As the days get longer, nature beckons you outside for a summer full of fun and activity. Life is good, and you should embrace as much of it as you can. The sun invites you to sit, relax, and play in its warmth. Your family and friends get together on the beach, in your backyard, or at a local park for hours on end. While soaking up the sun can boost your mood and your body’s vitamin D levels, it is important to be safe while doing so as frequent overexposure to UV radiation can also damage your skin.
Benefits of Sun Exposure
There are many health benefits from taking in sufficient amounts of sun exposure and it plays an important role in:
- Boosting hormones like vitamin D
- Reducing blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health
- Improving mood by releasing endorphins
Spending moderate time in the sun has even been shown to contribute to pain relief in people with the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia.
The most commonly known benefit of sun exposure is inducing production of vitamin D, a critical steroid hormone that acts on receptors throughout the body, influencing bone health, heart function, and inflammation. When UVB rays from the sun strike exposed skin, the body can synthesize vitamin D3, which is transformed by the liver and kidneys into the biologically active hormone.
Due to a variety of factors including lifestyle and environment, vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:
- Excessive Sweating
- Fatigue & Muscle Weakness
- Chronic Pain
- Broken Bones
- Depressed Mood
If you think you have a Vitamin D deficiency, ask your doctor for a simple blood test to measure your levels.
While there are different ways you can increase your Vitamin D levels, emerging research suggests that natural sun exposure may regulate vitamin D in a way that supplements cannot mimic. For example, vitamin D produced in the skin may last at least twice as long in the blood compared with ingested vitamin D.
Risks of Overexposure
While there are multiple benefits to sun exposure, there are also risks. Sunlight includes rays of invisible ultraviolet light of varying wavelengths (UVB and UVA), which can contribute to:
- Accelerated skin aging
- Skin cancer
The majority of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface is UVA, which penetrates more deeply into the skin (compared to UVB rays) where it can indirectly damage DNA via the generation of free radicals. UV radiation can also damage collagen and accelerate aging of the skin as well as contribute to cataracts.
Like most things related to health, bioindividuality and lifestyle habits are important when it comes to sun exposure. Certain groups of people are more susceptible to the negative impacts of UV sun exposure and may require different strategies to avoid harm. For example, those with certain autoimmune conditions such as lupus can be exceptionally sun sensitive. Further, medications such as tetracycline antibiotics, used to treat various infections, can increase sun sensitivity.
People with a personal or family history of skin cancer or other genetic susceptibilities, which can make it more difficult to repair UV-induced DNA damage, need to be more vigilant to avoid too much sun exposure.
Limit Your Exposure
Expose unprotected skin to the sun for 10 to 20 minutes at times of the year and day when UVB rays are optimal for vitamin D production. The best time for sun exposure is around noon, according to studies done at NIH, when UVB rays are most likely to reach your skin and boost vitamin D production, and when UVA rays, which increase the risk of skin cancer and photodamage, are minimized.
Incorporate Natural Dietary Skin Support
Many of the fresh healthy foods available in summer can help fortify your skin. For example, a mix of carotenoids including lycopene (found in tomatoes and watermelon), lutein (found in spinach and other dark-green veggies), and beta-carotene (found in orange, red, and yellow produce) can reduce your skin’s susceptibility to ultraviolet damage. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment found in microalgae and seafood like salmon, shellfish, and krill, also contributes to skin health.
Find Sress-Reduction Practices
Studies have led researchers to believe that chronic stress can increase the susceptibility of your skin to UV damage. Stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to the effects of free radicals, which can lead to skin damage and cancer. In fact stress alone, without sun exposure, has been shown to damage DNA and increase signs of early aging. Adopting regular stress management practices such as meditation, yoga, and mind-body practices can make you more resilient to resist the damaging impacts of chronic stress, including sun damage and skin cancer.
Throw Some Shade
When you plan to be outside for long periods of time, one of the best ways to enjoy a sunny day without suffering damage is to minimize your time spent in the strongest rays. This means staying in the shade when possible to avoid extensive time in strong sun and wearing lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats that are specifically designed to block UV rays.
Choose a Safer Sunscreen
Sunscreen provides either a chemical or physical barrier against the sun’s rays. When choosing a sunscreen, ingredients matter to ensure adequate protection without harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals, potentially affecting reproduction and development hormones. Some toxic ingredients to look for and avoid include oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate, and homosalate, which can alter hormones and/or cause skin irritation.
Synthetic fragrances should also be avoided in all personal care products, including sunscreens. These chemicals, such as parabens, phthalates, and synthetic musks, are linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive impacts, and even cancer. Instead, look for non-nano (meaning the particles are less likely to be absorbed by your skin) physical or mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide.
Tried & True Mineral Based Sunscreens:
*The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Evergreen’s Wellness Center; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
Experience profound rest and renewal by attuning to the natural rhythms of your body at Evergreen’s Wellness Center.