I’ll never forget walking into my house in Costa Rica and seeing my college-aged sister lying on the bed with the worst sunburn I’ve ever witnessed. The blister that stretched across her shoulders to her mid-back bore the semblance of cottage cheese. My 20-something cousin was gently rubbing aloe on her.
“So, um, how was the boat ride?” I asked.
“It was the boat ride from…” (And I cannot repeat the rest of what she said!)
My heart sunk. While I had spent my day teaching missionary children, I imagined my sister and cousin enjoying the Costa Rican excursion I had set up for them. Instead, my sister had ridden two hours on a boat without applying sunscreen. The Costa Rican sun had literally scorched her back.
Image by miss pupik
Risks of Too Much Sun Exposure
Whereas I believe in and advocate the benefits of the sun for proper vitamin D intake, I have no doubts that too much sun can be a very bad thing. I’ve witnessed it. And I’ve experienced it. As a small child, I remember at least one blistering sunburn that literally made me sick to my stomach. I never want to experience that again.
As much as we need the sun, we must take precaution. The risks of too much sun exposure include:
- dehydration (I experienced this while picking blueberries the other day!),
- immune system suppression,
- eye damage,
- skin aging, and
- skin cancer. (source)
Image by seafaringwoman
The Delicate Balance Between Limiting Sun Exposure…and Getting Too Much
So where does the balance lie? How can we take advantage of all the sun’s benefits while protecting ourselves–and our families–from the sun’s harmful effects?
For my family and me personally, it involves intentional sun exposure in order to maximize the sun’s benefits but remaining wise with the sun’s risks. We most definitely don’t get enough sun in the wintertime, so we take vitamin D3 supplements to account for the loss of exposure to natural vitamin D via the sun.
(Today, I actually read this article about how low vitamin D levels can contribute to depression…and even worse psychological disorders. Hmmmm…maybe my low vitamin D levels were a contributor in my theorized PPD?)
Some studies have shown that “suddenly getting a lot of sun is more dangerous then steady exposure over time.” (source) That right there tells me that it’s necessary for my girls to get a decent amount of unprotected sun exposure while they are young.
This same source references a Scandinavian study of melanoma risk published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2003 that found that adolescence is the most dangerous time to get a sunburn. To me, that indicates that now–while are they are still toddlers and preschoolers–is the time to be slowly building up their sun exposure.
But how does that play out in everyday life?
Intentional Sun Exposure
- We try to spend time outside before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are not so harsh.
- If using sunscreen or out between 10-3, I may wait to apply it until we arrive at our location–instead of beforehand. This way, we receive some sun exposure while waiting for the sunscreen to take its full effect. (The sunscreen bottle should say how long it will take to start working.)
- I don’t typically apply sunscreen if we are simply out running errands, etc.
Image by Keith Williamson
Here are 7 Ways to Minimize the Sun’s Risks
2. I try to be aware of any skin changes on myself or the girls (or my husband) that could indicate a cancerous growth. I think I am a rare, rare breed in that I have absolutely zero moles, but I have hundreds of freckles. I recently asked my midwife to look at a misshapen freckle just to be safe. (For more on checking your skin for potential cancer, read this article.)
3. While outside for extended periods, we try to sit in the shade–underneath an awning, an umbrella, a tree, etc. While we were in China a few years ago, I noted that people used umbrellas for shade as much as for rain. We don’t see that very often in the U.S., but it’s a great idea!
4. My husband, who shaves his head, typically wears a ball cap if he will be out for a long time. If he is not wearing a cap, he is wearing sunscreen on his head.
5. We like to dress our girls in swimsuits that have sleeves as much as possible. These are becoming more mainstream. We found our girls their suits at a local consignment sale for a really good price.
6. This does not involve the sun, but it does involve limiting your risk of skin cancer: We avoid tanning beds. Even though lots of girls my age frequented tanning beds during my teens and 20s, I am so thankful I never had the desire. I pray this is never an issue with my girls, as I will teach them the dangers involved!
7. I have not researched this in-depth, but some people point to a good diet as helpful in limiting the risks of sun burns. I am not sure if it’s my current diet or the fact that I’ve had 31 years of sun exposure, but I burn far less easily than I did as a child. My girls are very fair-skinned with red hair, and even though I do not apply sunscreen to them every day, they have never had sunburns.
How do you minimize the risks of too much sun exposure while maximizing the sun’s benefits?
Image by mislav-m
Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in this series and check back next week for two more natural sunscreen reviews and a few more posts!
**Disclaimer: I am not in any way, shape or form a medical professional. I am simply a mom who loves to research. Please conduct your own research and consult with your trusted health professional before making any decisions regarding your health. This blog is for entertainment purposes only.
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