After four years of dutifully slathering my kids with sunscreen so that their delicate little baby bottoms wouldn’t burn, one day I just…stopped. I felt like a rebel. Perhaps I was a rebel without a cause, at least I thought I had a cause! I made little fanfare about it. I didn’t discuss it with the hubs and I didn’t tell any of my friends. I mean…what kind of mother takes her toddlers out to play in the sun without putting sunscreen on them?
I have tried moisturizers with SPF. They sat on my skin like a wind breaker. When I would wash them off at night they still felt greasy and heavy, even the 'lightweight' versions. And don't even get me started about the smell. I stopped using them, even though everyone of my friends swore I was going to get skin cancer from my 20-30 minutes of daily sun exposure. I was sure of it too.
But there is something about this thinking that seemed counterintuitive. Rates of skin cancer have skyrocketed in the last hundred years, sending us to hide under sunscreen. In fact authority after authority has proclaimed even small exposure to sun as a major health risk! And then to replicate that bronzey glow we have turned to sunless tanner or rather creams that dye the skin an unnatural orange. I tried them too. And I couldn't get past the smell and uneven, unnatural color. I simply would rather be pale than orange.
But, in all our attempts to save ourselves from melanoma and wrinkles, have we? Skin cancer (both malignant and nonmalignant) rates have gone up dramatically since about 1950, but they have jumped even higher in the last 20 years. While countless doctors claim that this is due to increased awareness and better access to preventative medicine, is it? Overall cancer rates (and cancer deaths) have increased dramatically in the last 50 years and everyone is in agreement that the increase cannot just be attributed to better medical care. But in the last 30 years that we have been hiding ourselves from the sun, have we accomplished anything at all? In fact we have! When one is covered up by sunscreens it turns out that one cannot synthesize Vitamin D. Remember Vitamin D? It is the vitamin that is really a hormone. In food, it is fat soluble and comes with sun related items, think green veggies (chlorophyll needs sunlight to turn green) and animals products from animals who have been outside (think pastured eating green grass not penned eating yellow corn). Vitamin D can also be found in great quantities in oily fish like sardines and salmon. Vitamin D is now thought to be a key player in immunity, making the irony of 'that healthy glow' all the more ironic. Vitamin D is also crucial in keeping cancer from forming, suppressing cold viruses and all around good health. While my kids measure up pretty well in their Vitamin D levels (I had Thing 1 checked), I am still considering a supplement when they start school and daycare in the fall. Perhaps we can have fewer absences as a result. Though to be sure I will use a Cod Liver Oil supplement, or a D3 supplement, rather than the less effective D2.
The American population is currently believed to be Vitamin D deficient in epidemic proportions. It is estimated that up to 40% of the US Population is deficient in Vitamin D near the end of the winter time, when Vitamin D levels are at their lowest because of lack of sun exposure. A healthy measure would be 50 nmol/L. When my son was tested he measured a 90 nmol/L, and that was in the middle of a New England winter. He also doesn't (willingly) eat that much fish nor does he eat an overwhelming amount of greens, though he will eat some. What do we do? We eat fat. Even our milk is unsupplemented, but it is from cows that are outside, and it's whole. Us adults, we eats lots of leafy greens. Hopefully that behavior will be properly modeled and the kids will start to do it soon too! Your levels should never be below 32 nmol/L though, because that can set up children up for rickets (a bone disorder causing curvature of the bones, think bowed legs) and for adults, osteomalacia. As recently as last year the BBC reported a rise in rickets in the UK. And in the US rickets has been on the rise too, though most articles cite only babies as being tested, not all children.
The one thing I am still afraid of afraid of is sunburns. My kids are little bitties and their skin is so soft. So long exposure to sun particularly at the hottest times of the day will require some sun lotion. However do I need to slather every inch of them in it every time we leave the house? I don't think so. And what about SPF? 20 was common when I was growing up, 30 was for the overachievers. Today 50 is common for children's lotions and I have even seen 70. Really? 70 SPF? I wonder if I can even find 20 SPF anymore?
So this summer I am mostly ditching sunscreen, though to be sure I am taking some precautions. I won't be sunbathing specifically for a tan. Whether or not sunbathing causes melanoma, excessive sun exposure sure does cause premature aging, and I am finally old enough to actively fear wrinkles. We will probably avoid the beach during the hottest hours of the day, 12-2. Incidentally the hottest hours of the day are the same time as lunch and nap. And since a beach only intensifies the sun's rays due to the white sand, I will use some sunscreen during our infrequent trips to the beach. We don't want to spend our vacation nursing a sunburn. But if we are going to the playground and the park or just taking a quick walk on the beach boardwalk, I am ditching the potentially risky sunscreens. I am even ditching hats which my kids hate anyway. And if someone asks why I am not taking care of my kids and covering them up, expect the long answer. So, judgers beware, I can TALK your ear off.
Common sense kept us healthy for so long, why did we abandon it in the last 50 years for something newer and shinier? All our attempts to make life better with chemicals and manmade unnatural products have only served to make us sicker. Save money this summer! Ditch the sunscreen and use some common sense instead! Maybe then the rates of melanoma and nonmalignant skin cancers will start going down.
Articles, Dr. Mercola: Some Spray Tans Stop you from producting Vitamin D
Dr. Mercola's Book on the Propaganda of the Evils of Sun Exposure: Dark Deception
Topicalinfo.org: Melanoma related to the Consumption of Polyunsaturated Oils (Will you just give this up already?)
CA Cancer J Clin: Malignent Melanoma (Includes Risk of Skin Cancer in the Last 80 Years)
National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
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