Does your child have sunlight deficiency?

Child enjoying sun exposure

We parents are constantly warned to protect our children from the sun so they can enjoy being outside without damaging their skin. But what if ‘sun protection’ is actually causing more harm than good?

Many of us have been convinced that the sun is dangerous for our children’s delicate skin and the only safe way to have them outside is to slather them in sunscreen. Not only is this untrue, but the majority of sunscreens have toxic ingredients that leach into the skin and have been linked to diseases including cancer.

This blog shines a light on the science behind sunlight’s health benefits, and how to enjoy it safely including:

– Our favourite non-toxic sunscreen brands

– Why it’s important for everyone to get a bit of sun without sunscreen

– A link to a clever sun exposure calculator to help you know how much sun is safe depending on skin type, location, time of day and weather

Sunlight’s benefits go beyond Vitamin D

While it’s important to protect skin from sun damage, it’s also very important to make sure we are exposed to a healthy dose of sunlight as often as possible. People wrongly think sunlight should be avoided at all costs and they can just pop a Vitamin D supplement to make up for it. If you miss out on sun exposure, you’re missing out on a myriad of benefits including the main ones we’ve listed below.

Visual light – keeps our body clock ticking
Exposure to sunlight signals our brain when it’s time to wake up and go to sleep by increasing and decreasing our sleep hormone melatonin. Interestingly, glass blocks this effect to some extent so experts recommend getting outside for at least an hour in the morning to help keep our body clocks in sync. Photoreceptors are on our skin as well as in our eyes so the more skin you can expose, the better. At that time of day, it’s almost always safe to be outdoors without sunscreen, and the light will be beneficial to you even on grey days.

Infrared light – boosts energy in mitochondria
The sun produces infra-red rays which have been proven to improve mitochondrial function. Our mitochondria are the parts of our cells that create the energy we need to survive. Many children we see in our clinic have mitochondrial dysfunction meaning they struggle to make the energy their bodies need to stay healthy. The warmth you feel from the sun’s light is the effect of infrared waves and can penetrate deep into the skin. Note that sunscreens don’t block infrared light, so you can still get the benefit with sunscreen on.

UV light – beyond Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential to our wellbeing and is created when our skin is exposed to UV light from the sun. It helps support the health of everything from our bones to our moods and immune systems. But UV has been shown to provide much more than Vitamin D. Although too much UV radiation is damaging to the skin, the right amount – without sunscreen – has been proven to have positive effects on cardiovascular health, neurotransmitters and the immune system independent of Vitamin D synthesis. Aim to get about 10 minutes of peak UV exposure a day before you put sunscreen on. If you want to protect against wrinkles, you can wear a hat or use sunscreen on your face only, allowing the rest of your body to soak up the goodness.

Sunscreen’s Dangers

While cosmetic companies are happy to shout about the dangers of the sun, they are a bit silent when it comes to the dangers of sunscreen. Many sunscreens marketed for children have harmful chemicals that can be absorbed into the body through the skin. Even sunscreens that advertise ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ ingredients on the label can have hidden nasties like ‘fragrance’ which often is made from hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates. Other dangerous chemicals go by the names of Oxybenzone, Octonoxate, Retinyl Palmitate, and parabens. The most natural and safe ones use either zinc or titanium oxide as these are natural minerals that block the sun and our favourite brands include Badger, Green People and Sweet Bee Organics (available online or at most health food stores).

Even the most natural organic sunscreens will block some of the UV benefits and Vitamin D production, so aim to get at least 10 minutes of sun exposure before you put sun cream on you or your child.

Handy sun exposure calculator

The amount of time you can safely spend in the sun without suncream depends on your skin colour, time of day and year, and the weather. We found a fantastic online tool that calculates all this for you so you know how long you can stay in the sun safely without developing a burn. It also calculates how much sun you’ll need to maintain your current level of Vitamin D. It was developed by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research and is evidence-based and scientifically calculated so we trust it. However, always go by your own experience and use common sense – this should be used only as a guide as it was designed for adult exposure.

Click here for the link to the safe sun exposure calculator

It will ask you to input time, place, skin type and amount of Vitamin D you’d like to achieve. Note we recommend 3,000 i.u. to maintain levels but this may increase overall sun time to a level that risks sunburn depending on the time of day.

Some things to remember

  1. The above is general advice and not meant for children under three
  2. Young babies under six months should avoid exposure to sun and sunscreens (even natural ones) to be completely safe as their skin is so sensitive and they also have a hard time regulating body temperature
  3. Use your own judgement when exposing children to safe amounts of sun – remember heat and dehydration are also dangers so be sure to keep them hydrated and cool
  4. Avoid sunscreens with harmful ingredients – best to shop at local health food shops or use the brands we recommended above
  5. Eyes should be protected from bright sunlight – obviously never look directly into the sun, and use sunglasses with a good UV filter at peak sun times (usually between 10am – 2pm).

We hope this gives you a bit of reassurance so you and your family can enjoy some true health-giving benefits of sunlight before having to use sunscreen.