Summer Sun, Benefits and Risks Not Always So Obvious

Today is the last day of school for my sons, Ben and Adam, and the excitement of summer vacation is here! Many of us will be slathering large amounts of sunscreen on our children to protect them from the potential harms of too much sun or restricting time outside. What is the best approach for the intensity of the summer sun?  I get this question all of the time from parents.

Are there really potential hazards in Sunscreen?   Yes. Many sunscreens on the market today contain hazardous chemicals that penetrate the skin and go directly into the bloodstream. By choosing a natural sunscreen made from mineral and plant-based ingredients rather than chemicals, you can protect your skin and avoid harmful chemicals.

Natural sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients offer broad-spectrum effectiveness but do not disrupt our body’s natural hormones, don’t break down easily in the sun, and cause few allergic reactions.

Though the FDA monitors the ingredients in sunscreens, health watchdogs have found many of the ingredients approved by the FDA have unwanted and harmful side effects. The Environmental Protection Agency (EWG) evaluated US-approved sunscreen chemicals for both their ability to block UV radiation and for toxicity. To find a list of chemical ingredients to avoid and the top rated natural sunscreens available, check out the EWG Sunscreen Guide.

Are there benefits for being out in the Sun?  Daily exposure to bright sunlight  – even for 10-20 minutes – is the best way for the body to make vitamin D. Research has shown that most of us are somewhat deficient in vitamin D. We need adequate levels of D to stabilize bone and muscle health, boost immunity, and help reduce inflammation. Just as important for children, time in the sun optimizes cyclic secretion of melatonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that influences biorhythms, immunity, sleep, and hormonal function. Recently Vitamin D has been shown to enhance overall well-being (Fielding 2010, Lucas 2008) and possibly lower skin cancer risks (Tang 2010).


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