Smart Sun Exposure & Optimizing Vitamin D
“The sea is blue because the sunlight is reflected back to our eyes from the water molecules or from very minute particles suspended in the sea. In the journey of the light rays downward into the water and back to our eyes, all the red rays of the spectrum and most of the yellow have been absorbed, so it is chiefly the cool, blue light that we see.”
― Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
Why We Need Vitamin D
Sunburns are no fun, and excessive sun exposure can have consequences. However, safe sun time is essential for mental and physical health.
Vitamin D, a hormone manufactured in the presence of sunlight, has wonderful benefits of helping to improve cardiovascular health and immune function, and even decreases cancer risks by more than 50% in some cases. Our bodies also need Vitamin D to absorb calcium and support bone growth and healing.
Inadequate levels of Vitamin D in the blood can lead to serious health risks, such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Over the last year we saw an even greater increase in health complications related to Vitamin D deficiency, as it has been linked with more severe cases of COVID-19.
Approximately 42% of Americans are generally found to be Vitamin D deficient, but those numbers went up to 80% in COVID-19 patients, according to healthline.
The Royal College of Physicians studied some of the underlying conditions that determine the severity and fatality risk of a COVID-19 infection. They found that each condition was linked to Vitamin D deficiency:
- Low T regulatory lymphocytes (Tregs) levels: Tregs are cells that defend against uncontrolled inflammation - and viral infection in general. Tregs levels can be boosted with Vitamin D supplementation.
- Respiratory inflammation: Low vitamin D levels have been associated with an increase in inflammatory cytokines (molecules secreted by immune cells) and risks of pneumonia and viral upper respiratory tract infections.
- Thrombotic Episodes: Caused by blood clots forming in the brain, these episodes are frequently observed in COVID-19, and associated with a Vitamin D deficiency.
- Obesity and Diabetes: Both Vitamin D deficiency and a higher mortality in COVID-19 are associated with these conditions.
It is therefore more important now than ever that we be cognizant of our Vitamin D intake and do what we can to maintain healthy levels.
There are a few foods that actually contain significant amounts of Vitamin D. Some foods that are rich in Vitamin D are Salmon, Codliver Oil, and Mackerel. Every food source in nature that contains Vitamin D contains healthy fat, that is because Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. When supplementing with Vitamin D it is recommended to take it with fat and opt for D3 over D2. D3 produces 2-3 greater storage of Vitamin D than D2.
Smart Sun Exposure
The body can make all the Vitamin D it needs for a day in about half the time it takes the skin to burn. So it’s important to be aware of how unprotected and prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be damaging. One tool we really love for limiting exposure to the sun, and subsequently our need to use sunscreen, is the Dminder App. Dminder helps track your Vitamin D intake by notifying you when the safe and optimal times are to get sun exposure without worrying about sunscreen. It warns you of risks of burning your skin based on location, body type, and time of day.
Keeping Little Ones Safe in the Sun
Healthy sun time is actually vital to helping newborns overcome jaundice and preventing hyperbilirubinemia. Jaundice is a common condition recognized by a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes that occurs when bilirubin builds up faster than a newborn’s liver can break it down and pass it from the body, leading to an excess of it in the blood. Bilirubin is produced by the normal breakdown of red blood cells when they complete their life cycle and die off.
Sunlight has been shown to break down bilirubin most effectively; in fact, one hour of sunshine has the same benefit of six hours under special lights in the hospital. Plus, the less time your baby has to stay in the hospital under those lights, the more time you have to bond with them.
To sunbathe a baby with jaundice, lay them down wearing only a diaper near a window with sun or indirect light (even on a cloudy day) for 20-30 minutes, twice a day. This helps to maximize the sunlight’s benefits without burning the baby’s skin.
To prevent sunburn on non-jaundiced babies when outdoors:
- Cover them up with protective clothing that’s tightly woven but loose fitting, and a sun hat
- Make shade. Use the stroller’s canopy or hood. If you can’t sit in a shady spot, use an umbrella.
- Avoid midday sun. Take walks in the early morning or late afternoon.
Breaking Down Sunscreens
You may have seen in the news recently that Johnson & Johnson recalled five of their Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen products. These products - backed by well-known, wide-spread brands - were found to contain benzene, a highly-flammable chemical component of gasoline and frequently-used solvent for rubber and waxes, linked to blood cancers such as leukemia.
It is becoming more and more apparent that we as consumers hold the responsibility for ensuring our safety against chemical exposure through the purchases we make, and that may mean looking for brands off the beaten path.
We look to the EWG’s Skin Deep® Database for choosing safe personal and home care products, so we love that they released a Safe Guide to Sunscreen to take the guesswork out of buying sunscreen! You can also download the EWG Healthy Living App, which has ratings for more than 120,000 food and personal care products.
Launched in 2004, the Skin Deep cosmetic database aims to provide information on the potentially toxic chemical exposure of personal care and beauty products that the industry and U.S. government unfortunately doesn’t review. Currently, companies are allowed to use almost any ingredient they wish without regard for their safety.
The database lists easy-to-navigate hazard, safety and efficacy ratings for nearly 70,000 products and 9,000 ingredients on the market.
When it comes to UV protection, the EWG recommends that products with SPF should be your “last resort,” but does approve of several sunscreens that provide long lasting, broad spectrum protection, with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns.
Their best alternatives for avoiding sunscreen are to:
- Wear clothing, sunglasses and hats that shield you from the sun’s UV rays
- Go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky
- Stay in the shade - especially keeping infants in the shade - which reduces risks of multiple burns by 30%
- Check the UV index, which can be found on most weather apps & Dminder
What to Avoid in Sunscreen
The EWG urges consumers to avoid sunscreens containing the ingredients
- Oxybenzone. Penetrates the skin quickly and can disrupt the hormone system by behaving like estrogen. Oxybenzone has been detected in the blood of nearly every American and its wide-use contributes to the destruction of coral reefs all over the world.
- Vitamin A (aka retinyl palmitate or retinol). According to government data can cause tumors and lesions to develop on the skin
- Added insect repellent. Studies indicate that concurrent use of sunscreens with oxybenzone and DEET may lead to increased absorption of repellent chemicals due to penetration enhancers. Plus, you want to minimize the use of repellents on your face, and, you may have to reapply sunscreen and bug spray at different frequencies.
- Fragrance. Though listed as one ingredient, “fragrance” could be a label for any combination of approximately 5,000 molecules that might contain synthetic, preservative, or allergy-provoking substances. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) exempts it from having to be more specific, making it the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
- Over SPF 50. High-SPF products also require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals and tend to lull users into a false sense of security, thinking they can stay in the sun longer - posing the health risks we discussed earlier like tissue damage and hormonal disruption. For these reasons, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently striving to ban the highest SPF claims and limit values to 60+; though the EWG goes even further to recommend capping SPFs at 50. In fact, the EWG’s standards are so high that based on their modeling, 29% of SPF products would not pass the 2019 FDA-Proposed UVA standards.
In addition to these ingredients, consumers are also urged to avoid products in the form of sprays (these pose an inhalation risk and may not coat the skin enough to ensure proper protection), powders and SPFs above 50.
What to Look For in Sunscreen
When the FDA proposed its most recent updates to sunscreen regulations in 2019, it found that only two ingredients, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, could be classified as the safest option.
The best types of products to look for with these ingredients are broad-spectrum protectant and water-resistant creams that have an SPF to suit your needs, between 15 and 30.
It is also extremely important to look for sunscreens that are “reef safe.” Our ocean’s coral reefs are the foundation of ocean health and without them, marine life would cease to exist. Corals protect coastlines from storms and erosion and provide 70% percent of the oxygen we breathe. Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food and medicine.
The delicate ecosystems of coral reefs are sadly being threatened by human pollution, sedimentation, unsustainable fishing practices, single-use plastics, chemicals found in sun screens, and climate change. These interferences raise ocean temperatures, causing the water to acidify and stress corals; leading to their bleaching or even death.
Luckily, corals are able to recover from bleaching if conditions improve, but we need to make changes now as it can take many years for them to fully heal.
Help Save The Reef by supporting renewable energy, eliminating all single use plastics, no longer purchasing pesticides for your lawn, and switching to reef safe sunscreen!
Our Favorite Eco-Friendly Sunscreens
- MANDA Organic Sun Creme (SPF 50)
- Iris&Romeo Best Skin Days (5-in-1 serum, moisturizer, sheer coverage, SPF 25 sunscreen, and blue light/pollution protector)
- EverEden Premium Mineral Sunscreen & Botanical Facial Sunscreen, both SPF 30
- W3ll People Bio Tint Multi-Action Moisturizer (SPF 30)
- AO Skincare 6000X Elemental Sunscreen, SPF 30
- BeautyCounter Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for Face, SPF 25
- Beekman 1802 Milk Primer, SPF 35
- Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Alba Botanica Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion, Fragrance Free, SPF 30
Replenishing Your Skin
Nourish your skin after sun with C & The Moon’s Malibu Made Body Scrub packed with skin soothing ingredients.
- Sweet Almond Oil - Known for its ability to help treat and prevent skin damage caused by UV irradiation. Rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunity-boosting, and scar-reducing properties.
- Brown Sugar - Gently exfoliates to get rid of dead skin cells, excess dirt, sweat and dried skin. Promotes cell regeneration and rejuvenation.
- Coconut Oil - Hydrates, nourishes, effectively heals dry and inflamed skin.
- Castor Oil - Hydrates the skin and stimulates the growth of healthy tissue. It is so effective that dermatologists recommend castor oil to treat uneven skin tone, sun spots, and marks because of its ability to reduce pigmentation and the appearance of stretch marks.
- Jojoba Seed Oil - Encourages skin to retain moisture and soothes irritated skin.
The content provided in this article(s) is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Neither Carson Meyer nor C & The Moon LLC are liable for claims arising from the use of or reliance on information contained in this article.