Sunshine, Vitamin D and Sunscreen

Spring is here. It’s been warmer than usual this year, and (at least where we live) it’s almost warm enough 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?

photo credit 

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 (and possibly other forms of health too!) 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 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! 

This is what I plan to do:

  1. 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)
  2. Avoid midday sun as much as possible
  3. Play outside in the morning and/or evening sun (without sunscreen for the Vitamin D benefits)
  4. Use clothes as a first defense against too much sun exposure
  5. Use a hat, umbrella or shade tree to avoid the need for sunscreen on my baby
  6. Use a good quality sunscreen (that protects against UVB and UVA) when we’re going to be exposed to sun for long periods.

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

What about you? 

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Comments

  1. says

    These all seem like really good tips. I unfortunately have suffered from sun poisoning, and believe me it is not something I would wish on anyone. I probably will be using sunscreen on my (very) fair skinned children. The benefits just seem to outweigh the risks for our family. I’m not going to worry about it until we get into the summer though.

    I’d love it if you’d link this post up with my encouraging hearts linky. http://www.lessonsfromivy.com/2012/04/encouragement-in-trials-with-linky.html

  2. says

    Great post Anna! My family does a lot of the things you mentioned in the post. I’ll add this…you can also still get sun exposure on a cloudy day. I have gotten one of my worse sunburns during the summer on a warm, cloudy day! So your rules still apply on those days too! :)

    • anna says

      Thanks for the reminder Jasmine! I have heard that, but when it’s not sunny, tend to not worry about too much sun. I will try to remember that, especially with my baby whose skin is very fair.

  3. says

    Great tips! : ) We use Coconut Oil as a natural sunscreen and it works great. It doesn’t have any chemicals and still allows you to get all the wonderful things from sunshine. Coconut Oil is all they use in the Philippines and they are in the sun all year round and they have hardly any of the skin and other health issue we have in the states. Just thought I’d share that – maybe you will like to try it someday! :)

  4. says

    Thanks for the tips on the food choices that could help with the sun issues (and the sites, I’m a nerd too).

    Besides all the healthy reasons, I love the way babies look with those large, rimmed hats!

  5. says

    Finding a balance is so tricky! I know that for me our rule of thumb is if we are just going to be outside for a little bit – a quick walk around the block or to the library or our friends house, etc. we don’t do sunscreen. But if it’s going to be a longer time, we definitely do sunscreen. I had a great sunscreen that I really loved and now I’m frustrated because I can not find it anywhere – it pulled a total disappearing act. My biggest problem when it comes to this is that I tend to always remember to put sunscreen on my son but rarely on myself. I know I should get better about that!

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