How Do I Protect my Family from the Hawaii Sun? (A “Hippy” Mama take on Sun Exposure)
Since moving to Hawaii one of the most frequent questions that I receive on my Instagram/YouTube is about sun protection.
“What do you do to protect your child from the suns harmful rays?”
“How do you protect yourself from getting sun burn?”
“What brand of sunscreen do you use?”
The sun isn’t something we should have to fear. After all, the sun is the source of life! So, I want to begin by saying that a proper amount of sun is not harmful to us, in fact, it is tremendously beneficial.
Why? Well, because we need the sun for Vitamin D.
Yes, there are some Vitamin D supplements available; but from experience, they simply do not work the same. Furthermore, studies are coming to find that Vitamin D is more beneficial than we ever thought. Vitamin D affects our hormones (actually, Vitamin D is considered a hormone), proper calcium absorption, and our immune system health (amongst other things).
Vitamin D is thought of as the “happy vitamin” because it balances our hormones and makes us feel happy.
As a person who grew up in a cold climate, and moved to a tropical climate, I have first hand experience on how it feels to get a proper amount of Vitamin D verses being Vitamin D deficient.
I was taking a Vitamin D supplement back in the North east of America (3oooIU), but I was still suffering from tooth decay, depression, and a not-so-healthy immune system. Since we have moved to the tropics (and getting healthy amounts of sun) my oral health has improved dramatically. I haven’t had a single cavity! I also haven’t been ill in the last eight months, where as I used to average around 4 + illnesses in a single winter season. My mood has also changed dramatically as well.
From this experience, my husband and I have come to understand how important Vitamin D is for our mental and physical health.
So, to answer your question: I make sure to get a healthy amount of sun everyday and almost never wear sunscreen (more on that later).
BUT what about sun burn, that surely can not be healthy, right?
I remember having sunburn frequently as a kid.
As a fair skinned person I assumed that sunburn was a curse, and unavoidable. In the summer, my parents would lather my sisters and me with sunscreen each time we played outside. You would think that with all of the precaution we would have been saved from sun burned, but we weren’t. My sisters and I have had many, many sun burns. I have even had a few cases of painful, severe sun poisoning that covered my face and shoulders.
Why did I get such bad sunburns even though I was wearing sunscreen?
As the 2016 summer season is beginning I have been seeing posts on social media from loving mothers whose children recently suffered bad burns from the sun.
One mother mentioned that she and her children were out on their first beach day of the year for 5 hours, liberally applying sunscreen, but were still severely burned.
So, the burning question (pun intended) is: why?
Here’s the long answer: It’s important that we (children especially) are eased into the sun, and are only given the proper amount of direct sunlight that our skin can handle.
Let me explain:
1. Children (especially babies) are more likely to burn because their skin is so fresh and new. They need to be acclimated to the sun’s rays gradually.
2. When we spend months indoors (due to winter) and then emerge into the sun when the weather warms up again, we have to be cautious about our first sun exposure of the season. Our skin is not re-acclimated to the suns rays yet and burning can (and most likely will) occur if we aren’t careful about the amount of time we spend in direct sunlight.
3. Even after we become acclimated to the suns rays, a healthy amount of time in direct sunlight is around 1.5 hours for most fair to “medium” skinned people. After that, it’s beneficial to get into the shade.
Back when our parents were raising us there was no such thing as social media or the internet, and so, they didn’t have the same information that we have. Our parents had to follow government guidelines, doctor’s orders, and advice from their family, friends, or even infomercials. Today, many parents are beginning to understand the importance of doing their own research when it comes to everything.
Many parents have the idea that if they simply use sunscreen their family can stay in the direct sunlight for as long as they desire and not get sun burn. That is simply not the case. Too much sun exposure is too much sun exposure whether we are wearing sunscreen or not.
Furthermore, research has linked ingredients used in some sunscreens to cancer.
Yes, I know, it feels like everything causes cancer these days. I know that it feels like one-more-thing we have to worry about as a parent. I know we have a lot on our plates. I know that we don’t want to hear this, but it’s the truth. We have preventative information at our finger tips that we can choose to use or ignore; and sometimes, it feels easier to ignore it.
The first summer after my daughter was born; someone gifted me a tube of “baby” sunscreen to use on her. I remember looking at the tube and thinking “What is IN sunscreen that it can actually block the sun??” How could we block the sun with a lotion? That just didn’t seem right. I have never given sunscreen a second thought until that moment. After that, I thought: Oh wonderful, another thing to research!
What I found was that many sunscreens were harmful even though they were well marketed, and popularly used. Sadly, profit trumped human health in this instance.
(You can see a list of the best and worst sunscreens here.)
The good news is that there are a few brands of sunscreens that are OK to use.
When I was questioning if I wanted to use sunscreen on my daughter I asked our Holistic MD what she thought. She said the best brands of sunscreen were made from Zinc Oxide. I researched and found a brand called “Badger” that makes safe and effective baby and adult sunscreen. Later, it was recommended to me by several other experts, and friends that I trusted. It’s also vegan and not tested on animals.
I bought a tube of “Badger” sunscreen that summer with the intention on using it. What’s funny is that we never used it. And, we didn’t use it the summer after that either.
We simply used hats, rash guards, and blankets to cover our daughter while in the hot sun. We were also conscious of the amount of time she spent in direct sunlight.
She never once wore sun block, and she never once had sun burn.
It wasn’t until our daughter was nearly three years old that sunscreen touched her skin. It was after we moved to Maui. We realized that the sun was much stronger here, and we needed to take more precautions. She got her first sun burn, so we decided to use sun screen sparingly.
If we know that we will be playing in the direct sunlight for over an hour, we simply put a dot of sunscreen on her nose and cheeks. That’s it.
Before I let you go I want to give you a few tips for sun exposure:
• Don’t be afraid of the sun. After all, the sun is the source of life. Try to spend up to 30 minutes in the sun so you can get a proper amount of Vitamin D.
• Be conscious of the amount of time you/your kids are in direct sunlight. Time can fly when you are having fun. Keep track of the time, and once 1.5 hours (or the time your body is used to) goes by…get into the shade!
• Seriously, get in the shade! I know it’s fun to play volleyball, body surf the waves at the beach, and build sand castles—but too much time in the sun will burn your skin, and the shade will help protect you from that.
• Set up your stuff in a shaded area so that your children will be in the shade each time they return to you for snacks, toys, or cuddles.
• Avoid being in direct sunlight during the hottest peak hours of the day (10am-2pm) OR be conscious of the time in the sun and limit the time.
• Wear hats, and sunglasses in direct sunlight.
• Use sun block when you know you will be in the sun for longer than what your body is used to but still monitor how much time you spend in the sun.
• Acclimate yourself to the sun. Start by being in direct sunlight 10 minutes a day, and then 15 minutes a day, and then 30 minutes a day…and so on.
• If you live in a climate with a cold winter be aware that your skin needs to re-acclimate every summer to the strong sun.
• If you are going on a vacation to a location that is close to the equator remember that the sun in stronger.
Note: This, of course, is not meant to be a “know all” blog post. I highly encourage you to do your own research and find your own truth when it comes to sun exposure. I am simply sharing what I have learned and what works for our family. Each person will have a different threshold before a burn. My mention of 1.5 hours is not for everyone…it’s a general idea. Also, 1.5 hours may be too much for daily exposure. Find out what your personal threshold is by acclimating yourself to the sun.
*I also want to mention that I am not affiliated with Badger brand sun screen and I am not getting paid to recommend their product. I simply really like their sun screen, and wanted to let other mothers know about it.
“Correctly applied sunscreen reduces our ability to absorb vitamin D by more than 90 percent. (8) And not all sunlight is created equal: The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays—the so-called “tanning” rays, and the rays that trigger the skin to produce vitamin D—are stronger near the equator and weaker at higher latitudes. So in the fall and winter, people who live at higher latitudes (in the northern U.S. and Europe, for example) can’t make much if any vitamin D from the sun.” -A Harvard Study on Vitamin D (last reference above)
Watch my video on how moving to the tropics changed my health:
Check out my E-BOOK on dream following + our story of how we moved to Maui here!