Summer is almost here and I’ve been enjoying sitting out in the mid-day sun, soaking up the rays. Safe sun exposure is key to a healthy summer. We used to think we had to lather sunscreen on our kids whenever they were going to be out in the sun. Now we’re learning that we need to provide our kids with a healthy level of sun while making sure they don’t get sunburned.
There’s no doubt that kids need a high level of vitamin D to be healthy and sunshine is the best way to get it. If you live in the USA or in another country where there’s plenty of sun this time of year, now is the time to focus on building adequate vitamin D levels so your children have strong immunity when cold and flu season arrives later in the year. A good idea is to get your kids’ vitamin D levels checked to make sure they are receiving vitamin D from the sun and have high levels going into the fall and winter months.
When skin is exposed to sunshine, it makes vitamin D3, a prohormone that gets converted into prehormones that have significant effects on the body. Vitamin D3 is critically important for the development, growth, and maintenance of a healthy body. In other words, you or your kids cannot be healthy without sufficient levels. In addition to strengthening immunity and protecting against infections, vitamin D protects against many types of cancer and actually decreases the risk of skin cancer. There is evidence suggesting that vitamin D may help or cure asthma. There are even some findings that suggest that low vitamin D levels (in mothers during pregnancy and in infants) may affect the risk of autism.
It’s uncertain whether oral vitamin D supplements provide all of the same benefits as the vitamin D created in your skin from sun exposure, so take advantage of the sun if you can. Large portions of skin need to be exposed for certain periods of time to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D, and the best time for exposure is as near to noon as possible.
There are two main types of ultraviolet light – UVA and UVB. UVB are the healthy wavelengths that produce vitamin D3. The UVA wavelengths penetrate the skin further and cause more free radical damage. These are the rays most responsible for sunburn. Unfortunately, the unhealthy UVA rays are constant during ALL hours of the day throughout the entire year while the healthy UVB rays are low in morning and evening, and only high in the middle of the day (approximately between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.) During these hours you will need the shortest sun exposure time to produce the most vitamin D.
There are many factors that influence how much vitamin D is produced in response to sun exposure, including the angle of the sun’s rays, depending on time of day, season, and latitude. A good rule of thumb is if your shadow is longer than you are tall, you are not making much vitamin D. Another factor is skin type -whether your skin is light or dark. Also the amount of vitamin D produced depends on your age, amount of skin exposed, whether sunscreen is used, and many environmental factors. And you should know that sunscreens reduce vitamin D production by as much as 97.5 to 99.9%.
So the key is to determine the optimal amount of time your individual child needs exposure. Once the skin begins to turn pink it is no longer making any additional vitamin D and further exposure will result in skin damage. If you have a child with very fair skin, the optimal time will be only 10-20 minutes in the middle of every day. A child with darker skin may need a half hour to an hour to optimize vitamin D production.
This article goes into more detail on how to determine the necessary length of sun exposure time for yourself or your child to produce optimal amounts of vitamin D:
It’s crucial to not let your children get sunburned. The risk of melanoma increases with frequent, severe sunburns. The best way to prevent sunburn is by covering up with clothing, but if that’s not practical, then use non-toxic sunscreen with zinc oxide. The unfortunate thing is that most sunscreens are very toxic. 800 sunscreens were tested by the Environmental Working Group and they found that only 25 percent of them effectively protect against sunburn without using harmful ingredients.
I found a great, non-toxic zinc oxide sunscreen that I highly recommend.
Read more about chemical free sunscreen