Girl Planting seeds

Summer, Sun and Safety

aiden_summer_beach_2The carefree days of summer are upon us, except that it has become difficult to feel carefree about anything these days. Whether we’re worrying about reports of a sharp increase in the diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes, fretting over a sunburn or how best to prevent one, or stressing out any time young children go near water – there’s no shortage of pressing health concerns this time of year.

But it is possible, and even easy in most instances, to keep your kids and yourselves protected from warm-weather nuisances this time of year. From the sun to the water to the land, here are a few tips for staying safe (and sane!) as the mercury rises.

Sun Stuff

sun_screen_shutterstock_370414133The sun is both friend and foe: we need its rays and its warmth to survive as a species, and yet too much sun is a grave danger that puts us at risk for skin cancer, heat stroke, and other health problems. The key to sun safety is finding balance, and taking what we need without overdoing it.

Sunscreen is high on nearly every parent’s shopping list, but figuring out which one to buy, how much to apply, and when to do it can be daunting. And unfortunately,many of the substances that keep the sun’s harmful rays at bay are toxic in other ways.  Two-thirds of the sunscreens analyzed in the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Sunscreen Guideoffer inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone, a hormone disruptor, or retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may harm skin. What’s more, these ingredients can penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream.

Mineral sunscreen, by comparison, is made using zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, usually in the form of nanoparticles, which don’t penetrate the skin. Another pitfall to avoid with sunscreen is buying one with a high sun protection factor (SPF), which may actually give people a false sense of security, causing them to spend more time in the sun. SPF refers only to protection from UVB rays, which cause burns, but it does little to guard against harmful UVA rays, which penetrate the skin and can cause skin cancer.

Aside from SPF, another important letter to remember when it comes to sun is D – as in Vitamin D, an essential component of human health and one in which nearly 1 billion people worldwideare deficient. It is produced in the body primarily due to sun exposure, and using too much sunscreen prevents this process from happening.

Vitamin D plays a crucial role in a wide range of bodily functions. According tothe online health news website Medical News Today, it helps maintain bone and teeth health; supports the immune, brain and nervous systems; regulates insulin levels; and influences the expression of genes involved in cancer development, to name just a few important jobs vitamin D does.

So how can you obtain the vitamin D you need and avoid the sun damage you don’t? The nonprofit Vitamin D Council recommends exposing your unprotected skin to the sun – but only for about half the time it takes for your skin to begin to burn (for fair skinned people this might be about 15 minutes, for darker-skinned people it could be longer). Another effective method of getting vitamin D into your body is to take a vitamin D3 supplement of anywhere from 2,000 IUs daily for infants to 10,000 IUs daily for some adults. Consult with your physician before starting any supplement regimen, and for more information check out

Water Stuff

jumping_in_ocean_shutterstock_503829094It is nearly impossible to know what lurks in the bodies of water around which many people spend their summers, and yet we dive in to lakes, ponds, oceans, pools and rivers with almost startling regularity. Sharks are swimming increasingly close to shore, and dangerous bacteria hide in natural and artificial waters, among them necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called “flesh-eating” skin infection that kills soft tissue and often leads to death.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that this condition is rare, it also notes that proper wound care is important, and anyone with an open wound should avoid entering any body of water until fully healed.

More common recreational water illnesses include diarrhea caused by germs and chemicals in swimming water; these harsh contaminants are most frequently ingested via swallowing, breathing, or merely touching the skin.  Aside from diarrhea, exposure can bring on skin, ear, respiratory, and eye infections, according to the CDC. Ask questions about the water before anyone you love dives in, and steer clear of pool toys made with cheap, toxic plastic– touching or inhaling these endocrine-disrupting chemicals isn’t good for you either.

And while no parent wants to think about this, about one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 and younger, per the CDC. It is crucial to be vigilant with your children, especially young ones, around any body of water, especially if they can’t swim, but even if they can. Ocean waves can easily overwhelm a child (or an adult, for that matter!), and kids are prone to running everywhere  - including on the slippery floors surrounding a pool.

Land Stuff

grilled_vegetables_shutterstock_287164691In this case, land refers to the things that grow in it – aka fruits and vegetables – and how to incorporate more of these foods into your summer diet. Barbecues are typically a meaty affair, but just because you’re heating up the grill doesn’t mean you should ignore the glorious bounty on offer from farms around the country this time of year. After all, evidence has suggested that grilling meat cooked at high temperatures creates cancer-causing properties, to say nothing of the cancer risks associated with eating meat cooked in any fashion.

Corn, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, squash eggplants and portabellas all taste fantastic after some time on the grill, as do veggie burgers and veggie hot dogs. As always, make sure to buy organic (good), and local (even better!). Make a vegan macaroni salad using delicious blended organic tofu or soy mayonnaise, and don’t forget that summer is watermelon’s time to shine!

Nature has already provided you all the perfect ingredients for a backyard barbecue – no need to look beyond the gifts grown in the land. All you have to do is step outside.

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