It’s summer, and, for many people, that means spending time outdoors. Getting some sunlight on skin every day can be beneficial both physically and mentally. Although it is important to make sure you’re protecting your skin from excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, as long as you’re taking precautions, enjoying some safe sun exposure can have positive effects on your health.
Benefits Of Sunshine
The many benefits of getting some daily sunshine come from the visible light of the sun (the light we can see versus the more harmful UV light we can’t) and the vitamin D your body makes when your skin is exposed to the sun. These include
One of the primary benefits of sunlight is its ability to stimulate vitamin D production. Vitamin D deficiency is a major predisposing factor in at least 17 varieties of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, birth defects, infectious disease and more.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diets. These minerals are necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. Long-term Vitamin D deficiency can even contribute to osteoporosis
Vitamin D controls the expression of over 200 genes and the proteins those genes regulate. It also aids in the absorption of calcium and works with the other fat-soluble vitamins A, E, and K. Along with many other processes, Vitamin D is key in boosting immune function and managing/preventing autoimmune diseases.
Sunlight supports better sleep and sets people’s circadian rhythms by regulating the levels of serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the body in the evening when it’s time to prepare your body for sleep. Waking up to bright light signals your body to stop making melatonin, setting your body up for your day and helping you sleep better at night.
A connection between sunlight and cardiovascular has been known for decades . People living in areas that receive less sunlight present tend to have higher average blood pressure than those living closer to the equator. UV light has also been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Sunlight stimulates the production of a chemical called nitric oxide in your skin. Nitric oxide helps your blood vessels to relax and expand, which in turn reduces blood pressure.
Aids Mental Health
Low Vitamin D levels are associated with a higher risk of depression. Getting some natural sunlight can increase the production of vitamin D to help with depression symptoms and improve your overall mental health and well-being.
Studies suggest that bright light therapy might help improve the symptoms of bipolar depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Light therapy could also help people experiencing eating disorders. There’s also some research that indicates people with schizophrenia could also have lower levels of vitamin D.
Sunshine signals your brain to be alert and awake. During the sunny times in the year, you have more energy because your brain is being activated more and getting outdoors can help you feel livelier and more energetic.
Enjoying The Sun Safely
The goal for sun exposure should be to optimize Vitamin D synthesis, and minimize the risk of sunburn. It is perfectly possible to achieve with a few simple pointers.
- If you have fair skin, aim to spend about half the amount of time in the sun that it takes for your skin to turn pink (without sunscreen). This could be as little as 10 minutes or more if your skin is darker and thus requires longer to generate the same amount of vitamin D.
- Avoid burning yourself in the sun. Cover yourself and your children with light clothing, wear a hat, shade yourself with an umbrella, tree or canopy, wear sunglasses.
- Use a safe sunscreen to prevent sunburn if you are going to be exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period.
- Pay attention to the time of day, latitude and season. This probably goes without saying, but you need less sun exposure at mid-day during the summer on the D than in the late afternoon during the winter in a colder climate. Vary your exposure accordingly.
- Infants under 6 months old have little protective pigment (melanin) in their skin. It is best to avoid direct sun exposure at mid-day for infants as they have little protective pigment (melanin) in their skin. Use protective clothing and a hat, and limit exposure to the morning or late afternoon hours. Infants may be particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of some sunscreen ingredients, so use clothing or shade when possible.
The Role Of Food
Food can play an important role in sun protection and skin health. Following a Paleo diet which removes inflammatory foods, including processed vegetable oils, grains and sugars can support your body’s ability to naturally protect itself from the sun and support Vitamin D Metabolism.
A Paleo lifestyle also encourages the consumption of naturally occurring healthy fats like omega-3’s found in fish and fish oils, quality mono-unsaturated rich fats like avocado and avocado oil, olive oil and saturated fats from well raised animals, tallow, lard, duck fat and bacon along with coconut oil. The body thrives on and needs healthy fats in order to regenerate skin tissue.
Eating lots of leafy greens, berries and other colorful vegetables, along with other antioxidant rich foods like a little dark chocolate or organic red wine also form part of a Paleo diet. Antioxidants work to reduce inflammation and free radicals, and can aid in cellular and skin damage that results from over-exposure to the sun.
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Supplementing with well-formulated Vitamin D3 and astaxanthin have both been shown to have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer. Astaxanthin is not appropriate for children and always check with your health care provider before taking supplementation.
Choosing Your Sunscreen
Mineral sunscreens offer a safer option as compared to the more commercially available chemical sunscreens. Similar to your food choices, it is important to read ingredient lists and labels. Some sunscreens that are labelled “mineral-based sunscreen” still also contain some of the chemical ingredients.
Furthermore, if nano-particles of zinc oxide or titanium oxide are used, they can enter the body and can pose risks of their own. Since these offer physical barriers, it can be difficult to accurately pinpoint the SPF of some mineral sunscreens.
Effective sunscreen can be made without oxybenzone and octinoxate.
When choosing your sunscreen, there are a few recommended options:
- Non-nano zinc oxide mineral sunscreen. This will block harmful rays of light and will not be absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Zinc oxide mineral sunscreen. This will still block harmful rays of light rather than absorbing and scattering them. The zinc oxide still has the potential to be absorbed into your bloodstream.
- Broad spectrum chemical sunscreen. If you must use a chemical sunscreen, at least choose a broad spectrum, which blocks against UVA + UVB rays.
NOTE: It is recommended to reapply 1oz amount at least every two hours, after 40 minutes of swimming or sweating and immediately after towel-drying.
Humans are designed to spend some – but not too much – time in the sun. Too little sun exposure can leave you at a high risk for Vitamin D deficiency, while too much is possibly dangerous too. A sunburn is your built-in warning system for when you have been exposed to the sun a little (or a lot) too much.
Combining daily sun exposure with some smart choices, a safe and effective sunscreen, some vitamin D-rich foods and supplementing if and when necessary will ensure you are experiencing all the benefits getting outside in the sun provides.