscreen.