When did going out in the sun become so stressful? Remember when you used to be able to wake up, look outside, and not think twice before stepping out for a day of fun in the sun?
These days, you have to make sure you are covered by a hat and a layer of sunscreen at minimum; then there’s UV-protective clothing and sunglasses in addition to those second and third sunscreen applications to get you through the day. On really hot days, I sometimes notice paranoia sets in; I’m checking my watch, monitoring my skin, and constantly searching for the nearest source of shade. It drives me crazy!
Well, if you can relate, I have some good news for you: the sun isn’t as much of an enemy as many let on. In fact, as I was recently reading, the sun offers more health benefits than harm! By relaxing and enjoying it a little more often, you can reap the rewards.
Heliotherapy: Why Moderate Sun Exposure Is a Good Thing
Heliotherapy—light therapy from the sun—offers a number of benefits that can improve your well-being, but the U.S. Surgeon General certainly doesn’t want you to know about them. And look, I’m not here to downplay the danger of skin cancer—it’s real and dangerous—but it’s no reason to create a culture of sun avoidance.
A recent consensus paper authored by scientists at a number of major universities is urging people to get outside and enjoy the sun’s benefits. They argue that scaring people away from sunlight is putting Americans’ health and wellbeing at risk, and I must say that I agree whole-heartedly.
Top Health Benefits of UV Exposure
Moderate UV exposure is a natural way to improve your health. Not only is the sun your best source of vitamin D, which is an extremely important nutrient that impacts your health in a number of ways, but it can improve your mood, treat non-lethal psoriasis, release nitric oxide (which is valuable for circulation and heart health), produce beta-endorphins (pain suppressors), and regulate your circadian rhythm.
In short, moderate direct sun exposure can:
- Make your bones stronger
- Improve your mood
- Relieve itching and discoloration caused by psoriasis
- Improve your skin (one survey indicated 99% of dermatologists believe UV exposure is a viable form of treatment for non-lethal skin conditions)
- Boost blood circulation
- Benefit your heart
- Offer pain relief
- Improve your sleep cycle
- Treat cutaneous tuberculosis
- Boost vitamin D levels (low vitamin D is a common factor in countless chronic health conditions)
Skin Color and Sun Exposure: How “Moderate” Varies
Moderate sun exposure really depends on genetics. If you have fair skin, I’d say 15 minutes of sun exposure per day is enough. After that, sunscreen is recommended. The darker your skin is, the longer you can go without sunscreen. A darker-skinned white person can probably go for 30 to 40 minutes, whereas someone with brown or black skin can likely be exposed for up to two hours.
Although the Academy of Dermatology does not make its recommendations based on race, skin color does play a role and skin cancer mainly impacts Caucasian people. Melanoma affects roughly 27 people per 100,000 white Americans, while it only affects about one per 100,000 black Americans.
Tips for Detecting Skin Abnormalities Early
Now I know it’s probably engrained in your head that the sun is dangerous and UV rays cause cancer—and they can. However, the health benefits of the sun are greater. Additionally, by keeping track of sun exposure and any changes in your skin, you can often notice and stop any problems before they become serious.
Pay attention to any moles and see a doctor if you notice any changes in the number or color of moles. Even better, schedule appointments with your family doctor or dermatologist one to two times per year in order to stay on top of changes. When you’re proactive, you’re far less likely to experience problems from these very treatable skin conditions.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for public health,” Science Daily web site, August 6, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150806112424.htm.
Seigel, J., “America Is Getting the Science of Sun Exposure Wrong,” Nautilus, June 5, 2014; http://m.nautil.us/issue/14/mutation/america-is-getting-the-science-of-sun-exposure-wrong.
“How do I get the vitamin D my body needs?” Vitamin D council web site; https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/#, last accessed August 31, 2015.