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How to Stay Safe in the Sun to Get The Health Benefits of Sunshine

If you’re going to be outside enjoying the healthy sunshine, be sure to have a safe, mineral sunscreen on hand for longer days!

Health Benefits of Sunshine

My first baby learned over 100 “baby signs” by the time he was 15 months old. It’s probably a good thing social media wasn’t around back then or I might have caused other moms comparisonitis issues! 😉

I can’t remember them all anymore, but there are a few favorites that live on as treasured images. One sweet memory is of how Paul used to ask to go outside, one of his most sought-after activities.

Each day in the summer, nearly as soon as he tumbled out of bed, he’d rush to the door and execute three consecutive, emphatic baby signs:

  1. Tapping the top of his head vehemently (I want my hat on)
  2. Rubbing one hand up and down his forearm quickly enough to start a fire (Would you put sunscreen on me, please?)
  3. And finally, twisting his right arm around as if it would come lose at the elbow, the “turning the doorknob” sign for, I want to go OUTSIDE!

These three truths were inextricably related in his mind: When we go outside, we wear a hat and have sunscreen on.

At the time, that sunscreen was whatever conventional goop was on sale with a coupon, as long as it had the word “baby” emblazoned on it.

I was just trying to be a good mom, to do the right thing.

Little did I know that everything I was doing was precisely the opposite.

It wasn’t just the hormone disruptors from the chemical sunscreen I slathered on my tiny boy’s body every day as a routine habit when I got him dressed for the day.

It was the whole idea of hiding from the sun in so many ways.

What Are The Health Benefits of Sunshine?

The sun is a part of our world, and it gives us more than just illumination.

Light from the sun dictates our circadian rhythm, and if we don’t get some exposure early in the day, it may interfere with excellent sleep.

Sunlight also helps your brain produce serotonin, which helps improve the feeling of emotional wellbeing and regulate anxiety.

The sun is also the very best source of Vitamin D, a critical nutrient for human beings.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

The Importance of Time of Day in Getting Vitamin D from the Sun

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, a strong immune system, cancer protection, and cardiovascular health – and soooo many of us aren’t getting enough, especially in places in the north like my home state of Michigan! Here’s the most recent scoop on how to know if your Vitamin D levels are sufficient and what to do if they’re not.

A lot of people say that you shouldn’t wear sunscreen at all because your body needs sunshine to create Vitamin D, but the latest research indicates that wearing sunscreen can protect you from the harmful elements of the sun but still allow your body to create Vitamin D. Note that there haven’t been any trials using high-SPF sunscreens that are so widely recommended these days.

The very best way for your body to get Vitamin D is directly from the sun during midday when the sun’s rays are the strongest. About 10-20 minutes will do, depending on who you ask, less time for lighter-skinned people and more for dark-skinned individuals.

In a Vitamin D brochure that may be offline now, Dr. Robert P. Heaney, of John A. Creighton University, a professor and co-founder of the Creighton University Osteoporosis Research Center and an internationally recognized expert on Vitamin D, confirms the timing:

“If we spend all day indoors or go out only in the early morning or late evening, then we simply do not get sufficient ultraviolet radiation from the sun to make enough vitamin D.”

And strangely enough, “Over twice as many people will be struck with a health issue because of Vitamin D deficiency as will be affected by overexposure to the sun.”

Read more at my post about how to get enough Vitamin D

Sources: 1, 2, (link removed) 3

How to Schedule Your Day to Receive the Health Benefits of Sunshine

In my relatively short time as a mother, the recommendations I tried to follow shifted all the way from, “Apply sunscreen all day, every day,” back in 2005, to “Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10a-4p and use sunscreen otherwise,” as my children got older.

Now we are learning that we can’t get enough Vitamin D before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., so we really should get 15-20 minutes of sunshine right at noon.
And that’s it? Are we then to go inside for the rest of the day?

What’s a mom to do?

Sometimes it feels like our health is going to rule our lives – I can’t imagine telling my kids that they have to stay inside between 10-4 but for 20 minutes at noon. Talk about killing their tree-climbing, squirt-gun-fighting, tag-playing social life!

I can’t be that structured, but it’s good at least to understand the way the rays of the sun work (through the current lens, which hopefully is getting sharper and closer to the truth each time the tide shifts).

  • If I’m out before 10 or 11 a.m., we don’t use anything.
  • If we go out between 11-2ish, I try to let the kids play a little and then apply sunscreen.
  • If it’s after 3:00, I let them go without. I always say that it’s to make sure we get some Vitamin D, a habit which seems stuck in my brain, even though I know it’s not really helping (sigh)

We don’t do a lot of hiding from the sun or organizing our activities based on time of day and intensity of rays, though. I just have to hope that we all get enough Vitamin D and avoid the sunburns.

One more strange caveat: Washing your skin with soap for 48 hours after good sun exposure can diminish and deplete the Vitamin D your body is creating from the sun!

That doesn’t mean you can’t shower, but I recommend simply avoiding soap on all skin that doesn’t really get stinky, like arms and legs. For women, try to shave with water or at least give your legs as many hours as possible after sun exposure before applying shave cream or soap.

How to Stay Safe in the Sun

How Often Should I Bother with Sunscreen, Anyway?

At the Kimball house, we seek a balance of getting some unprotected exposure to the sun (hopefully midday!), seeking shade between 10 and 3 or so, and using the safest sunblock we can find for those times when we’re bound to be outside.

Nobody wants to burn, and my family would be scarlet if the rays are too intense.

If we’re outside for a limited amount of time and it’s (a) early in the season (like April/May in Michigan) at any time of day, or (b) I really feel that my family’s “burn threshold” won’t be met, we skip the sunscreen – even though I feel we use the safest sunscreen available! I want to soak up as much Vitamin D as I can, and even the safest ‘screens use zinc oxide, which is still not a proven help for our skin and does block the transmission of Vitamin D, so why bother?

I determine my family’s burn threshold by experience:

  • minutes in the sun
  • reflection coming off water (can increase burning)
  • time in the shade
  • previous sun exposure (aka “base tan”) and intensity of the sun based on time of year
  • location in the world (Florida = sunscreen for us!) and time of day

Yes, by the way, I understand that a suntan is sun damage. It’s a risk, but it’s also a protective factor against a deep burn, so I’ll balance it out. No sunbathing, but a lot less fear of the sun that pop culture has today.

We do wear swim shirts when directly exposed to bright sunlight in the water, because it’s a lot cheaper and easier to protect all that skin with clothing than sunscreen, and the net result is the same for both Vitamin D and burn risk (probably less risk of burn actually because the shirt can’t wash off in the water). The boys love to get a little sun on their chests when it feels safe to do so based on the burn threshold risk, however.

The third pillar of protection when it comes to the sun is from the inside out. Check out this fascinating interview with a Harvard-trained dermatologist about foods we can eat for sun protection and a little-known fern that increases your cells’ ability to withstand the harmful effects of the sun! It’s in a tasty little gummy called The Base Layer from Sundaily, and you can get 20% off your first order HERE with the code PARTNER20 today!


Be sure to use the coupon code PARTNER20 for 20% off your first order!!! (should automatically apply with the link)

Sign up for Rakuten and get additional % back!

So what’s the best time for YOU to go outside? When you can get some Vitamin D and not burn!
Health Benefits of Sunshine

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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