As we seem to be having a glorious September heat wave I thought I’d take the time to put my thoughts down on metaphorical paper about sun exposure. I’m well aware that this will be a highly contentious topic, but when has that ever stopped me before? You’ll know yourself how good you feel after a summer holiday, or how even just 10 mins of sun on your face in your lunch break can boost your mood and power you through the afternoon. But we are so afraid of it too and sometimes forget that we do need some unadulterated sun exposure for optimum health. Here’s why...
We need the sun on our skin, but we need to be smart about it - burning is not helpful and this post is NOT a green light to go fry yourself, be sensible! Regular exposure, however, particularly at certain times of the day (see below) is helpful. Geographical location needs to be taken into account too - common sense stuff (e.g. do you live in a country that has a huge hole in the ozone layer above it? If so, go easy). Activity also needs to be taken into account - if I was out for a surf and in the water for hours with the reflection of the rays on my face then yes, I would 100% be wearing a natural Zinc sunscreen.
The sun is responsible for life on earth and it is fundamental for optimum human health. Food is only part of our energy source; our other energy source is the sun via the mitochondria in our cells. Infrared light from the sun can actually increase mitochondrial function. In the same way that plants take light from the sun and make energy (via chlorophyll), the human mitochondria have the ability to convert the light from the sun directly into energy. Overall this increases cellular ATP synthesis via cellular respiration, and as ATP = the energy currency of the cell, overall it means that we feel more energetic as a consequence. It’s pretty cool when you think about it, and pretty sad that we’ve been brought up to fear direct sun exposure!
Humans have physiological adaptations to help protect the skin from the sun when we are mindful of our exposure and do not burn.
Our skin and bodies have the ability to directly convert the sun’s rays into protective and necessary pro-vitality substances such as melanin, sulphur and the steroidal hormone vitamin D. We need Vitamin D (a.k.a Hormone D) to function optimally. The form of vitamin D produced by the sun is water soluble and can be more easily absorbed and used by the body. The vitamin D we get in supplements and food does not share the same properties, it is not sulfated and is not as effective as that from sunlight. I repeat, Vitamin D supplements are not the same as Vit D hormone synthesised directly from the sun’s rays.
Vitamin D modulates the immune system to keep us safe from viruses (Yo Corona!), bacteria and fungal infections. There are SO many illness associated with Vitamin D insufficiency (eg. hypocalcaemia, cancer, arthritis, autoimmunity etc).
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In 2007 a meta study from the University of California concluded that there was a significant correlation between sunscreen use and melanoma (cancer). Yes, you heard that right.
Here are a few useful pointers when considering sun exposure besides the obvious BE SENSIBLE, DON'T BURN!
Timing is everything
Exposure to morning and evening sun, where there is little to no UV light, gets the skin ready to receive UV rays later in the day. If you expose your skin to these early morning rays (sunrise), you protect your skin later on in the day - amazing! We also know now that the red and near Infrared light is also incredibly healing and regenerative for the body.
Oxybenzone is the main ingredient in sunscreen, it’s a free-radical generator classified as non-carcinogenic until it is exposed to sunlight (just me thinking WTF?) In humans, oxybenzone has been reported to produce contact and photocontact allergy reactions, implemented as a possible endocrine disruptor (messes with hormones), and has been linked to Hirschsprung's disease. Environmentally, oxybenzone has been shown to produce a variety of toxic reactions in coral and fish ranging from reef bleaching to mortality.
In terms of Natural Sunscreens - these are all great:
Lastly, how good do you feel when you sit in the sun for 20 mins? Fantastic, right!? Exposure doesn’t have to be long but you DO need to get your skin in the game on a regular basis for optimum health.