We all intuitively crave some time in the sun – we spend money travelling to seek it, spend time desperately anticipating its arrival and generally become much friendlier, happier and more energised when it’s shining! So why on earth are we being advised to avoid it? Why do we wait all year for the sun’s healthful rays only to cover up with clothes or toxic vitamin D inhibiting sunscreens? I want to preface that I am in no way advocating irresponsible suntanning here, but rather am wanting to emphasize that there is a more moderate approach to sun exposure that is healthier than total avoidance and “protected” over-tanning.
Commercial powers that profit from sunscreen sales are unfortunately misleading and implicating us all (including the medical world) with their massively funded scare campaigns. The main two problems with sunscreen as I understand it are:
1) It encourages us to stay out in the sun for longer than we should by masking when we have had enough; and
2) It is full of toxins that are being absorbed through our skin and taken straight into our bloodstream – our skin is our biggest organ, it absorbs everything we put on it – would you eat your sunscreen or lather it on your liver if you could?
Surely it makes more sense to keep our skin lotion free and gauge when we have enjoyed enough direct sun by watching for the natural rosy glow? After all, behaving this way would encourage our skin to produce its own sunblock in the form of melanin (what makes us appear tanned): melanin prevents the UVB radiation damage that is responsible for the formation of malignant melanoma and other skin cancer. Thus we can slowly and mindfully begin to increase the amount of time spent under the sun and avoid vitamin D deficiency or having to supplement it.
Now, despite there being a proliferation of sunscreens on the market – for babies, makeup wearers, people who sweat, people who want a tan, and so on – it seems the rate of skin cancer and the rate of vitamin D deficiencies are increasing. In fact more and more studies from reputable sources are proving that it’s time to move away from this idea that moderate exposure to the sun gives us cancer. It seems in fact that the sun can actually help to prevent and fight a number of different cancers: “recent studies and analysis of global incidence data (GLOBOCON) consistently find that sensible sun exposure is a protective factor against the following cancers: lung, kidney, breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, colon and skin cancer. And the list keeps growing”. It is estimated that up to 75% of cancers can be prevented by adequate vitamin D levels. I know this all sounds a bit scary and confusing – but there are plenty of things we can do to ease ourselves into this new understanding – I will suggest safe sun exposure tips and good quality natural sunscreens once we learn a little more on just how important sunlight is to our health.
What makes sun so good?
Basically when the sun’s UVB rays hit our skin we are able to make one of the most integral and crucial hormones in our bodies – vitamin D. Vitamin D is a prohormone that regulates and orchestrates the rest of the hormones in our bodies. I can’t stress enough just how many benefits there are for vitamin D in the body and just how many illnesses are caused by being deficient in it.
Vitamin D benefits
- Enables calcium to be absorbed by the gut = strengthens bones especially of postmenopausal women with osteoporosis
- Aids the absorption of magnesium, iron and zinc = supports and calms the nervous system
- Stimulates serotonin, the feel good chemical in the brain = decreases depression and makes us feel happy!
- Tells the white blood cells to produce an antibiotic = strengthens the immune system and enables cells, tissues and organs to repair after injury
- Regulates the pancreatic beta cells which make insulin = helps weight control and blood sugar levels (diabetes).
- Regulates the renin-angiotensin system which stabilises blood pressure = decreased risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure
- Allows calcidiol (a hormone) to circulate around the body = regulates gene proliferation (this is the reason for the link between Vitamin D deficiency and cancers).
How to optimise vitamin D if you’re not near the sun:
1) Increase your intake of the following: fermented cod liver oil, fish, shellfish, organic grass-fed butter, lard and organic egg yolks.
2) Take vitamin D3 in supplement form, but as it is synthesised (from irradiating mushrooms and other plants) it’s easy to get to toxic levels so follow your health practitioners advice on dosage.
3) Reduce the amount of refined sugar and grains in your diet and increase good quality vegetables, proteins and fats – this will decrease inflammation and free radicals in the body thus allowing you to be in the sun for longer without burning. S0 yes it’s true – the more sugar and heated vegetable oils you eat the better chance you have of getting burnt.
4) Make sure you are getting enough calcium and magnesium as these both help vitamin D function.
Safe sun options:
Avoid getting sunburnt – this is not beneficial in any way. Instead try the following:
- Start with 15 minutes of sun exposure then slowly increase it day by day as you feel your skin adapts without burning. Those people with fair skin will need less time in the sun than those with darker skin.
- Try to sunbathe between 10 am and 2 pm during summer months (or winter months in southern latitudes) to optimise the healthy UVB rays and avoid the more harmful UVA rays. To read more on this please go to the ‘time of day’ section in this article.
- It takes up to 48 hours for your skin to absorb the majority of the vitamin D, so try to delay showering or at least soaping up and scrubbing your skin for at least two days after sun exposure.
- Natural chemical-free sunscreens: these are free from parabens, chemical fragrances, nanoparticles and other nasty chemicals. You should be able to recognise all of the ingredients. Here are some great natural sunscreens. With a naturally occurring SPF4, coconut oil is wonderful to use on your skin as part of your daily routine.
- If you have to be out in the sun beyond what you know is beneficial for you then practise common sense: add more clothes, wear a hat, seek shade, apply chemical free sunscreens.
- Avoid toxic sunscreens at all costs! These are packed full of chemicals that create free radicals and upset estrogen levels.
- Absolutely do not catch the sun through windows. UVA rays are longer than UVB rays and can penetrate materials more easily (like the ozone and windows) destroying vitamin D. It is the upset of this balance that can lead to skin cancer and ageing of the skin.
- If you do get burnt use 100% aloe vera gel immediately
This is a huge subject I know, so do take your time to digest this information if it is brand new to you. There is plenty of mounting evidence supporting the healthy use of sun and vitamin D so get familiar with it and feel better! For even more benefits please read this very informative research article.