As we all know, sun safety is very important particularly in high UV countries like Australia where about 14 000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed annually. Further, it’s important to make sure you have adequate vitamin D levels generally from spending a short amount of time outside each day. Recent reports in the media have cautioned that some sunscreens may contain chemicals that are absorbed in small amounts into the bloodstream. However it is currently unknown if this absorption has any effect on a mother or her unborn child, and the studies thus far have only tested excessive rather than normal sunscreen usage.
If concerned, women in pregnancy may choose to use sunscreens that work with a physical UV block rather than with UV absorption chemicals. Chemical sunscreens are typically less thick and more transparent, while physical sunscreens are generally white and heavier, and will list the natural minerals zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide in the ingredients.
Zinc oxide (ZnO) and titanium dioxide (TiO2) are inorganic metal oxides, which are small particles that act as a physical blocker, absorbing and dissipating both UVA and UVB radiation. Usually recommended for people with sensitive skin, these sunscreens have been found to be less likely to cause irritation than chemical sunscreens. These days improved technology means that the minerals can be used in sunscreen in nanoparticle form, appearing on the label as ‘micronised,’ which enables the sunscreen to be more transparent.
Often physical blockers are used alongside chemical filters in a synergistic way to create very high-SPF, non-irritating sunscreens in light, breathable formulations, so please check the label. As always, sunscreen should be used in combination with hat, sunglasses, and other protective clothing for full sun safety.
For more information, see the Mothersafe fact-sheet on skin care, which can be found at: https://www.seslhd.health.nsw.gov.au/royal-hospital-for-women/services-clinics/directory/mothersafe/factsheets