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Confessions of a Sunbather

Affiliate Disclosure | in Natural Remedies | by | with 120 Comments

While most moms are stocking up on sunblock . . .

For the summer, I’m stripping my kids down to their skivies for a little playtime in the backyard. Here’s why:

A chronic lack of sun exposure has been linked to fertility problems, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and, surprisingly, cancer. (I’ll be discussing the protective effects of sun against cancer tomorrow.) Why is sun exposure so vital to our health? There are oh-so-many reasons, but let’s start with my favorite:

Sunshine = Happiness

Have you ever noticed how a day in the sun can shift your perspective from feeling ***OVERWHELMED*** to calm and optimistic? That’s because:

“Melatonin is a hormone that controls sleep, and serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is tied to states of wakefulness and being in a “good mood.” Serotonin is the chemical targeted by a class of anti-depressants called SSRIs, which keep higher levels of serotonin in the bloodstream to help elevate mood.

The web connecting sunlight, melatonin and serotonin goes something like this: When the sun comes up again, and sunlight hits the optic nerve, some of that light is sent to the gland in the brain in charge of melatonin. In response, melatonin secretion decreases. When the sun goes down, the body increases its secretion of melatonin.

At the same time, when the body perceives sunlight, serotonin levels increase. And the more sunlight the human body is exposed to, the more serotonin the brain produces. So in effect, melatonin and serotonin have an inverse-proportional relationship that is guided by the body’s perception of sunlight. The overall effect is “downtime” at night and “uptime” during the day.

There’s another factor involved in sunlight’s affect on mood, though: vitamin D. The body actually creates its supply of vitamin D from the sun’s ultraviolet rays hitting the skin, and high levels of vitamin help the body maintain high levels of serotonin.”

Discovery Health: Can the Sun Make Me Happy? (emphasis mine)

So basically, sunlight lifts your mood during the day and then tucks you in for some deep, soul-restoring sleep at night. Free therapy!

Womb With A View

I love the effects of sunshine so much I didn’t even wait until my babies were born to share it with them. By the fourth month of life babies react to light by turning toward or away from it. So, to the horror of more than a few, I often uncovered my huge pregnant belly and shared the warm glow of the sun with my babies. I’m sure they enjoyed the light, but I KNOW they enjoyed the feel-good hormones that flooded my body. Beyond that, they got a lot of other benefits, too.

“Evidence suggests maternal vitamin D [levels] during pregnancy is inversely associated with asthma symptoms in early childhood and lower vitamin D levels in children are associated with increased markers of asthma severity.”

Vitamin D Council

Sunlight during pregnancy gives children stronger bones, too.

“Sayers and Tobias at the University of Bristol, UK, found that when pregnant women are exposed to more sunshine, their children have stronger and wider bones. Stronger bones in childhood may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and broken bones in later life.”

Sunlight During Pregnancy

On the flipside, deficiencies can cause bones to be weak and fragile. One of the most difficult things I experienced during my pregnancy with Katie was that my first trimester occurred during one of the most rainy seasons on record. I deeply craved sunlight during those first few months, but what could I do, go sit in a tanning bed?

It was a miserable time, and it had long lasting effects. Katie’s baby teeth, which formed around the second month in utero, were very weak and porous. Fortunately, her adult teeth formed around 20 weeks after I had plenty of sunshine, but I still wish we hadn’t had to work so hard to strengthen her crumbly baby teeth.

Now, you probably already knew about the connection between Vitamin D levels and bone density, but did you know that researchers also think

“The same may be true for the [reducing the] risks of developing autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (which has recently been linked to seasonality of birth) and rheumatoid arthritis, or conditions such as malignancy. Moreover, nutritional vitamin D status has very recently been linked to the human innate immune system and its ability to contain Mycobacterium tuberculosis. This observation could have profound implications in the treatment of infections.”

Bruce W. Hollis and Carol L. Wagner, Nutritional Vitamin D Status During Pregnancy, published in CMAJ

The possible benefits go even further than that. New research indicates that sunlight exposure under certain conditions can significantly impact glucose metabolism and metabolic disorders.

Generation D-

So sunlight is vital for health and mood. . . especially for our little ones. Does it surprise you, then, that about “70 percent of U.S. children have low levels of vitamin D, which puts them at higher risk for bone and heart disease,”¹? (emphasis mine)

To compensate for this The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends 400IU of Vitamin D per day for infants and children, with an emphasis on exclusively breastfed children since most lactating women are Vitamin D deficient.

Unfortunately, MIT senior research scientist Stephanie Seneff says they’re missing the point entirely. “My personal belief is that vitamin D supplements are useless,” she recently told me.

Um, what?!?!?

I’ll admit, recommending the same dosage for a 15 pound baby and a 50 pound pre-teen seems like a pretty arbitrary one size fits all solution, but surely a more tailored approach to supplementation would be good, right?

No so, says Seneff, who holds not one . . . not two . . . but FOUR degrees from MIT. According to her, our skin creates a unique water soluble form of Vitamin D called D sulfate which interacts with cells differently than the fat soluble plant form (D2) you find in fortified foods and the unsulfated form (D3) sold as drops at the health food store (which is also fat soluble). While D3 is beneficial for helping to transport calcium and phosphorous, it cannot replicate all the benefits of D3 sulfate.

Of course, my approach does not mean I advocate sunburns.  I realize that some people who read this have experienced the pain and difficulty of skin cancer, either personally or with a loved one. I would never dare to invalidate these experiences or to treat them lightly. It is my hope that by providing this research, which is based off the work of a senior MIT scientist and a former cancer and DNA research scientist, I have made a compelling case for re-examining our cultural attitudes about sunlight.  It is my opinion that responsible sunlight exposure positively affects our health when a good diet with plenty of healthy fats/ antioxidants are present. My writing reflects a commitment to that lifestyle.

More on that and the potentially profound health implications in the next installment of this series!

(Pssst! The post on how sunlight may prevent cancer that I promised earlier is published here! Also, post on common sense sun safety coming soon!)

photo credit

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and this site does not provide medical advice. Please see my full disclaimer here.

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120 Responses to Confessions of a Sunbather

  1. Christy Thompson via FB

    says:

    Great post. Trying not to hate your perfection of a non-stretchmarked tummy. ; )

  2. dianthe says:

    YAY for sunshine!! i love the sun and am so thankful that my babies’ brown skin allows them to play outside without having to slather them in sunscreen 24/7 – i’m interested in what you find out about sunscreen though, for those summer days when the sun is hot and strong!

    • Heather says:

      Will share everything I know tomorrow! Just as a preview, did you know brown skin needs MORE light to get adequate amounts of Vitamin D? You probably did. Sydney and Myles have one smart mama!

  3. Sara

    says:

    I am so happy you are covering this!! I’m especially looking forward to tomorrow’s post.

  4. Lauren

    says:

    I just asked my OB yesterday how much vitamin D I could take while pregnant! I was tested at the end of last summer and have been taking Vitamin D supplements until pregnancy, and now morning sickness has made it VERY difficult to take any supplements! Gag. I am hoping to be done with this stage soon.
    How much vitamin D do you think pregnant women can/should take? I am still nursing a two year old.

    • Lauren

      says:

      Also, I am excited you are blogging about this!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Lauren, we have a lot in common! I am nursing my toddler and baby. :) The answer to your question is going to vary based on several factors, which I’ll be going into tomorrow.

      • Lauren

        says:

        Loved today’s post, too. (Friday)
        Also, thank you for the bath balls a few weeks back. I thought the little homemade card with the gift was so sweet. Sorry it took me so long to thank you. I usually don’t win things!!!!

  5. Great article! Just like sun hitting the optict nerve releases serotonin it also triggers the uptake for Vitamin D. Take off those sunglasses for 10-15 minutes to improve Vitamin D levels. Most prescription glasses block UV as well so remove those for a sit in the sun.

  6. Denise Lee via FB

    says:

    Love this!

  7. I am with you 100% on this, Heather! Other parents at the pool look at me like I’m crazy because I don’t slather on SPF 70 on my kiddos every 45 minutes. We start the day with sunshine, and if we are going to be there all day I’ll turn to my trusty Mexitan products after awhile. I do have to say that while I seem lax in caring for my children’s skin, they have never burnt (maybe a faint pink tinge on the tops of their shoulders that disappears by the next morning).

  8. Lacey

    says:

    I’m sooo excited you’re covering this! My family has a very strong history of malignant melanoma’s on both sides and I’m at a high risk for skin cancer, but I LOVE the sun, and I can’t imagine that putting sunscreen on everyday is great for me either. I just don’t know what to do and I’ve been thinking about it non-stop now that I have a pastey-white 6 mo. old and we’re about to leave for vacation. I don’t want her to burn but I also hate the thought of slathering her in chemicals daily….ah, dilemas dilemas. All that to say I can’t wait to read the rest of what you have to say :-)

  9. Lyndsay Weir

    says:

    Hooray! We get our daily dose, but my family is whiter than white and need protection if we are going to out all day for fun pool time. I’ve become increasingly scared of sunblock.Thanks for writing about this!

  10. Mary

    says:

    I too am very excited to see what else you have to say. I am so very pale and I burn almost instantly in the sun. I’ve gotten sun poisoning twice so I’m very cautious outside, but I also don’t want to deal with all of the chemicals and I want my body to get the good benefits of the sun!

  11. Christy Thompson via FB

    says:

    My pleasure! ; ) lol. I’d done pretty well this pregnancy & hadn’t gotten any new ones until this week. Sigh. It’s ok though! Just 10 weeks to go!

  12. margo

    says:

    I am ridiculous..
    First, I have to say GREAT picture! I love the added cami on your bikini top, did you do that?
    I enjoy the sun, I always feel a little gloomy on those long extended cloudy/rainy days. After some testing I found I was deficient in Vit. D and now take it daily. We try to get outside and hang out or go for a walk daily just to get some sun exposure. But, I’m sure we have all heard “too much of a good thing can be bad”. So, looking forward to tomorrows post. Thanks again Heather for taking time out of your busy day to do research. You are appreciated!

  13. Anna

    says:

    Love it! I cannot stand being cooped up without sunshine all of the time and I have never thought of the sun to be so horrid as most would have you believe.

    Also must say that I love the baby belly in the sunshine pic. Awesome!

  14. PattyLA

    says:

    I have heard that burning quickly can be remedied by consuming more healthy fats. Coconut oil, fish oil etc. It is a deficiency symptom. Many people on the GAPS diet (like my family is) have seen their ability to tolerate the sun increase incredibly.
    I never use sun block on my girls unless we expect to be out in direct sun for the entire day. I don’t want them to have a painful burn. My younger dd is a red head even. I’m sure my friends think I’m nuts but I think they are so it’s even. ;)

    • Heather says:

      Hi Patty – We’ve recently become a GAPS family, too! And you’re absolutely right, it will increase their sun tolerance. :)

      • Megan Alba says:

        Great info! Glad I came across this comment, too. I have a tendency to burn quickly, which is the ONLY reason I wear sunscreen. I try to go without as much as possible, but if I’m going to be out all day I have to use it or turn into a lobster.

        Any suggestions for natural “sunscreen?”

        • Kathy says:

          @Megan – I’m in my 40s, and I sunburn easily as well – have my whole life, but never stopped me playing outside (or was that mom kicking us outside so she could have some peace?). I find that if I wear a hat to protect my face from the worst of direct sun, and avoid the intense “noon-2″ sun I do very well. In summer I enjoy waking extra early and spending a few hours on my deck in the early mornings to soak in some gentle rays before heading to work!

        • Emma

          says:

          I read something about using coconut oil as a sunscreen. But be careful to rub it in well or you could fry!

          • Lori

            says:

            I am light-skinned and have burnt my entire life (I am 52), to the point I have places that won’t even tan at all, it just burns splotchy. I figure no melatonin in those areas (calves and shins below knees and around knee area).
            A couple of summers ago I began to mow my great-aunt’s half-acre lot as she is 85 and can no longer do it (she is a true widow in all senses), and because I sometimes must go during the hottest part of the day (around my very hectic lifestyle), the first time I went I got a good burn going on on my face, neck, upper chest area above breasts, and nape of neck, plus more than a bit pink on my arms. The next week when I went (I usually have to burn 2-3 times before I tan, then my nose won’t tan, just burns) to mow grass, I slathered a good amount of organic coconut oil all over my face, arms, neck, nape of neck, and upper chest area. I did not burn! I tanned.
            The rest of the year I slathered on coconut oil and did not burn. This year (I live in central Ohio) I’ve had several hot and sunny days when I’ve mowed; I’ve slathered on the coconut oil and I’ve not had the first burn this year~just tanned.
            Maybe if I stayed out in the sun all day and near water where the oil would wear off, I might get a good burn going on, but I know I can trust the coconut oil to protect my skin for that 70-80 minute mowing time in the hot sun. I know it was not around back when I was a kid (60’s & 70’s) or when I was young, but I will take advantage of it now that I am older and have easy access to this awesome stuff!
            My #1 rule is to not leave the house without slathering on coconut oil in the summer or warmer months!

          • Heather says:

            Great advice, Lori! I’ll be talking about why coconut oil is so good at lengthening the time we can spend in the sun soon!

        • Bebe

          says:

          Megan, my 18 yo daughter is fair and freckled with light green eyes and she tanned for the first time last year while our family was on vacation in Hawaii. We built up base tans here at home in the tanning beds at our gym but we also started taking astaxanthin a couple months before and the whole time we were there. The brand we use is BioAstin, which was developed and tested IN Hawaii. (It is actually available at Costco… in Hawaii, but also through Azure Standard or Amazon). It is a powerful antioxidant that helps with a myriad of health related things, including night vision and protection from burning from sun exposure.
          I also subscribe to the *stay out of the sun between 11 and 3* mantra, or wear hats, loose cotton shirts, etc… if you must be out then. I think Kathy’s advice of noon-2 is probably more realistic in climates where the sun is less intense, it’s kinda hard to avoid the big 11-3 window sometimes.
          Deep nutrition is another biggie. For us coconut oil and bone broth were upped and I’ve heard cod liver oil is the number one food for sun tolerance, but my kids just will not take it. (My youngest is 12, they’re already set in their ways!)

  15. anne

    says:

    Now that I live in Colorado where we have on average 300 days of sunshine, I’ve really noticed a “down” feeling on those few days in a row of no sun. I know that too much sun is not good, and that young children’s skin is more vulnerable, but I still cringe when I see kids made to wear full body swimsuits or those giant floppy hats to “protect” them. I think there is a point that is reached when good intentions crosses over to hindering healthy sun exposure.

  16. […] Confessions of a Sunbather « The Mommypotamus. […]

  17. Amanda says:

    Looking forward to more information! I hope you have some insight for those of us who live in areas of the country with less sunlight – as it is midApril here in northern IN and I’ve seen the sun about 5 times since December!

  18. rawkinmom says:

    We love the sun!!! I think the problem lies in the sunscreen that everyone lathers all over their bodies in fear of the sun touching them!!! I generally do not use sunscreen for myself or my kids and we develop a nice tan and can be in the sun without problems…..the days we will be on the beach for hours and hours does require a bit of all natural sunscreen but that is the only time we use it!!! :)

  19. @Christy Yay for just 10 more weeks! How many older siblings will be welcoming this little one?

  20. Christy Thompson via FB

    says:

    Just Coleman. :) He’s turning 2 in just 19 days! :) That will make them about 26 months apart. I’m so excited! Last time I was excited, but this time I KNOW what the wonderful prize is that awaits me.

  21. Christy Thompson via FB

    says:

    Ok, I’ve been looking for a couple of weeks for a tricycle for Coleman on Craigslist & I saw this at Toys R Us & HAD to laugh after reading your post today. http://www.toysrus.com/product/index.jsp?productId=4089552

  22. Christy Thompson via FB

    says:

    I mean, seriously? lol!

  23. Gretchen says:

    I’m so glad to have read this!! I have been secretly thinking that the sun isn’t as bad as everyone says. I say “secretly” because my mother-in-law is fighting skin cancer on her legs and would freak out if she knew I didn’t think the sun was really the culprit. I loved everything you said and can’t wait to read tomorrow’s post. Thank you!

  24. @Christy Hahahaha! They should motorize it so that it fans the toddler lightly while feeding him/her grapes!

  25. @Christy Hahahaha! They should motorize it so that it fans the toddler lightly while feeding him/her grapes!

  26. I love the sun but now I get freckles which I don’t like :(.

  27. Whittney says:

    I’ll be interested in hearing what you have to say about sunscreen. While I totally agree that sunshine is healthy, with my fair skinned kiddos, even 2 hours on warm spring day has resulted in little Henry’s head peeling from a minor burn. So, an afternoon at the pool is almost guaranteed to result in an unhealthy burn unless I AM slathering them down. Even with the slather, they get a lovely pink glow.

    I also have a mother-in-law missing a very large piece of her nose and temple because of skin cancer and years of sunbathing.

    I suppose with everything, this is an issue of moderation. @Genevieve – I too get freckles like crazy as I get older. Sigh.

  28. Raine says:

    Heather – yay for sunshine, and yay for you getting some for yourself and your children! Great post and you look nothing short of GORGEOUS in your bikini with your cute pregnant belly. I’d do the same thing if I was pregnant again. I’m not shy of the sun and I love my bikini. :)

  29. Heather says:

    I am a young mother of 2. I am also battling stage IV Melanoma. I have been on chemo for the last THREE YEARS!! And this is my life. I will always be on chemo. The fact that you are on here TELLING people to go in the sun without sunscreen INFURIATES me!! Skin cancer is nothing to mess around with! Did you know it takes about 10 years for melanoma to develop? So all those days in the sun, without sunscreen, could actually be KILLING YOU! Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but come on woman, you are just ASKING for skin cancer and so are your youngers. I am so disappointed that an educated, young mother would actually encourage people not to use sunscreen on them or on their CHILDREN! Children can develop melanoma also, its rare, but it can happen. Why wouldnt you want to protect your children? I’m not saying you have to put 100 spf on them like I do, but they should always have something on. Vit D supplements work just as well as the sun if you are worked about that. Before you know it, you’ll be encouraging people to use tanning beds also. Geez…

    • Heather says:

      Heather, I am so sorry for what you are going through. Please know that in the photos of my daughter here she IS wearing sunscreen. We were at the beach all day and obviously that is too much sun for anyone. When we go to the pool she wears a suit that covers her shoulders to prevent burning (she has never burned), but I leave her arms and legs exposed so that she can get Vitamin D. The problem with supplementing D is that it requires bi-monthly blood tests to ensure therapeutic levels are reached. Too little and the protective effects are not activated, too much can be toxic. In contrast, the body produces all the D it needs when given adequate exposure to sunlight and then shuts off production before toxic levels are reached. My father died of cancer when I was eleven years old and I do not believe cancer of any kind is something to mess around with. Even though we disagree on how much sun exposure is healthy, please know that I respect your feelings on this issue and am sorry that my views upset you. Kindest regards, Heather

      • Melissa Weston

        says:

        I totally understand that you believe that you are offering your “views” as a public service announcement, but sun and skin health are things that you shouldn’t be so cavalier about. It would be one thing to blog about political views or moral views, but this is LIFE and DEATH for some people. If you want to help people prevent cancer don’t tell them to do something that can cause it, find a topic that is not only scientifically ENCOURAGED, but doesn’t have hazardous opposite effects including causing cancer itself…

        Heck, I’ll even give you the idea for your next “cancer-fighting” blog — anti-angiogenesis.

      • Donna M.

        says:

        Even if you truly believe what you’ve said about the sun and sunscreen, please know that dermatologists have said that ANY COLOR changes in your skin results in damage down the road. So that pink “glow” or that tan IS damaging your skin, and your kids’ skin too.

        You also don’t need to “supplement” vitamin D. You can get what you need in food, and that does not require any bloodwork.

        I think what you’re telling these people is incredibly irresponsible. What credentials do you have to make the statements you do? I just hope to God that more people aren’t listening than are. If not, just have them shoot me an e-mail when they’re diagnosed with melanoma. Our group will be happy to support them through the emotional wreckage that the most invasive and aggressive cancer causes.

        • Heather says:

          Donna, I am just a mom, but the references I’ve provided in this post and the next come from medical journals (even cancer journals), doctors and other experts such as a senior MIT scientist and a former cancer and DNA research scientist.

    • Beth

      says:

      Heather and others, you may find some comfort, inspiration and food for thought by reading the articles of Dr. Stephanie Seneff:

      http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/

  30. Adrienne says:

    Seriously, this is the most ridiculous post I’ve read in a long time. Keep convincing yourself that the sun is a good thing and hope and pray you don’t get melanoma. It’s awful and I will do everything in my power to avoid getting it. My dad died from it, as well as my aunt and my grandfather. I know a 16 and 17 year old with it as well as several young moms. It’s really a shame that you feel this way.

  31. […] I love the mood-lifting, immunity boosting, warm liquid gold of sunshine, and I appreciate the health benefits that come from being out in it, but at the same time I do what I can to prevent my children from getting sun burned.  Read more about the health benefits of the sunshine. […]

  32. […] at Mommypotamus has a great post on sunscreen. Let’s just say, I agree with her! If you embrace the sun as a […]

  33. […] some sun! Remember that the liver needs vitamin D to function and the best source is […]

  34. Stefanie Cruz via FB

    says:

    I totally believe this. I lived in Washington state my whole life, I was always miserable, always exhausted, never felt right. My husband is military and in December we got stationed in Georgia where we are now. I have never felt better. Most of my fatigue has gone, I rarely have trouble sleeping and overall my outlook is vastly improved. I’m also pregnant now and even though with the heat I can’t be outside for more than 10-20 minutes during midday it makes me feel so good! I am scared that we may one day have to move back to Washington and that slump and near zero vitamin d levels will come back.

  35. Stefanie Cruz via FB

    says:

    I totally believe this. I lived in Washington state my whole life, I was always miserable, always exhausted, never felt right. My husband is military and in December we got stationed in Georgia where we are now. I have never felt better. Most of my fatigue has gone, I rarely have trouble sleeping and overall my outlook is vastly improved. I’m also pregnant now and even though with the heat I can’t be outside for more than 10-20 minutes during midday it makes me feel so good! I am scared that we may one day have to move back to Washington and that slump and near zero vitamin d levels will come back.

  36. Love this Heather, what if any sunscreen do you use on your littles? I don’t want V to end up burnt this summer, my older kids and I rarely burn as I am half mexican and they are 1/4 and it seems to slightly change how we respond to the sun even though we are very pale, my husband on the other hand, LOL, he burns easily then tans. I don’t want to assume V will respond like we do until we have a chance to see but i don’t know what a good option is! Great post BTW- I’ll be sharing!

  37. Love this Heather, what if any sunscreen do you use on your littles? I don’t want V to end up burnt this summer, my older kids and I rarely burn as I am half mexican and they are 1/4 and it seems to slightly change how we respond to the sun even though we are very pale, my husband on the other hand, LOL, he burns easily then tans. I don’t want to assume V will respond like we do until we have a chance to see but i don’t know what a good option is! Great post BTW- I’ll be sharing!

  38. Lyndsay Pfenning Stradtner via FB

    says:

    When we fixed our diets we stopped getting sunburned and we never use sunscreen anymore. Even my pale as a ghost daughter can go out at high noon and not even get pink. The benefits of eating the right foods is amazing.

  39. Lyndsay Pfenning Stradtner via FB

    says:

    When we fixed our diets we stopped getting sunburned and we never use sunscreen anymore. Even my pale as a ghost daughter can go out at high noon and not even get pink. The benefits of eating the right foods is amazing.

  40. Stefanie Cruz via FB

    says:

    No I haven’t. I’m not so sure I want to find out!:)

  41. Congratulations on your pregnancy, Stefanie Cruz! So glad you are feeling good! Having been through part of a pregnancy without sunlight I know personally how much of a difference it makes :)

  42. Great question, Melissa Sapien Aulds! I have a post on sunscreens coming up!

  43. Kelly Jenkins Villarreal via FB

    says:

    LOL…I babysit my 1y/o DGS and as soon as it got warm out we spend loads of time playing outside in a diaper…and eating dirt!

  44. Megan

    says:

    AMAZING post!

    The environmental working group (EWG) has plenty

  45. Megan

    says:

    AMAZING post!

    The environmental working group (EWG) has plenty of evidence showing the deleterious effects of sunscreen. And the benefits of routine, moderate sunshine are well-supported by both science and tradition!!

    By the way, I’m 9 months pregnant. Since spring has hit, the clothes are off and I’m laying in the sun every day I get a chance. For no other reason except that it feels good!

    Again, great job!!

  46. I am officially going to rock my bikini this pregnancy. :-0

  47. Heather, I LOVE this post! I’ve been arguing for years that the sun can’t be as bad as they try to make us think it is, but having actual reasons to give is so much better than just saying, “it’s just a feeling…”.

  48. Christine Suppa Hoyt via FB

    says:

    excellent article! we VERY rarely use sunscreen and we are a very active outdoor family, no sunburns, no issues…we use common sense. Just never made to sense to me to put all those chemicals, no matter how natural they claim to be on myself or my family!

  49. Lynn says:

    I have stage 4 melanoma and was given 6-9 months to live. I never used tanning beds and played outside as a child. There are 5 types of melanoma and mine happens to be because of sun exposure…your blog is obviously lacking in research. Please contact your local oncologist for appropriate and factual information.

  50. Portia Drantch via FB

    says:

    I find the part about M.S. interesting. I wonder how much truth there is to it. I only say this because I live in Colorado which has one of the highest rates of M.S. We have warm sunny days over 300 days out of the year. Doesn’t make much sun when you throw that into the equation. I do believe a little sun does a body good tho.

  51. Portia Drantch via FB

    says:

    I find the part about M.S. interesting. I wonder how much truth there is to it. I only say this because I live in Colorado which has one of the highest rates of M.S. We have warm sunny days over 300 days out of the year. Doesn’t make much sun when you throw that into the equation. I do believe a little sun does a body good tho.

  52. Portia Drantch via FB

    says:

    I find the part about M.S. interesting. I wonder how much truth there is to it. I only say this because I live in Colorado which has one of the highest rates of M.S. We have warm sunny days over 300 days out of the year. Doesn’t make much sun when you throw that into the equation. I do believe a little sun does a body good tho.

  53. Portia Drantch via FB

    says:

    I find the part about M.S. interesting. I wonder how much truth there is to it. I only say this because I live in Colorado which has one of the highest rates of M.S. We have warm sunny days over 300 days out of the year. Doesn’t make much sun when you throw that into the equation. I do believe a little sun does a body good tho.

  54. treebee

    says:

    I’ve been in hiding from the sun for my whole life due to super fair skin that doesn’t just burn but gets annual rashes even with sunscreen! I’ve spent years being told that I’m likely to get skin cancer and now I’ve got MS and am terrified for my fair skinned children! I’ve been told to take high dose vit D (5000+) and to give my kids 1000 a day and am disappointed that it’s not going to help. I’ll keep it up along with cod liver oil but will make sure they get some sun too.

    • Heather says:

      Treebee, as I share in my post here I personally make an effort to consume vitamin D rich foods. Vitamin D3 is very good at transporting calcium and phosphorous to our bones, it’s just that according to Dr. Seneff it doesn’t replicate all the benefits of D3 sulfate.

  55. Can you tell me what M.S. is, Portia Drantch? I’m sure I should know but I it’s escaping me for some reason!

  56. I have a red headed daughter with extremely fair skin. I was so confused as to why she didn’t burn really at all (only if we were out all day and only a little) despite many people getting on my case about sun screen – we do not use it. Then I had an aha moment when I read that eating more saturated fat leads to more stable oils in the skin, etc. That is why I barely ever burned in the tropics as a kid! While my husband had many 2nd degree burns in the northeast US. There are many poor toddlers at our community pool who are wearing winter jackets in the water – with every square inch of skin covered. My younger daughter is one of the few toddlers with just a bathing suit on.

  57. Portia Drantch via FB

    says:

    “multiple sclerosis” It was a small blip in your article. We have one of the highest rates of m.s. but we are also one of the sunniest states. I just found it interesting, that’s all. I’ve been searching your blog for your natural antioxidant sunscreen recommendation. I can’t wait to hear it! I use Organic Badger’s on my family and have since I discovered it 5 years ago. The only questionable ingredient is zinc oxide….everything else is just plants. Always looking for something even better! :)

  58. Got it! That’s what I thought but I didn’t remember mentioning it :) Not sure really how to account for that. It could be so many things. Post on sunscreen coming up soon!

  59. Hawaiians used straight coconut oil on their skin as a sunblock

  60. I find the subject of light exposure fascinating. I think there may be a potential confounder when it comes to vitamin d levels and their correlation (not causation) with disease. The fact that different wavelengths of light, particularly red and green, alter our cells’ energetics via their interaction with cell water which exists in the cytoplasm as a protein and solute matrix and NOT as a solution. This effect would be present in all tissues and cells and is not talked about in the sunlight research. Ultraviolet light is pro-oxidative and only UV-B rays are able to trigger vitamin d synthesis, so it is still potentially damaging and one should work on an individual level to arrive at their own personal sun exposure limit to prevent harmful burning. Also, blue light is somewhat harmful to the tissues (especially the eyes) and it may be of benefit to use blue light blocking lenses. Lastly, saturated fats are resistant to oxidation and should predominate in one’s dietary fat allowance. That being said, I would stay clear of PUFA supplementation of any sort and that is including fish oils. Eat the food, not the reductionistic components :-)

  61. Chelsea says:

    I was diagnosed with Stage III Malignant Melanoma at only 23 years old. The opportunity for me to even have children is unknown at this point due to the nature of this cancer. I am glad to see that you did put sunscreen on your daughter. Sunburns are dangerous, as I believe you know.

    While giving this information, I feel like it’s only fair that you explain the dangers of overexposure. http://www.skincancer.org/ has wonderful information especially regarding children. Melanoma is the fastest growing cancer in the United States. Don’t let your children become a statistic.

    How you raise your children is completely up to you. I respect that. I just think you should post the dangers of sun burns and tanning if you are going to post this article.

    Best,

    Chelsea
    http://adventurewithmelanoma.blogspot.com

    • Heather says:

      Thank you for your comment, Chelsea. I will be posting on commonsense sun safety later this week. Wishing you health on your journey

  62. Bebe

    says:

    Holy cow, it’s amazing what you can open up when you discuss doing something that goes against what people have been advised by *experts* for years to avoid. Sun exposure, home birth, meat eating… the opposition can be almost militant!
    Let me just say, my own mother died from melanoma, but she also did not eat a nutrient dense diet and she did not seek any sort of medical treatment, conventional or alternative. Since I lived in Hawaii for six years in my 20s (I’m in my 50s now!) I got a little freaked out and went in to have my skin checked by a skin doctor. He assured me there was nothing out of the ordinary, told me what to watch for and sent me on my way.
    I have since done quite a bit of research, radically changed what we eat and I make absolutely sure to get as much sun exposure as I can without going past the “gentle pink” state for myself and my children that are still at home. Out of seven my oldest is 38 and the next one down is almost 33. My 33yo is my only summer birth and you bet I exposed my buddha belly to the sun whenever I could! I’d also like to say that I even caught our dog laying on her back on top of her doghouse with her bare belly turned toward the sun… a sunbathing Husky! The animals know what’s good.

  63. Jennifer S says:

    I love all your posts about sunblock and the sun! I completely understand how the sun affects your moods! Even though I live in Florida, and we don’t have “winter” every year, whenever we actually do have it (where its cold for a couple of months and overcast a lot and just plain yucky), it makes me feel horrible. I long for the sun and the warmth of spring and summer. I think I lived in the Caribbean in a past life! And since we finally made the complete transition to whole, real foods over the last couple of months (we’ve always been about 75/25 on the whole foods/processed foods ratio but now we have cut out 99.9% of processed foods!), I’m anxious to see how our skin does this summer! We don’t usually burn anyway, but sometimes we do get the “pink”, so I can’t wait to see what happens!

  64. Becca says:

    I grew up in Florida always on the beach or at the pool. I can’t count how many sunburns I had. I’ve never used a tanning bed. Instead I wish I had just loved my own skin color and stayed out of the sun completely or used sunscreen. Now I have Stage 3 Metastatic Melanoma that has gone to my lymph nodes. I will be lucky to still be alive in 5 years… the odds are NOT in my favor. If you want to burn your skin, damage it, light it on fire, fine, do whatever makes you feel like you’re not hurting yourself. But don’t do it to your kids, and DAMN SURE don’t advise other people to do it. I’m sure we’ll see you at Hotel Melanoma one day. There is no such thing as good sun, or a base tan. If your skin changes color, you’ve damaged it, PERIOD. Your skin is like an elephant, it never forgets. One day the check will come due, but it will really hit home when you sit by your child’s hospital bed as they die from Melanoma asking you “Mom why didn’t you protect me when I was little?”

    • Heather says:

      I’m so sorry for what you are going through, Becca. Though we may not agree on many things, the idea that sunburns should be avoided at all costs is common ground. However, I respectfully disagree that any change in color is harmful. As is described in this article, melanin (the pigment produced by our skin in sunlight) is actually protective against UVB rays. Wishing you the very best. ~ Heather

  65. natalie

    says:

    I’m sorry, but you aren’t a doctor, and this is an incredibly irresponsible article. I agree that vitamin D is important, but not at the risk of skin cancer.

    • Heather says:

      I’m sorry that you feel that way but I certainly understand it. Though I believe in the benefits of the sun I am not a proponent of reckless exposure. In an upcoming article I will be explaining what I believe to be a commonsense approach where we may have more common ground. All the best – Heather

    • Bebe

      says:

      Here’s a doctor, one of many: http://www.newswithviews.com/Howenstine/james4.htm
      I understand the fear of skin cancer but if you are willing to look at the facts objectively you will see that risk of cancer ALL types goes down with regular (not reckless) sun exposure.
      This is from a mainline medical view from an ABC news story: “educational programs emphasizing sun protection have mainly been disappointing in slowing skin cancer rates.” Why? Even though people have been frightened and shamed into covering every millimeter of skin and hiding indoors, under hats and behind sunglasses, slathering on the high SPF sunscreens containing (cancer causing) chemical ingredients the rate is skyrocketing. When what has been done isn’t working to change things it’s time to look for a new model. Has skin cancer been a prevalent risk throughout history? No. Why not? That’s a good question. Have people traditionally spent a considerable amount of time outdoors, working and playing, without getting skin cancer? Yes. How can that be? That’s another good question. Worthy of one’s time to research.
      We have been bullied and scared into avoiding eggs, milk and other animal products and to switch to “vegetable” oils, including margarines and shortening (which are void of nutrients and most often, rancid) and “alternative protein sources” and yet those animal products, and cruciferous vegetables, are rich in sulfur. “Sulfur-containing proteins are the building blocks of cell membranes and sulfur is a major component of the gel-like connective tissue in cartilage and SKIN.” People used to eat a lot of cabbage, and its cousins like kale, in a fermented form such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Cabbage juice has traditionally been used for conditions of the skin and the complexion and science is bearing out the wisdom of folklore such as this. Cabbage is rich in substances that block the formation and spread of tumors! Then there is silicon, a much neglected element needed for healthy bones, cartilage, connective tissue, SKIN, hair and nails. Also protects against atherosclerosis when present in the blood vessels. Good source? Homemade bone broth in which chicken feet of calves’ feet have been included. I would bet my bottom dollar that the people promoting sun time for health are the same ones putting up homemade sauerkraut and bone broths and eating lots of eggs, whole, raw milk and pastured meats. I know I am.
      How about the skin cancer victims? Did they consume nutrient-dense, traditionally prepared, high quality foods which give the skin as well as the rest of the body the building blocks that it needs to function NORMALLY? Because cancer IS abnormal but a healthy, well nourished body can keep it in check. I’d bet most cancer victims have also been consumers of the same defatted, denatured, hydrogenated, homogenized, pasteurized, chemical laced, nutrient void foods and beverages being promoted by the same agencies that are saying “Run from the sun, Chicken Little!” Then there’s a whole other realm of toxic household products like antibacterial everything (Triclosan), air fresheners, chlorine cleaners, fabric softeners, oven cleaners… the list is endless. Or how about radiation from over-utilized x-rays and mammograms? The assault on our bodies is coming from all directions!
      If the lifestyles are completely different you are comparing apples to oranges.

  66. Heather- I know u remember me, I know u remember my story. I cant, for the love of all things holy, figure out why you would ever repost this. You arent a dr. Your info has holes writen all over it. Clearly my story meant nothing to you. What really bothers me is that all these people are clearly reading your blog. What they see is, well this blogger said it was ok to not use sunscreen so I dont need to use it. They will refer back to your post over and over. No wonder the number of people diagnosed with skin cancer increases daily!! Its totally because of info like this, that people like YOU put out there. People wont/dont understand that what u r saying is use common sense in the sun. What they WILL understand is that u tell them not to use sunscreen because the sun is safe and will actually prevent cancer. 15 minutes in the sun, is totally fine. Its plenty for the majority of people. You cant continue to do this. You cant continue to brainwash all these people into thinking the sun and tanning beds are totally safe. Im sure you dont want that on your concious do you?

  67. Christina

    says:

    I am a Registered Nurse, with a BSN, a BSEd in Clinical Exercise Physiology & Nutrition, and an MSEd in Clinical Exercise Physiology. In my current job, I work closely every day with the top Oncologists in the country, at Mayo Clinic & Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, & Cancer Treatment Centers of America, just to name a few. I see melanoma patients every day of all ages & backgrounds. Many of them have actually never used tanning beds, which means they likely got their exposure from the sun. Many of these patients are pale in ethnicity, meaning that they likely never “tried” to get a tan, yet developed melanoma anyway after being repeatedly exposed to the sun in small doses. The data published by the American Dermatology Association states that even ONE sunburn in childhood can result in melanoma later in life. Who has not had a sunburn as a child?
    I missed the part of your posts where you identified what clinical/medical degrees you possess? I would actually love the opportunity for you to meet with the hundreds of MD’s that I work with on a daily basis. From the content of your comments, you must know more than they do about melanoma and for that matter cancer & carcinogens! On a personal note, I used the same tanning beds as Heather did as a teenager. In my early 20’s, I began developing dysplatic nevi (pre-cancerous growths) and to date I have had 9 biopsies in the past 5 years. Thankfully, none were melanoma….yet. I have to be diligent about sunscreen, and because I live in a sunny climate, I wear it every day. Also, being a nurse, I have thorough physicals every year including blood work. Guess what? My Vitamin D levels are perfect. I get my skin mapped & checked every 6 months minimum. My dermatologist is one of the most regarded in his field, and he assures me that direct exposure to sunlight puts you at risk for developing melanoma. It may not happen for YEARS, but you are putting yourself at risk. Just as people who eat bacon every morning don’t all develop high cholesterol and heart disease, all people who have sun exposure don’t develop melanoma. But cancer treatment is largely about PREVENTION. Sure we have advanced treatments for cancer nowdays but as with ANY disease process, we strive for prevention before cure. Have you heard the saying “An ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of Cure?”. In my line of work that cannot prove more true. Sure, we all make mistakes, and no one can live a carcinogen-free life. But, in my opinion, we should all try. Just as obesity puts people at risk for other types of cancer & diseases, sun exposure puts people at risk for melanoma. Period.
    I really wish you could come to work with me, and meet the patients I work with who are dying of this horrible, PREVENTABLE, disease. They would do anything to go back in time. Many of them don’t have any idea where their sun exposure came from. As I said before, many of them are PALE and not habitual tanners of any sort.
    We are all human and have the right to live however we choose. My friend Heather has been dealt the melanoma hand, and personally, I think she is handling it beautifully. She is using her illness as a platform for education to HELP educate others. Your comments are not helpful. We all know that cigarettes cause cancer. And I can tell you from experience that not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer. In fact, many people who get lung cancer NEVER SMOKED. Ever. I could go on and on with examples, but my philosophy remains the same. We should all try to live a healthy life and prevent all types of cancer. And when, as a medical community, we identify KNOW CARCINOGENS, it is our DUTY to make them widely known to the public. The medical oath we take says “First do no harm.”
    I sure wish you luck. Karma sucks, Ignorance is bliss, and Denial is a beautiful place to live.

    • Bethany

      says:

      Christina’s post is a good reminder that the medical community doesn’t have all the answers! All of her “facts” and “experience” actually show that doctors are not 100% positive that sunshine causes melanoma! Otherwise, we would all have it. Sunscreen actually keeps people in the sun longer than common sense would allow. If you feel like you’re getting too much sun, then you are. Probably a shorter time than your sunscreen bottle says. That’s just smart. What Christina doesn’t tell you is that cancer comes from inflammation– the cells start replicating irregularly. Where is that inflammation? And why do some people’s cells react and other’s don’t? It’s the same with smoking. Your body is meant to maintain homeostasis and when it goes out of that balance there are natural ways that it deals with those factors to bring it back. One is getting too hot in the sun. One is blowing out CO2 which decreases acidity in the blood (damage your lungs, that lung tissue will not function properly to expel the CO2… acidity in blood causes inflammation… lung cancer a big possibility.) People with compromised health because of inflammatory foods like too much sugar, too much processed food… tend to be more susceptible to imbalances and disease. We act like we’re at the mercy of cancer but there’s a lot more ways to prevent it than relying on chemical sunscreens. We’re made with internal signals to know. Being at the beach all day with young children isn’t a smart thing to do… it’s too much sun for anyone. In and out of shade and not constant suntanning is actually a natural way of life for millions of people for centuries. To start saying we should never be in the sun is utterly ridiculous! I agree with you too that natural forms of D– from the sun and from raw milk– are what everyone’s body needs. Not fake supplements that are hard to digest and don’t do the job well anyways. I wouldn’t give a lot of care to staying out because of wrinkles too… life isn’t about vanity.

  68. […] the series where I think everyone can find some common ground. While it’s true that sunlight improves mood and helps us sleep better, prevents cancer, and cannot be replaced by supplements something else is also true: reckless sun […]

  69. […] days we skip sunscreen altogether and use antioxidants instead, but on days we are going to be out much longer than usual we do use […]

  70. […] about the benefits of sun exposure and the problems with sunscreens, when my friend Heather over at Mommypotamus came out with a wonderful six part series on that very topic. Heather has done a brilliant job […]

  71. Kirsten

    says:

    Every time I listen to a particular story with my kids a bedtime, I think of this post, so thought I’d share it with you.

    http://www.palaceofstories.com/stories/the-suns-message/

  72. Beth

    says:

    Christina and other readers, you may find some food for thought by reading the articles and materials of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist with four degrees from MIT :

    http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/

  73. […] I consider sunlight exposure to be a good thing, most days we skip sunscreen altogether and use antioxidants instead However, on days we are going to be out much longer than usual […]

  74. […] gives us vitamin d. if you want to learn more about the positive effects of the sun, please check this gal out. my views on sun exposure align perfectly with hers, and i can’t express how pleased i am […]

  75. katelyn

    says:

    Unfortunately, I have a 2.5 year old with a diagnosed sun allergy. He breaks out in hives across his cheekbones, nose, and around his ears. He wears a hat anytime he goes outside and we avoid the midday sun (1030/11-2.) I put sunscreen on his face during the “sun season” to prevent breakouts. This year (first summer since his diagnoses) he broke out after a particularly nice week of sunny weather and lots of outside time with no sunscreen at the end of March. I wasn’t thinking about it being “summer” yet in the Pacific Northwest. His arms and legs don’t react so he still gets sun exposure. As a natural redhead with very fair skin I know the pain of sunburns. 30-45 minutes of south Texas sun growing up and I would already be pink. I limit our outside time to just a couple hours at a time with plenty of shade available and extended time in the sun means sunscreen all over or protective clothing. It’s just what’s best for us.

  76. Jessica

    says:

    I won’t comment on the whole skin-cancer melanoma issue, I haven’t researched it enough to weigh in on the debate ;) But I can concur, that the sun definitely increases my mood and energy levels. I have been diagnosed Vitamin D Deficient, and am on a supplement, but to be honest I haven’t noticed the changes in my mood with the supplement that I get when I spend some time outside in the sun.
    We live in the mountains in NSW Australia, and I must admit, during winter I certainly find myself craving sunlight… It is a weird physical need to be warm and sunny and bright. Sort of moving state, I’m not sure what I can do during winter to help me feel better.

  77. Justine

    says:

    Sorry for anyone who has cancer, but the Sun is a life giving energy source to all things in Nature, including Humans, everything would die without it ….I worship the sun. Mainstream science and Dr.’s are all for profit, they lie, the more people with cancer, the more money they make. Pills, radiation, surgery, and chemo are not the answer, just there to pacify and keep you sick…I wish people would think for themselves and consider the fact that maybe all the toxic things they put in, and on their bodies, causes cancer…ex..Sunscreen/block, vaccines, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, radiation contaminated environment, contaminated food/water, fluoride and other chemicals, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, hormones, GMO’s, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, even the negative energy contained in factory farmed meat/eggs/milk, McDonalds, Also a toxic and negative attitude/state of mind and repressed emotions, will reflect and show up in the physical body,…etc. etc. the list goes on. I think all these unnatural things are far more likely to cause cancer than our amazing Sun.

  78. Michelle

    says:

    Love this article! I too am a sun lover and am at the pool with my children (especially in the summer) all day! But I have become VERY concerned about the amount of toxins in our sunscreens. I can’t imagine putting that stuff – which is absorbed into the skin and into the bloodstream – all over my children! We started using Bare Bellie Organics Sunscreen this summer and none of us burned once. It is a bit of a pain to have to reapply it more often than regular sunscreen but knowing that all those chemicals are not being put into my children’s bodies is enough of a trade off. Thanks for the info (and especially the pregnant bikini pic, LOVE those pregnant bellies).

  79. Lea

    says:

    Love this! And think its so true! Modern medicine seems to be more concerned with making us sick than actually keeping us healthy, so I am disinclined to believe everything they say. And you look beautiful! I’d be astounded if anyone was offended! Thanks for the great info! ;) <3

  80. […] aging? It’s true. Because I consider sunlight exposure to be a good thing, most days we skip sunscreen altogether and use antioxidants instead. However, on days we are going to be out much longer than […]

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