What’s better than sunshine? Taking the time to enjoy it! This is happening more and more these days, with partial work-from-home schedules (and laptops) giving millions of people the opportunity to spend more of their daytime work hours outdoors, whether it’s in the backyard, on a park bench or at an outdoor cafe. It’s a far cry from being enclosed in an office cubicle two years ago.
The thing is, now that many commuters have more flexibility and control over how and where they work, they may be afraid to spend time in the sun for fear of skin cancer and decades of dermatologists insisting that every square inch of skin be covered in sunscreen around the clock.
While we appreciate this concern and have reason to be careful, that’s not to say your skin should never see the sun. In fact, your body, like most living things, needs sunlight to survive and thrive. Our bodies use precious sunlight to help our skin produce vitamin D, which is needed for our bones to grow and stay strong; to help cool the flames of inflammation that trigger disease; and to boost the immune system, which helps keep you safe from cancer, including skin cancer (which seems counterintuitive).
So now that the sun is more accessible to many recently liberated cube warriors and desk jockeys during the workday-not just on vacation-maybe the way we spend our time in the sun needs to be rethought, too. How do you build a healthy relationship with the sun and reap the healthy rewards? Start here.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.
When George Harrison sang Here Comes the Sun, he truly expressed the joyful feeling of the end of winter and the “return of the smile” season. “The sun just has its charms – it draws us in and gives us hope, new energy, and of course light.” It feels great, too.
While it’s true that sunlight is life-affirming and life-supporting, get too close – or, more accurately, stay in the sun too long – and you’ll get a sunburn, and that’s where the problems begin. However, the right amount of sun exposure will actually improve your health, so it’s important to get some sun exposure, but don’t overexpose or over-expose yourself. Remember the key phrase here is “some exposure”, meaning not enough exposure to turn your skin pink. For many people, that’s only 10 to 15 minutes a day or less. Don’t think of applying sunscreen as a blank check to stay out of the sun all day. One application may be less than an hour with sweat and/or water exposure.
The sun is solar medicine.
So what does the sun actually do for you? A lot more than you realize. While we often hear about the downside of too much sun exposure, here are a few ways – in reasonable doses – that sunlight can improve health:.
- It helps fight aging: Measured, short doses of UV rays on your skin actually help boost vitamin D levels – causing your body to produce up to 90 percent of the vitamin D it needs – which in turn helps slow down the effects of aging, such as bone osteoporosis, cancer risk and heart disease.
- It can help push blood pressure in a healthier direction: While sunlight is not a substitute for medication for those who need it, studies have shown that it can help push blood pressure levels in a positive direction. One of the mechanisms at work is nitric oxide in the skin, which reacts to sunlight by spending long periods of time outdoors, causing blood vessels to dilate and lowering blood pressure.
- It’s a natural mood booster: It’s not surprising, but in addition to feeling good, sunlight does have an effect on mood, and numerous studies have shown that vitamin D has antidepressant effects. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to mental health issues such as low mood, depression, seasonal affective disorder and even schizophrenia. Maintaining high levels of vitamin D through reasonable exposure to sunlight can provide support and, for many, improve mental health.
- It is a key factor in maintaining a strong immune system: Proper sun exposure increases vitamin D levels. Since we have vitamin D receptors on our immune cells, it’s thought that vitamin D deficiency makes the body’s systems more susceptible to infection – so healthy vitamin D levels are key, along with more disease-fighting, immune-supporting white blood cells, which increase with sun exposure. It is also interesting to note that many researchers believe there may also be a link between sun exposure and COVID-19 mortality, with one study concluding that people living in areas with the highest levels of exposure to UVA rays had a lower risk of dying from COVID-19 than those with lower levels of exposure.
- It can make you sleep better: Natural sunlight can help you sleep better at night if you take 10 -15 minutes out of your day in the morning. Natural light in the morning lets your brain know it’s time to stop releasing the sleep hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm – in effect, chemically adapting your brain and body to the natural day/night cycle.
- It makes your brain work better: Yes, you read that right. Research has found that sunlight helps promote the growth of nerve cells in the brain’s hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory. Among people with Alzheimer’s disease, those exposed to (simulated) sunlight performed better on mental tests, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- It helps suppress skin disorders: Under monitored, controlled, and medically supervised conditions, sunlight and “bathing” may promote healing of many skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis, eczema, and fungal skin infections, to name a few.
- It may slow the progression of metabolic and autoimmune diseases: In animal studies, sunlight has been linked to a number of health benefits, including protection against autoimmune problems, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. UVB rays have also been shown to help curb diet-induced obesity, metabolic syndrome, and atherosclerosis risk. If weight is an issue, sunlight can also help – lower body mass index has been linked to regular exposure to morning light. (So, who wants to drink coffee on the porch?)
Let the sun shine in sensibly.
Obviously, there are many benefits to sensible sunlight exposure, but I also want to be clear that irresponsible sunlight exposure is harmful. There’s no pass here – precautions absolutely must be taken in order to get a dose that supports your health. Think of the sun as a powerful drug-the right dose is helpful, while too high a dose can be harmful. You don’t need to give up solar medicine altogether, just choose the lowest, safest dose. Remember, it’s sunburn, not healthy sun exposure, that causes problems. Repeated sunburns, especially in children and very fair-skinned people, have been linked to melanoma, while regular, moderate sun exposure has nothing to do with it. That said, if you’re ready to step carefully into the sun, here are some tips on how to tan wisely:.
1, Know who you are and what you’re made of: Study the Fitzpatrick Skin Typing system, which categorizes skin types, ranks their risk of sunburn and skin cancer, and gives advice on how to protect each specific type.
2. Manage your dose: To keep a close eye on exposure, try the Dminder app, which calculates how long you can sit in the sun based on your skin color, age, body type, location, and local weather so your body produces optimal D without burning.
3. Eat sun-protective foods: Eat antioxidant-rich produce and drink antioxidant-rich teas throughout the summer to add a layer of protection from the inside out to boost your skin’s ability to protect itself from the sun. Blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, pomegranates, green blends and fish oils all offer protection. Try adding these skin care products to your skincare regimen as well:.
- Krill oil contains astaxanthin, which supports skin health and helps protect against sun damage.
- Lipoic acid, an antioxidant that helps protect skin collagen and fights the signs of cellular aging.
- Vitamin D3, which raises levels, protects against skin cancer, and helps your skin produce melanin faster, better protecting itself and preparing your skin for sun exposure.
4. Use a good sunscreen: Don’t let sunscreen use give you a false sense of security: One of the leading causes of sunburn and skin cancer is the use of poor-quality sunscreens, which may protect against sunburns but don’t do a good job of protecting against the long-wave ultraviolet rays that cause melanoma. Look for the cleanest, healthiest, best quality sunscreens available and buy them according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Sunscreen Database. For your own sake and for others, avoid spray sunscreens, which release tons of toxins onto your skin, into your mouth and lungs, and downwind of anyone else!
5. Protect your skin and use fewer chemicals: Many of the fabrics you probably already own have UV protection, including cotton, wool, canvas and denim, with tighter weaves and colored fabrics being your best bet. If you work or play outdoors for long periods of time, wear stylish sun protective clothing after 10 -15 minutes of sunscreen, and get sun protective hats, clothing and accessories from sites like Solumbra.com or Collibar.com.
6. Make your own shade: Umbrellas, beach chairs with top and side panels, and “folding hats” with neck and side panels to cover your ears aren’t just for the beach-they’ll help protect your skin no matter how long you spend outdoors. They’ll help protect your skin no matter how long you’ve been outside all day.
7. Return indoors at noon: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is when the sun is at its strongest and most destructive, so during this time, calm down and find a shady spot.
8. Stay awake: Remember the sun is a powerful force, some good, some bad, so take it seriously. Promise me you’ll never fall asleep in the unprotected sun; you won’t be fooled by a cloudy day that burns you just as easily as a sunny day; and by all means, stay away from tanning beds!