By Iulia Soerensen, BSC KIN., PTS, FIS, OAS, WaterART
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays has both beneficial and detrimental effects on the health of individuals. The sun is essential for plant growth, it keeps us warm, and it allows our bodies to produce Vitamin D. The detrimental health effects are due to too much sun exposure and include premature aging of the skin and skin cancer.
Health Promoting Benefits of Sun Exposure
There are many health benefits of sun exposure, including increasing the body’s Vitamin D supply. Unlike other essential vitamins, which must be obtained through food, Vitamin D is amazingly synthesized in the skin through a reaction that is triggered by exposure to UVB radiation. This is especially important if you live in a northern climate such as Canada, since we are not exposed to too much of the sun’s rays for a significant portion of the year during many of the colder months.
It is important to also note that there are different amounts of Vitamin D that are produced in different individuals depending on one’s skin pigment, melanin. Individuals who are fair skinned have less melanin compared to those who are darker skinned.Therefore, when fair skinned individuals are exposed to the sun’s rays, they will produce a greater amount of Vitamin D as compared to darker skinned individuals who are exposed for the same time duration.
The Importance of Vitamin D
This vitamin is essential for several reasons. Firstly, the human body can only absorb calcium in the presence of Vitamin D. Secondly, this vitamin plays an important role for many bodily functions. According to recent studies, a Vitamin D deficiency may be linked to breast cancer, heart disease, depression, and weight gain. Moreover, individuals with higher levels of Vitamin D have an overall lower risk of disease.
Sun Exposure and Vitamin D Production
Our bodies are able to produce Vitamin D but only after sufficient skin exposure to sunlight. Typically, ten minutes of sun exposure on the face without sunscreen, at least two times a week, is adequate in order to produce sufficient Vitamin D. However, sun exposure past the ten minute mark without sunscreen may increase an individual’s risk of premature aging and skin cancer due to excessive exposure to UV radiation.
Health Detriments of Excessive Sun Exposure
Excessive UVB radiation will result in sunburn as DNA molecules become damaged in the process. Over time, prolonged exposure to these rays will accelerate skin aging. Furthermore, when DNA molecules are damaged, mutations that your body may not be able to overcome in turn lead to uncontrolled growth and later, skin cancer. Hence, wearing sunscreen is essential for shielding the body from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Even if you do not burn, you should still wear sunscreen. It is apparent that darker skinned individuals have more built in protection from sunburns than fair skinned individuals (due to increased melanin) but they are still vulnerable to the effects of UV rays.
Sun Smart Tips
- Wear protective light clothing and a wide brimmed hat
- Stay in shaded areas, such as under trees or under an umbrella
- Avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm
- Use a good sunscreen on a daily basis – it should contain at least SPF 30 and it should be water resistant. The fairer your skin is, the higher the SPF should be. The highest SPF currently sold is SPF 100.
There’s no need to hide-out indoors. Being outdoors has so many positive effects on the body, both physically and mentally. Enjoy the sun’s warmth and rays (as with everything, in moderation) and follow the sun smart tips above for outdoor fun, especially during the summer months.