Spring is here. It’s been warmer than usual this year, and it’s almost warm enough where we live to pull out the kiddy pool or play in the sprinkler.
That leads to my yearly sun dilemma. I want my children to enjoy the beauties of God’s creation in this glorious time of year. I want them to drink in enough Vitamin D for their growing bones from the best source, the sun, without damaging their tender skin with overexposure.
What’s the wise balance? Should I lather them in sunscreen and let them play outside all day? Stay inside?
Balancing Vitamin D needs and skin safety
Sunscreen is a fairly recent “invention” and has been heavily pushed and promoted. However, despite the huge increase in sunscreen use, the cases of melanoma have increased, rather than decreased over the past few decades in all age/demographic groups. Skin cancer (including melanoma) is diagnosed in 1 to 2 million new U.S. patients each year. (Read more here.)
Something isn’t working as well as we’d hope.
Maybe the chemicals in cheap sunscreens aren’t working. Maybe people stay out in the sun longer because they feel “safe.” Maybe sunscreen is improperly applied. Maybe poor eating habits have affected our skins’ ability to protect itself.
Maybe all of these factors and more play into it. I don’t know.
A few themes seem to be consistent though in what I’ve read: The sun is the best source of Vitamin D, a hormone/vitamin that is essential for good bone health! Studies indicate that even sunscreen with a SPF of 8 blocks Vitamin D. A study performed of almost 400 healthy infants and children who came in for a regular health checkup found that 40% had too low Vitamin D levels. The AMA recently suggested that children get at least a little sun exposure each week without sunscreen (though the Dermatologist Association disagreed.)
However, as we all know, too much sun exposure can lead to serious skin problems.
We need to protect skin (especially the skin of our sensitive little ones!) from overexposure. But, sunscreen should NOT be our first layer of defense. Sunscreen is made of dozens of different chemicals, the safety of many of which have been called into question.) Also, according to the EWG, sunscreen protects well against UVB rays (that penetrate only the outer skin and cause sunburn.) However, until recently, most did not protect against UVA rays (that penetrate much deeper.) Even today, many sunscreens don’t offer adequate protection. (Read more here and here.)
Who knew playing in the sun could be so complicated? What’s a mom to do?
[I’m not a doctor, nurse or scientist. The only hospital I have ever worked in is a doll hospital. There, a band-aid can fix a heart attack (and cure skin cancer!) Do your own research and talk to your health care professional!]
My sunshine and Vitamin D plan
- Eat more foods that help protect the skin, like olive oil, fatty fish, deep orange/red veggies and fruits and leafy green vegetables. (Read more here)
- Avoid midday sun as much as possible
- Play outside in the morning and/or evening sun (without sunscreen for the Vitamin D benefits)
- Use clothes as a first defense against too much sun exposure
- Use a hat, umbrella or shade tree to avoid the need for sunscreen on my baby. (Isn’t this breathable cotton sun hat adorable?)
- Use a good quality sunscreen (that protects against UVB and UVA) when we’re going to be exposed to sun for long periods.
- If recommended by your doctor, take a Vitamin D supplement, because even when you try to get enough safe sun exposure, sometimes your body still needs more Vitamin D.
This is how I’m balancing vitamin D needs and skin safety. Any of you other moms spend an inordinate amount of time trying to wade through the science of a simple decision like this? How do you balance the need for sun-protection and Vitamin D intake?
Articles and scientific studies, for nerds like me:
EWG: 9 Surprising Truths about Sunscreen
Low Vitamin D Levels in Children with Growing Pains
Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in Healthy Children
Melanoma rates rise in U.S. in all age/demographic groups
Vitamin D fact sheet
“What We Still Don’t Know About Sunscreens“
Beta-Carotene and sun
[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]