Sunbathing, tanning, laying out—these are all terms that we are pretty familiar with. Whether it is because we are on some glorious beach vacation or because we desire to have golden skin, we have more than likely all sunbathed before. I have personally been a sun-worshiper for much of my life 🙂
In the past several years, more information has come out about our skin and the damaging effects of UV rays. Tanning salons don’t seem to pop up on every corner anymore (some have even been replaced by spray-tanning salons) and people are more conscious about protecting their skin. In fact, you might go as far as to say that many people intentionally avoid catching rays!
Just last week, our 7-yr old was in a half-day camp and she told us that the kids were given two 15-minute outside breaks—but they were told to avoid the sun and play only in the shade!
Here’s the thing: getting outside and being out in the sun at healthy levels is good for us!
Yes, I am suggesting that you go outside with the intentions of being in the sun, as long as you understand how to do it safely.
The truth is, despite the informational campaigns that tell us otherwise, it is only with extreme sun exposure (such as getting sunburned) that most sun danger exists. In fact, some research has concluded that not getting enough sun can be just as harmful— or even more harmful— than getting too much sun!
The Benefits of Vitamin D from the Sun
Sunlight provides us with real, authentic Vitamin D. Your body is designed to get the Vitamin D it needs by producing it when your bare skin is exposed to sunlight.
Adequate Vitamin D is important to our health for countless reasons. Increased Vitamin D levels have been associated with increased prevention of nearly every autoimmune disease, certain cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Vitamin D is essential for strong healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D also balances the immune system, decreases inflammation, and is necessary for a healthy pregnancy and infant development.
In several recent studies, those who had more frequent sun exposure lived longer than those that stayed away from the sun.
Sun Benefits—Beyond Vitamin D
Being in the bright sun makes us feel more alive. I know how I feel during the dreary, dark months of winter and the rainy, gray months of early spring. Being in the sun helps elevate our mood and decreases depression.
Sunlight benefits the endocrine system, nervous system and immune system. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin. Serotonin is associated with a better mood and feeling calm and focused. (Conversely, at night, darkness triggers the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for helping you sleep. Early morning sun exposure halts melatonin production, enabling us to feel more awake, alert and ready to begin our day.)
The sun also supports the digestive system. When sunlight hits the optic nerve, many processes of the body are activated, including digestion. Nerve impulses send messages that tell the body to produce certain enzymes, gastric juices and other digestive secretions.
Sunlight also helps disinfect and heal wounds and benefits many skin disorders such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.
These are just a few of the countless ways that adequate sun exposure benefits our bodily systems.
The Sunscreen Debate
Another debatable topic when it comes to sun exposure is sunscreen. Should you slather on sunscreen daily when heading out the door or when taking the kids outside?
While people are becoming more aware of the supposed dangers of the sun, skin cancer rates, especially melanoma, still appear to be rising drastically—4.2% annually.
Sunscreen may block our skin from sun damage, but it also blocks the ability for us to produce Vitamin D. As stated earlier, Vitamin D plays a huge role in disease prevention and Vitamin D deficiencies are being diagnosed in epidemic proportions.
Sunscreen also comes with many chemicals ingredients—chemicals that can be toxic and possibly even cancerous. What good are we doing if we are trying to protect ourselves from skin cancer, yet we are covering our skin with potentially cancerous ingredients?
Some people believe that sunblock should come with a warning that it may cause Vitamin D deficiency and a statement that it has not been demonstrated to reduce the risk of melanomas.
I am certainly not suggesting that you never wear sunscreen. But how often you choose to wear it should be a personal decision based on a variety of factors. When you do wear sunscreen, please choose a natural one with no (or minimal) chemical ingredients.
Guidelines for Safe Sunbathing & Tips for Increasing Your Vitamin D
Several years ago, Roy and I were introduced to the idea of using the sun as a type of therapy by Dr. Paul Goldberg. You can read his full article here and use his tips below to learn how to sunbathe safely and absorb your Vitamin D optimally.
“Sunbathing, like exercising should begin in a graduated fashion. Those who have fair complexions must proceed more slowly. When the skin has not darkened through the protective action of melanin, the sun easily burns it. Starting with three to five minutes of sun exposure on each side of the body is generally safe and sufficient to begin with. This can be increased over a period of several weeks in increments of an additional minute per day per side till about twenty minutes of sunbathing is taken daily on each side of the body.”
“The time of day chosen for sunbathing is important. The ultraviolet rays are too strong during the hours of about 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. in most locations for lengthy exposure. From approx. 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning and from after 3:00 till about 6:00 are the preferred times, taking into allowance the geographic location and season. At these times the amount of ultraviolet radiation is lower yet the sun’s rays are sufficient to bring about a pleasurable, health promoting, experience.”
“As much of the body should be exposed as is convenient. The use of sun tan lotions while engaging in rational sunbathing should be avoided, as the benefits obtained will be reduced.”
“Following the sunbath it is best to not bathe with soap for several hours. This will allow time for the skins oils that have been charged with the sun’s rays to be absorbed into the body allowing for more 7-dehydrocholesterol, the precursor to cholecalciferol or “activated Vitamin D” to be formed.”
“If over the following days the skin appears significantly reddened followed by peeling it indicates over-exposure, which is to be avoided. Obtaining a gradual, even golden bronzing coloration is what is sought after.”
“Special precautions should be taken with very young children and infants since their ability to produce melanin pigmentation is limited and damage to their skin may therefore occur more easily than with an adult.”
Sun Exposure: What I Personally Do
Throughout the spring and summer, I try to get into the sunlight first thing in the morning and I accomplish this by eating breakfast on our deck or tending to our garden.
I also make an effort to get into the sun several times each week, for 20-30 minutes, without using sunblock and with as much of my body exposed as possible. Every person has a different tolerance and my olive-toned Greek/Spanish heritage makes this the right amount of time for me personally.
On most summer days, I wear a chemical-free sunblock on my face only (because my face has hyperpigmented during my pregnancy, which I did not enjoy!).
According to Dr. Mercola:
“The skin around your eyes and your face is typically much thinner than other areas on your body and is a relatively small surface area so will not contribute much to vitamin D production. It is strongly recommended to protect this fragile area of your body as it is at a much higher risk for cosmetic photo damage and premature wrinkling. You can use a safe sun block in this area or wear a cap that always keeps your eyes in the shade like I do when I am outside seeking to increase my vitamin D levels.”
I wear sunblock on my body only on the days that I will be in the sun for prolonged periods of time (on my shoulders & back during a long hike or all-over my body during our summer beach vacations, for example).
I also check my Vitamin D levels twice a year and I find that I only need to take supplemental Vitamin D3 fall through winter.
We do these same practices with our children, allowing them to get sun exposure but being mindful to protect their skin from excessive exposure or any burns.
Now that you have all this information, I hope that you make time to enjoy the sun safely this summer. Get outside and don’t be afraid to rejoice in the warm, summer sun! Spend time outdoors with your children and use caution to protect your skin in whichever way feels most appropriate for you.
As always, we’d love to hear from you!
What is your relationship with the sun?
Have you spent your life enjoying it? Hiding from it?
What are your favorite ways to enjoy the sun at healthy levels?
Do you derive seasonal benefits from sun therapy?
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