Summer, a time when longer sun-filled and warm days invite you to enjoy all the fun and activities offered by the Eastern Shore. Whether on the boat, beach, in a backyard, or at a local park, soaking up the sun has many benefits. However, it’s important to also remember that frequent overexposure to UV radiation can damage your skin.
Benefits of Sun Exposure
Spending moderate time in the sun plays a vital role in:
- Boosting hormones, such as vitamin D
- Reducing blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health
- Improving mood by releasing endorphins
- Contributing to pain relief in people with fibromyalgia
Vitamin D Production & Deficiency
The most commonly known benefit of sun exposure is how it induces the production of vitamin D, a critical steroid hormone that acts on receptors throughout the body, influencing bone health, heart function, and inflammation. When UVB rays from the sun strike exposed skin, the body can synthesize vitamin D3, which is transformed by the liver and kidneys into the biologically active hormone.
Due to a variety of factors including lifestyle and environment, vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide. In our practice, we often run across people with symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, which include:
- Excessive Sweating
- Fatigue & Muscle Weakness
- Chronic Pain
- Broken Bones
- Depressed Mood
Your doctor can run a simple blood test to measure your Vitamin D levels if a deficiency is suspect.
While there are different ways you can increase your Vitamin D levels, emerging research suggests that natural sun exposure may regulate vitamin D in a way that supplements cannot mimic. For example, vitamin D produced in the skin may last at least twice as long in the blood compared with ingested vitamin D.
Risks of Sun Overexposure
Just as there are multiple benefits to sun exposure, there are also risks. Sunlight includes rays of invisible ultraviolet light of varying wavelengths (UVB and UVA), which can contribute to:
- Damage to collagen leading to accelerated skin aging
- Skin cancer
The majority of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface is UVA, which penetrates more deeply into the skin (compared to UVB rays) where it can indirectly damage DNA via the generation of free radicals.
Like most things related to health, bio-individuality and lifestyle habits are important when it comes to sun exposure. Certain groups of people are more susceptible to the negative impacts of UV sun exposure and may require different strategies to avoid harm. For example, those with certain autoimmune conditions such as lupus can be exceptionally sun sensitive. Further, medications such as tetracycline antibiotics, used to treat various infections, can increase sun sensitivity.
People with a personal or family history of skin cancer or other genetic susceptibilities, which can make it more challenging to repair UV-induced DNA damage, need to be more vigilant to avoid too much sun exposure.
Limit Your Sun Exposure
According to studies done at NIH the best time for sun exposure is around noon, when UVB rays are most likely to reach your skin and boost vitamin D production, and when UVA rays, which increase the risk of skin cancer and photodamage, are minimized. For maximum benefit, expose unprotected skin (backs of hands or face) to the sun for 10 to 20 minutes daily.
Incorporate Natural Dietary Skin Support
There are a variety of foods that can reduce your skin’s susceptibility to ultraviolet damage. Aim for a mix of carotenoids including lycopene (found in tomatoes and watermelon), lutein (found in spinach and other dark-green veggies), and beta-carotene (found in orange, red, and yellow produce). Astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment found in microalgae and seafood like salmon, shellfish, and krill, also contributes to skin health. Our area is fortunate to have access to not only fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables at various roadside stands but also plenty of seaside fare.
Find Stress-Reduction Practices
Studies have led researchers to believe that chronic stress can increase the susceptibility of your skin to UV damage. Stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to the effects of free radicals, which can lead to skin damage and cancer. In fact stress alone, without sun exposure, has been shown to damage DNA and increase signs of early aging. Adopting regular stress management practices, such as those offered by our center, which includes meditation, yoga, and mind-body practices, can make you more resilient to resist the damaging impacts of chronic stress.
Throw Some Shade
One of the best ways to enjoy a sunny day without suffering damage is to minimize your time spent in the strongest rays. Stay in the shade when possible and wear lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats that are specifically designed to block UV rays.
Choose a Safer Sunscreen
Sunscreen provides either a chemical or physical barrier against the sun’s rays. Look for ingredients that don’t contain toxic endocrine-disrupting chemicals that potentially affect reproduction and development hormones and/or cause skin irritation. Avoid oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate, and homosalate.
Synthetic fragrances should also be avoided in all personal care products, including sunscreens. These chemicals, such as parabens, phthalates, and synthetic musks, are linked to endocrine disruption, reproductive impacts, and even cancer. Instead, look for non-nano (meaning the particles are less likely to be absorbed by your skin) physical or mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide.
Some of our favorites include
Freya Farley is Evergreen’s Executive Director and an Acupuncturist at the Wellness Center at Evergreen. Her practice focuses on Women’s Health and Fertility. Along with acupuncture, and herbal medicine, Freya practices a food-as-medicine approach. She offers Open Studio morning yoga sessions, private consultations & treatments, as well as a weekly Community Acupuncture Clinic.
*The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.