How Much is Too Much? Balancing Our Families' Sun Exposure

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All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, 
And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendour! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

-St. Francis of Assisi

How Much is Too Much? Balancing Our Families' Sun Exposure

How Much is Too Much? Balancing Our Families’ Sun Exposure

It’s a sad commentary on our present culture that Brother Sun has become a thing to be feared, rather than a reflection of our glorious God.

This sun phobia is a relatively recent development.  It was just sixty years ago that the image of the pigtailed Coppertone girl and her impish puppy first appeared alongside the slogan, “Don’t Be a Paleface!”

Now, think about it.  When was the last time you saw a toddler with a tan line frolicking outdoors without protective sun gear? On the beach?  And in a two-piece swimsuit?

The commonly held view of the sun as foe, instead of friend, has made the issue of sun protection a hot (no pun intended) topic for debate, especially as it pertains to children.  How and to what extent should kids be shielded from the sun’s rays?

The Centers for Disease Control have published guidelines for parents, advising them to  make sure their children “wear hats, cover­-up clothing and sunglasses, and apply sunscreen when they participate in outdoor activities.”

Sunscreen is formulated to block the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun which, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, causes 90 percent of all nonmelanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of all melanomas. The EPA recommends use of a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

In its “Guide to Sunscreens,” the Skin Cancer Foundation pulls no punches about the absolute necessity of limiting sun exposure:

“A tan, whether you get it on the beach, in a bed, or through incidental exposure, is bad news, any way you acquire it,” says the SCF.  “If you have one, you’ve sustained skin cell damage.”

Looks like our Coppertone girl is in trouble.

But there is a dark side to sunscreen, too, and it’s making parents think twice before  reaching for the product.  CNN quotes a recent study which shows that only 25% of 800 tested, effective sunscreens do not contain potentially harmful ingredients.  The Environmental Working Group claims that 56% of beach and sport sunscreens contain the chemical oxybenzone, which they say is linked to hormone disruption and pre-cancerous cell damage.

Now consider the evidence of the “sun as friend” faction.  Dr. Michael Holick, author of “The UV Advantage” and one of the world’s most respected authorities on the health benefits of natural sunlight, advocates “sensible sun exposure.”  He recommends spending a few minutes in the sun several times a week, with the suggested length and frequency of the sessions varying by season, and by a person’s ethnicity and geographic location.  The objective, says Dr. Holick, is to absorb enough sunlight for the body to manufacture the vitamin D it needs.

According to some data, vitamin D – often called “the sunshine vitamin” –  acts as a cancer preventive. Research conducted by Harvard University professor Dr. Edward Giovannucci suggests that vitamin D might help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer.

“I would challenge anyone to find a nutrient or any factor that has such consistent anti-cancer benefits as vitamin D,” Giovannucci says. “The data are really quite remarkable.”

The link between sunshine and good health is so powerful that, in countries farther away from the equator, the death rate from certain cancers is higher, while in countries closer to the sun, the rate is lower.

So what’s to be done by a mother who wants her children to get the benefits of sunshine while shielding them from both overexposure and the toxins in commercial sunscreens?Simply exercise caution when exposing children to the sun, allowing them to take in a small amount each day, and progressively increasing their time outdoors.

“Remember never to get burned, that is the key,” says Dr. Joseph Merola, an osteopathic physician and natural health proponent.

Dr. Merola puts forth what he calls a “logical solution” to the threat of overexposure to the sun:  “Creatively use your clothing to block the sun’s rays during your build-up time,” he says.

Helping the members of your family to produce their own “internal sunscreens” is also a good idea. Dr. Merola advises consuming lots of whole vegetables to increase antioxidant levels in the body, which provide protection against any sun-induced radiation damage.

For those times when extended exposure to the sun is anticipated, the use of an all-natural sunscreen is a good option.  There are many substances – coconut oil, shea butter, crushed berries, and aloe vera gel, to name a few –  that will provide some protection.  Be aware, however, that the protection afforded by most natural sunscreens is limited.

As Catholic moms, we have an obligation to cultivate in our children an appreciation for the world God has created.   Let’s start by teaching them to understand the “light in the expanse of the heavens” (Gen. 1:14) which He gave us for our joy and wellbeing.

Copyright 2013 Celeste Behe

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About Author

A writer, speaker, and the mother of nine homeschooled children, Celeste Behe has a rare perspective on parenting, family life, and the importance of keeping up with the laundry. If asked to describe herself in twenty words or less, Celeste will say that she’s a humorist, logophile, calligrapher, nostalgist, and Bronx-born Calabrese who walks by faith and talks with her hands. A recovering Mompostor™, Celeste is on a mission to help moms overcome their insecurities, take back their vocation, and save the world!

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