You’ve heard that getting your kids out in the sun every day to get their daily dose of vitamin D is a good thing, but you also know that sunburns are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. Thankfully there are some ways you can prevent sunburns naturally when it comes to being outside with your kids, however, one of these ways is a bit controversial among experts.
Today, I’m delving into the whole “healthy tan” concept to see what all the fuss is about and, yeah, I’m gonna give you my 2 cents as well.
Warning… anatomy and physiology to follow. Don’t worry though. I’m gonna make it as pain-free as possible.
What Exactly Is This Whole “Healthy Tan” Concept Anyway?
A “healthy tan” is a tan that is slowly formed by getting out in the sun on a daily basis while at the same time avoiding sunburns. It’s thought that this tan serves as a shield against harmful UV rays that can burn your little one’s skin and do some serious damage long-term.
How Does All This UV, Vitamin D, and Tanning Work Anyway?
When your kid heads out into the sun, the UV rays from the sun hit their skin… UVA and UVB rays to be exact. UVB rays are only long enough to penetrate the first layer (epidermis) of skin and can cause burning. UVA rays are longer than UVB rays so they can penetrate into the second layer (dermis) of skin when leads to structural damage like wrinkles.
These rays are beneficial seeing as how they cause the body to produce vitamin D which is a much needed fat-soluble vitamin, but they can be very damaging as well. Not only can they cause sunburns, but they can cause structural and genetic damage within the skin. These types of damages can lead to skin cancers later on in life.
Let’s look at some of these concepts below.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, and our bodies can’t produce fat soluble vitamins… we have to get them from other sources. Most times, we get our fat-soluble vitamins from foods, and that’s true in the case of vitamin d; however, food alone isn’t enough to cut it. You need the sun’s help.
When the sun’s rays hit the skin they mingle with a vitamin d precursor that’s in the form of a cholesterol. This forms vitamin d3. Next, this vitamin d3 goes through several conversions in the liver and kidneys until it ends up as a hormone that’s referred to as “activated vitamin d”. This activated form of vitamin d allows the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus in the gut. These minerals work to maintain strong teeth and bones, correct muscle/organ functioning, and is even thought to aid in cancer prevention.
So no matter how nutritious the food is that you feed your kids, they aren’t absorbing those particular minerals if their vitamin d is low. Low vitamin d = low blood calcium and phosphorus = health problems. Moral of the story… we need to stop being afraid of the sun!
When UV rays penetrate the skin they stimulate tiny cells in the top layer (epidermis) of skin called melanocytes. These melanocytes are located at the very bottom of the epidermis, and once stimulated, they begin to produce melanin, a brown pigment.
This pigment is carried to keratinocytes in the top of the epidermis (the main cells in the top layer of skin) causing the skin’s color to change to a darker, deeper brown. This is a protective mechanism used by the skin to protect the DNA within the skin’s cells from any damaging effects of UV rays. The melanin acts as an umbrella, covering the nucleus of each cell. This stops the UV rays from penetrating down into the cell and damaging the cell’s DNA. Instead of the UV rays being absorbed by the cells, they are absorbed and dispersed by the melanin.
Based on the above info, the idea of a tan sounds like a good idea.
Skin Damage & Skin Protection
Skin damage occurs when the skin isn’t protected in any way and the UV rays are allowed to penetrate down into the skin causing damage to the DNA contained within each cell. Studies have shown that both UVA and UVB rays can cause this damage.
In an effort to protect your child’s skin from damaged, you can keep them out of the sun… but that’s no good because they need to get their vitamin d from it. Another option is to cover their skin with either tightly woven, dark colored clothing or some type of broad spectrum sunscreen in order to block UV rays. Again, this also blocks vitamin d. Lastly, you can opt to get them out into the sun for a mere 20-30 minutes a day so they can get their daily dose of vitamin d before heading back inside or covering them up in some way. This is where the “healthy tan” concept comes into play.
The more you expose your child’s unprotected skin to these brief, daily sun baths, the more their skin will begin to slowly darken due to the melanin action discussed above. This is a protective mechanism designed to protect skin cells from damage.
Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Experts tend to disagree as to whether this “healthy tan” is all that healthy after all.
So What’s The Problem With A “Healthy Tan”?
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that so far, the “healthy tan” team is winning this race.Healthy Tan – 1 Rockin’ What God Gave You – 0
We know the sun’s rays damage the skin’s cells, but we also know that we need a certain amount of those rays to penetrate the skin in order to increase our vitamin d levels. Is there a happy medium to this dilemma?
Skin experts say that by the time the skin has produced enough melanin to protect cells from damage, damage has already been done. This is because melanin is produced IN RESPONSE to damaged cells. As in… the UV rays have already damaged the skin cells on their way down to the melanocytes, so the skin is gonna respond by darkening itself in order to protect itself from further damage.
To me, this says that anytime your skin darkens, it’s because of damage, and damaged skin isn’t healthy skin.
That kinda kicks the “healthy” in “healthy tan” to the curb wouldn’t you say?Healthy Tans – 0 Rockin’ What God Gave You – 1
So What’s A Natural Mama To Do?
Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I’m gonna do.
First off, the sun is still my kids best bet at getting the vitamin d they need. That means I’m happy to let them head on outside for 20-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day; however, I’m gonna limit that time to when the sun’s rays aren’t at peak levels.
After they’ve had their daily vitamin d, their clothes are gonna go back on and this mama will be slathering some homemade mineral sunscreen on them routinely throughout the remainder of the day if we’re gonna be out and about for a long while. Most homemade sunscreens are made using coconut oil, which has its own SPF properties, as well as zinc which reflects UV rays on the surface of the skin.
Lastly, we’ll be increasing the amounts of antioxidants and healthy fats in our diets during the summer months to help prevent sunburn, and we’ll be sticking with our daily doses of cod liver oil.
So what about you mama? What are your thoughts about the information in this post? Does this change your mind about “healthy tans” or no? How do you plan on taking care of your kiddo’s skin this summer? Share your thoughts with me in the comment section below!