The Sunshine Insufficiency

Little daughter applying sun cream to her mother nose

Summer’s here and moms everywhere are wondering, “what’s the best sunscreen for my child?” After all, no one wants a child with a sunburn!  But you also don’t want to spray chemicals all over your kids which are potentially even more harmful. Below you’ll find three things to consider when it comes to sun exposure, health, and keeping your kids at their best. Warning: what I’m about to share might contradict everything you’ve been told!

Sunshine is an important component of great health!

We’re all aware that sun exposure is great for increasing vitamin D levels. Research shows that maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D can reduce your overall cancer risk by 60%. Additional studies show that maintaining appropriate Vitamin D levels is protective against type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease.  In kids – there have even been links showing a correlation with low vitamin D levels and cavities! While oral vitamin D3 supplements can be helpful, they do not have the same health protective qualities as the real thing – sunshine!

The health benefits of appropriate sun exposure go well beyond the vitamin D production we’ve all heard about. There are many other biological processes that take place with healthy amounts of sun exposure. Evidence presented in various journals shows that sun exposure enhances mood and energy by releasing endorphins. It is excellent for improving various skin diseases, is anti-microbial, relieves pain, protects against multiple sclerosis progression and offers cardiovascular protection.   

With all these benefits, why then, are we encouraged to stay out of the sun when this is one of the best, most natural ways to help stay healthy? Confusing, right?!  Sun exposure is important for the immune system, and in fact there are many studies to prove that under-exposure to sunlight has significant negative health implications. The risks we so commonly hear about exposure to the sun only relate to overexposure and sunburns.  Preventing burns and overexposure is important – but don’t avoid the sun to the extent that your body is starved of all the benefits.

Sunscreen Safety Awareness

The last thing we’re attempting to do when using sunscreen is cause added harm or toxicity to our body – especially our kids! The scary truth, however, is that there are some seriously awful ingredients in sunscreens – and just because they’re allowed to be used, doesn’t make them safe or healthy.

If you want the nerdy details (trust me – they’re out there) just do a little research for yourself. I’ll summarize a few of the high-points (or should I call them low points?) associated with sunscreen.

  • Two types of sunscreen

Sunscreens work based on two different mechanisms. The most common type uses chemical filters to block UV radiation, while the other functions more as a barrier sitting on top of the skin. Chemical filter sunscreen = toxic. Many of the chemicals are hormone disruptors, while others (get this!) are known to be cancer-causing! All are toxic.

  • Sunscreen Toxicity

Steer completely clear from the following (this is only a very partial list of some of the worst ingredients):

retinyl palmitate: known to actually speed the growth of skin tumors – added to reduce skin aging, which is completely counter-productive

oxybenzone: endocrine disruptor linked to endometriosis and reduced sperm count – yet still approved by the FDA

octinoxate: endocrine system disruptor known to make it into a woman’s breastmilk!

Parabens: synthetic preservatives used in many cosmetic products as well as foods, but linked to cancer, reproductive, immunological, neurological problems in addition to skin irritation

  • Nanoparticles

Spray-on sunscreens post an additional level of toxicity. The particles are nano-sized, and can be inhaled, harming lung tissue. The chemicals most commonly used for these types of sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Interestingly enough, these are the safest and most effective barrier sunscreen ingredients when used in lotion form.

  • WT[SP]F?

When it comes to figuring out the sun protection factor (SPF) – it’s not as simple as just the numbers. SPF 15 gives you 15x the sun protection with 94% of the rays being blocked. An SPF 30 gives your skin 30x the protection of not wearing sunscreen at all, and blocks about 97% of the UVB rays for about two hours. No sunscreen blocks 100%, and a higher SPF typically just means more chemicals.

Healthy, Happy & Safe

What exactly is ‘appropriate’ sun exposure? First, it might surprise you that the best time to expose your skin to the sun for UBV exposure (which makes vitamin D) is when the sun is highest in the sky. That’s around 1:40 in Indiana this time of year. You need to remain in the sun until the skin turns a bit pink for maximum health benefits. This might only be 10 or 20 minutes for someone with fair skin and could be quite a bit longer for someone with a dark skin tone. It doesn’t usually take much! Ideally, the rest of outdoor time would be spent under shade, although that’s just not always possible. 

This works for our family!

If we know you’re going to be out in the sun for longer than a “healthy exposure” amount of time – how do you safely protect your family? There are many options – it’s just a matter of finding what works best for you. At the Indy 500 last weekend, for example, I wore a white long-sleeved t-shirt, which has somewhere between a 7-15 SPF, a great way to keep burning rays away. The coconut oil moisturizer I always use has an SPF of 4-5 – which also made a big difference! Coconut oil is not the best option on the face, however. That’s where a hat and and a bit of sunscreen did come into play.

When searching for a sunscreen, a higher SPF does not mean better. Remember, the super-high SPF options are usually loaded with harmful chemicals. Look for an SPF right around 30, which will block 97% of the UV radiation. The safest sunscreens are the type that form a barrier to protect the skin from overexposure (not a chemical filter). The most effective and safest active ingredient is zinc oxide, in lotion or cream form.

Since my husband and I are both chiropractors, you can imagine that we live a pretty “crunchy” lifestyle based on average society norms. I’ve done extensive research to figure out what products I want to use from myself and family, and love sharing what I learn with others. A healthier community benefits us all – and there’s nothing I want more than a healthy environment in which to live and raise my kids.

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