For many decades, the mainstream medical establishment has bombarded us with warnings to avoid the sun. Use a sunscreen with SPF 50! Stay indoors until sunset! Wear a burka at the beach!
But has the case against sun exposure been taken perhaps a bit too far? I certainly think so. With the rise of “sun-o-phobia,” what has gotten lost in the shuffle is the fact that exposure to sunlight (in limited doses), has actual benefits.
Recent studies have demonstrated that optimizing our Vitamin D levels may actually help prevent as many as sixteen different types of cancers.
What’s the best way to optimize Vitamin D levels? Safe, smart and limited sunscreen-free exposure to the sun! Exposure helps the skin produce the Vitamin D it needs to build bones, quell inflammation, bolster the immune system and protect against cancer (including skin cancer). Now, of course this is by no means a license to bake ourselves in the sun, but consider it permission to step outside and into the sun a bit less fearfully! Use the sun to your advantage – here’s what I recommend:
Manage Your Dose
Have a healthy respect for the sun. It is a powerful medicine that can have potentially dangerous side effects on your skin. Treat it as you would treat any other medication, using the lowest dose necessary, but don’t avoid it completely. Also, remember that you must never, ever fall asleep in the sun without protection.
Always Avoid Sunburn
It is sunburn, not healthy sun exposure that causes problems. Repeated sunburns, especially in children and very fair-skinned people, have been linked to melanoma, whereas there is no credible scientific evidence that experiencing moderate sun exposure on a regular basis causes melanoma or other skin cancers – so prepare your skin by build up tolerance gradually. Start early in the year (spring), or early in the morning before the sun is strongest and slowly increase your exposure.
Make your own sunscreen
Boost your “internal sunscreen” by consuming anti-oxidants and beneficial fats. These nutrients assist in the strengthening of skin cells, thereby helping to protect them from sun damage. Eating lots of veggies and fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, goji berries and pomegranates, as well as supplementing with green powdered mixes and fish oils help prepare your body for limited, careful sun exposure.
Get Frequent, Short Exposures
Regular, short bursts of sun exposure have been found to be much more effective and safer than intermittent long ones. Note that you cannot generate Vitamin D when sitting behind a glass window because the UVB rays necessary for Vitamin D production are absorbed by glass. Aim for 15-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure 2-4 times a week. Each of us has different needs for unprotected sun exposure to maintain adequate levels of Vitamin D. Depending on your age, your skin type, your location, and time of year, your needs will vary. For more specifics, I recommend the tables in The Vitamin D Solution by Dr. Michael Holick.
>> >> RELATED: Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D Deficiency
Know When to Stop
After your 15-30 minutes of protection-free exposure to the sun, you need to cover up! If you’re going to be out in the sun for longer periods, wear a hat to protect your face and light colored clothing that reflects the sunlight and keeps you cool. When you do apply sunscreen, use one with the fewest chemicals possible.
Check Out the Recipe
Of your sunscreen, that is. High doses of certain ingredients can be almost as dangerous as the diseases they are said to prevent — so shop smart when it comes to sunscreens. A typical sunscreen product is a chemical assault on your body, many of which have been linked to cancer. According to the Environmental Working Group, the best sunscreens on the market (as in the least toxic) are products which do not contain PABA, Parabens, Fragrances, Nanoparticles, Retinyl Palmitate (a form of Vitamin A), Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-3 (B-3) and Amino Benzoic Acid. The side effects of these ingredients include a host of health horrors which can affect your heart, hormones and even your DNA!
>> >> RELATED: Is Your Sunblock Preventing or Causing Cancer?
Buy the Good Stuff
The best sunscreen is a hat and a shirt. There are no chemicals that will absorb through the skin, and there are no questions as to their efficiency. If, however, you are going to be exposed to sunlight for long periods, use EWG’s top-rated sunscreens to provide broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB-sunburn) protection with fewer hazardous chemicals that penetrate the skin.
Center photo by flickr user EvilErin.