Sun Exposure Dos and Don’ts: Enjoy the Summer Sun Safely!
Sun exposure can boost your mood and help balance vitamin D, but frequent sun exposure can also damage the skin. Use these tips for safe sun exposure!
Nature beckons you outside for a summer full of fun! Soaking up the sun can boost your mood and help balance vitamin D, but frequent overexposure to unprotected ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun can damage the skin.
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: this post is NOT sponsored but contains affiliate links for products that I use myself. These products and the information provided should not be considered medical advice. Amazon offers a small commission on products sold through their affiliate links. Prices are exactly the same for you if your purchase through an affiliate link or a non-affiliate link. Thank you!
The Bright Side of Sunshine
On the bright side, you can derive health benefits from balanced sun exposure. Sun exposure plays an important role in regulating circadian rhythms, contributing to deep sleep, boosting hormones like vitamin D and maintaining a balanced mood. Spending moderate time in the sun has also been shown to contribute to health by providing pain-reducing (analgesic) properties and helping to regulate metabolism.
Vitamin D is a critical steroid hormone which acts on receptors throughout the body, influencing bone health, heart function and inflammation. Vitamin D is unique because it can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight. When UVB rays from the sun strike exposed skin, the body can synthesize vitamin D3 which is then transformed by the liver and kidneys into the biologically active hormone.
Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. 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.
The Dark Side of Sun Exposure
Sunlight includes rays of invisible ultraviolet light of varying wavelengths which can contribute to sunburn, accelerated skin aging and skin cancer. The majority of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface is UVA which penetrates more deeply into the skin 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 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, can increase sun sensitivity.
While adequate vitamin D levels can help prevent cancer and not all skin cancers are related to sun exposure, some people are particularly prone to UV damage. People with a personal or family history of skin cancer or other genetic susceptibilities which make it more difficult to repair UV-induced DNA damage need to be more vigilant to avoid too much sun exposure.
Dos and Don’ts of Sun Exposure
To safely enjoy the sun and receive these health benefits while preventing overexposure and damage, there are some important considerations. Adjust these approaches based on your individual needs, lifestyle and susceptibilities.
Dos for Healthy Sun Exposure
- Do spend short amounts of time (10-20 minutes) exposing unprotected skin to the sun at times of the year and day when UVB rays are optimal for vitamin D production. Despite common recommendations, the best time for sun exposure is around noon when UVB rays are most likely to reach your skin and boost vitamin D production and UVA rays which increase the risk of skin cancer and photodamage are minimized.
- Do have your doctor check your vitamin D levels especially if you live at a more northern location and during the winter when not enough UVB rays reach you to produce adequate vitamin D from the sun.
- Do incorporate natural dietary skin support. Many of the fresh healthy foods available in summer also fortify you as a sort of internal sunscreen. For example, a mix of carotenoids including lycopene (in tomatoes and watermelon), lutein (in spinach and other dark green veggies), and beta-carotene (in orange, red, and yellow produce) reduce skin’s susceptibility to ultraviolet damage. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment found in microalgae and seafood which consumes this algae like salmon, shellfish and krill, also contributes to skin health.
- Do stay calm and breathe. Stress reduction helps to boost the skin’s UV resiliency. Stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to free radical damage which can lead to cancer. Adopting regular stress management practices such as meditation, yoga and mind-body practices like those in The Whole Cure make you more resilient to resist the damaging impacts of chronic stress, including sun damage and skin cancer.
- Do find or create shade. 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.
- Do 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. Some toxic ingredients to look for and avoid include oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A) 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 physical or mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide with an SPF no less than 15.
Don’ts to Avoid Damage from the Sun
- Don’t get burned. Avoid excessive sun exposure which leads to redness, blistering or pealing skin. This is a sign of too much sun exposure leading to DNA damage which can contribute to your risk of skin cancer.
- Don’t forget the delicate skin around your eyes, face and neck. A good hat with a wide, protective brim or neck guard is one of the best ways to protect the delicate skin of your face and neck. Sunglasses are also crucial for protecting the eyes from UV damage. Look for the label UV400 or Blocks 99-100% of UV Rays and wrap style sunglasses which block UV rays from all sides. It is also important to remember the lips, nose, and ears which are vulnerable to photodamage and skin cancer.
- Don’t be fooled by cloudy or cold days. UVA rays which contribute to skin cancer can penetrate cloud cover and still burn and damage your skin. Even when it is not hot, the sun can be damaging. In fact, sun exposure in the winter can be especially intense when rays are reflected off snow and ice.
- Don’t forget sun exposure through windows. UVA rays are a longer wavelength so they can penetrate materials more easily. As such, window glass efficiently filters out most UVB radiation but only minimally filters out UVA rays. This is particularly harmful since this type of exposure provides UVA radiation which damages the skin, suppresses immunity and can destroy vitamin D without the potential vitamin-D boosting benefits from UVB. Remember that you can be exposed to these damaging rays through windows in your home, office or car, and use appropriate protection.
- Don’t use sprays or powdered sunscreens. These may seem convenient, but they release toxic fumes when sprayed which you can breathe into your lungs. Instead, opt for cream or lotion formulations for more controlled application (This is one of my favorites!).
As you head outdoors this summer, be sure to take care of your skin. Follow these Dos and Don’ts of sun exposure to keep your skin healthy and beautiful!
What is your favorite sunscreen?
How do you balance your fun in the sun?
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NOTE: this post contains affiliate links for products that I use myself and frequently recommend to my clients. These products and the information provided should not be considered medical advice. AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Amazon offers a small commission on products sold through their affiliate links. Prices are exactly the same for you if your purchase through an affiliate link or a non-affiliate link. Thank you!
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