Here in Chicago, the weather is just starting to warm up, and we are beginning to see more sunlight. I thought that the beginning of spring was the perfect opportunity to talk about the healthy benefits of sunlight.
Every generation seems to have their own ideas about the sun and exposure to it. We seem to swing between getting too much exposure and too little. In the mid 20th century, sun block was not commonly used. People would bake in the sun slathered in baby oil, crisco, or lemon juice. Toward the latter part of the century, there was a big push for sun protection with people being urged to cover up, wear sunblock, and avoid the sun's "harmful rays". At the moment, we seem to be somewhere in the middle. Healthcare professionals have been making more of an effort to learn about the benefits and dangers of sun exposure and to learn how much sun is most beneficial.
Many people already know that the sun helps our bodies to produce vitamin D, which is one of the biggest benefits of sun exposure, but there are many more. In addition to the benefits of vitamin D, getting some sun can help with balancing other hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, protect your skin, and boost your body's immune system.
Benefits of Sunlight
Improved Mood and Energy Boost
Exposing yourself to sunlight can make you happier and boost your energy. Sun exposure can help to boost your body's production of the hormone serotonin. Serotonin helps you to feel more active and alert. It also helps to combat depression, and makes you feel happier. UVR rays help to release endorphins in your body, which also help to promote a positive mood.
Immune Boost and Disease Prevention
UVA, UVB, and UVR rays help to boost your immunity by producing several different substances in your body which help to boost your immune system, and repair your body. Vitamin D is also very beneficial in preventing many disorders including but not limited to the following:
Sunlight helps to tell your brain when it is day time and when it is night time. Exposing yourself to sunlight throughout the day, especially in the morning, can help your body to regulate the hormone melatonin. This is the hormone that is naturally released by your brain to tell your body it is time to go to sleep. Staying indoors all day, or remaining in dim lighting, can mess with your brain's ability to tell what time of day it is. If you suffer from chronic insomnia, try opening up your windows or going outside as soon as you wake up.
Sunlight can help to prevent many kinds of cancer, but one that may surprise you is melanoma. For years, doctors told us that sun exposure can lead to melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Now there is evidence that suggests that melanoma can actually be prevented by exposure to the sun. When we are inside, we are mostly exposed to UVA rays which have been shown to cause melanoma, however, when we go outside, we are exposed to both UVA and UVB rays. This addition of the UVB rays is what helps to prevent melanoma. The reason for the different kinds of exposure has to do with windows. When we are inside, the UVA rays are able to get through windows, but the glass filters out the UVB rays. This is why people who primarily work indoors have a much higher risk of skin cancer than people who work outdoors.
Some Tips for Being in the Sun
The darker your skin is, the more sun you need, because the same amount of time in the sun produces different levels of vitamin D for different skin tones. The darker your skin tone is, the less vitamin D is produced.
Be outside. Many benefits of the sun are not received through glass, so being inside next to a window won't produce the same effects as being outside in direct sunlight.
Not all tanning beds are created equal. If you prefer tanning beds, make sure to use beds that are safer. Try to find a tanning bed that has UVB rays in addition to UVA. A good rule of thumb is to listen. If you hear a buzzing sound, the tanning bed can be harmful and increase your chances of melanoma. If you don't hear a buzzing sound, it is more likely to be safe. If you prefer to use tanning beds, I would recommend researching them further and finding out what kind of beds you have access to in your area.
Hold off on the sunblock. It is a good idea to wait before putting on your sunblock. Try to get 10-30 minutes with nothing on your skin in order to reap the benefits. If you are going to be in direct sunlight for longer, use sunblock and protective clothing after the first half hour or so, especially if you tend to burn easily. If that is the case, you can begin to build up your tolerance by slowly increasing the amount of time you are in the sun. Start with 10-15 minutes, and then when you are comfortable, begin increasing the amount of time in small increments. If you begin to notice burning, decrease to give your body time to get accustomed to the sun.
Try more natural sunscreen, or make your own. Here is a list of some more natural, healthier sunscreens that you can order or find in some stores. You can try making your own if you are into DIY. Try these recipes from Mommypotamus, Scratch Mommy, The Homesteading Hippie, or Keeper of the Home.
You can burn in the water. For most people who are prone to sunburns, this is common knowledge, but there are some who are not aware that you can burn in the water. It seems counter-intuitive. The water feels cool, and you don't feel your skin burning, but the water can actually act as a magnifier. If you are going to be in the water, make sure to use a waterproof lotion or spray to prevent burning. I would recommend staying out of the water for 10-30 minutes to soak up the sun, and then apply your sunblock just before getting in the water. Don't forget to reapply if you will be in the water for a long time.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.