>> Saturday, June 13, 2009
Shakespeare asked: How much sun is healthy? Where I live, sunlight is a rare commodity, and it causes seasonal depression. Now, with the stuff I've heard about putting too much sunblock on kids and causing vitamin D deficiency, I'm not sure what to do. I don't want my kids to get rickets, and I don't want them to get cancer either.
I am not a doctor. My understanding of the official word on this is: "The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of sunscreens, wearing sun protective clothing and avoiding the sun altogether."
At the risk attracting ire from The Mother (who really is a doctor), I'm going to say, in my nonexpert opinion, I'm not sure it's as black and white as that. It seems, in fact, that sunshine couldn't be all bad or our bodies wouldn't depend on it. I do have some reasons for that.
- People who spend all day in the sun tend to have a lower incidence of skin cancer than folks that spend most of the time inside.
- People with higher pigments in their skin (or who tan faster) tend to be less susceptible to skin cancer than the fairer folks. They are also much less likely to get sunburned - and it takes them much more sunshine to make a comparable level of Vitamin D.
- There have been a number of reports that sunburning oneself to build a tan (as used to be so prevalent and, sadly, hasn't quite fallen out of fashion) is a recipe of skin cancer. Your damaging the layers of skin that lead to skin cancer before one's natural protections have a chance to kick in and protect them. When I was in college, this was still the preferred method for all the blondes I knew (those at the highest risk). Even then, it was common knowledge to be self-destructive.
Are you fair, then go very slowly. If you're of a darker skin tone, you might have a little more leeway. The good news is that younger children can convert less sunlight into more vitamin D than adults so less is more. If you're walking to the mailbox, sunscreen is probably not important. If you're weeding the garden, wear it. Sunburn is real damage (or your body wouldn't have the defenses it does) and the vitamin D issue isn't worth that damage.
Historically, cultural wisdom and medicine tend to go in cycles where all of something is good, then any of something is bad. I, in general, tend to think moderate amounts of most things are OK (with some important exceptions). But I am not an expert.
Note that most commercial milk and some brands of orange juice are fortified with vitamin D. Ditto for most kid vitamins, so, unless you're feeding a child just breastmilk and protecting them from every stray ray of sun, they aren't at high risk of rickets.
If you're worried, talk to your pediatrician.
(P.S. On another note, is that a cool picture from NASA images or what? A special ring of fire!)