From ancient history to modern day science, the power of the sun in our sky has long been discussed, debated and worshipped.
From bathing our planet with a constant shower of UV rays, species including our own civilisation has developed with the Sun watching over us and helping us to produce the crops and food we eat necessary to sustain life on Earth.
Over the years, from worshipping the sun we have been plagued by public messages encouraging us to protect our skin against the harmful sunrays and warning us against the exposure to the harmful UV rays.
Over-exposure to the sun can indirectly result in skin cancer through sunburn and by generating DNA-damaging molecules, there are plenty of health benefits associated with sun exposure [paper]. The primary benefit being an increase of Vitamin D- which itself leads to the many other benefits.
Benefits of Sun Exposure
Probably the best-known benefit of sunlight exposure is an increase in Vitamin D production.
Vitamin D is thought to regulate over 1,000 genes in our body, including the metabolism of calcium and proper functioning of our immune system [paper].
Vitamin D contributes to a healthy and positive mood, supports bone density and strength, improves stamina / energy by fighting off fatigue, and supports general wellbeing including sleep patterns and immunity from infections.
Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin through a photosynthetic reaction triggered by exposure to UVB radiation [source].
The level of Vitamin D produced is directly correlated to the amount of skin in contact with the sun (i.e. less if you’re wearing long sleeved shirts, trousers) and the colour of your skin.
A half hour sun-bathe in swim-wear or a bathing suit can trigger the release of 10,000 to 30,000 IU Vitamin D in dark-skinned or tanned individuals, and up to 50,000 IU Vitamin D in paler skin complexions [source].
Improves Mental Health
Humans are programmed to be outdoors during the day when the sun is out, and indoors in bed at night, to recharge and recover.
Exposure to sunlight helps produce serotonin. Serotonin is referred to the happy hormone, as it helps contribute to a sense of overall happiness and wellbeing. Serotonin helps improve mood, remain calm and keep focused. Low levels of serotonin may cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and could also disturb sleep patterns.
Because of this, exposure to sunlight has been associated to helping fight depression.
Improves your sleep
A higher output of serotonin is linked to melatonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin in darkness, and the more sunlight we are exposed to earlier in the day, the sooner our melatonin production occurs helping us go to bed more easily.
This chemical is produced in the night and is therefore also known as the sleep-hormone. It helps regulate your body’s sleep and wake cycle, helping to orient our body’s circadian rhythm.
Darkness prompts the production of melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland in our brain and released into our body, and helps put us to sleep, reduce inflammation and improve immunity.
How much Sunlight?
While there are positives to sunlight exposure, it nevertheless still emits potentially damaging UV radiation, which can penetrate the skin causing damage to your cells and DNA.
People with lighter skin tones tend to burn more easily than those with darker skin and should therefore shorten the length of exposure to prevent the damage to cells.
The sun’s rays burn stronger during peak times of 10am to 4pm – and depending on the season (summer/ winter) the effect can be more pronounced in some areas of the world.
It is generally recommended to spend no more than 15 minutes outside in direct exposure to the sun. But the sun must penetrate the skin for you to obtain the benefits – so wearing clothing or sunscreen won’t help assist the production of Vitamin D.
The Dangers of Sun Exposure
While short term exposure is beneficial to improving health and increasing production of Vitamin D, too much exposure without proper protection – and depending on your general skin sensitivity – could lead to skin damage including burns and blistering.
Longer term affects can include accelerated aging of your skin, shown by an increase in wrinkles and dryness.
The greatest threat to pro-longed sun exposure is raising the risk of developing skin cancer.
Dehydration and Heat Stroke
Dehydration occurs when the body loses water through sweat and / or breathing. This can happen with exposure to the sun and not drinking enough water, causing your body to lose water and electrolytes.
Symptoms of dehydration often include:
- Dry Skin
- Dry mouth
- Fatigue / Dizziness or confusion
Dehydration could also couple with heat-stroke.
Exposure to extreme heat causes the body’s temperature to rise, and without adequate hydration or cooling, what may feel like exhaustion and fatigue could quickly escalate to something more threatening to your internal organs.
The power of the sun in our sky has long been discussed, debated and worshipped. A half hour sun-bathe in swim-wear or a bathing suit can trigger the release of 10,000 to 30,000 IU Vitamin D in dark-skinned or tanned individuals, and up to 50,000 IU Vitamin D in paler skin complexions
But the Dangers of Sun Exposure could include skin damage, dehydration and heat stroke. It is vitally important to obtain the natural health benefits of sun exposure, in a way which is controlled and optimises your wellbeing without incurring risk.