Sunlight is something most of us crave in the winter and love bathing in in the summer. While overexposure is associated with a wide range of skin diseases, moderate sunbathing can be beneficial, especially if you take measures to avoid extra UV. In this article, we are going to discuss what health benefits sunlight can bring and how you can calculate optimal sun exposure time.
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The first thing that should be noted is that ultraviolet, which affects our skin when we are exposed to sunlight, is a carcinogen, and in some people, it can contribute to development of skin cancer. However, it does not mean we should avoid being outdoors and hide in dark places in a vain attempt to prevent cancer – there are so many factors that are involved that the interplay of them is too a complex thing for us to decipher, and simply banishing sunlight from your life won’t do you any good.
Limited but not avoided
Reasonable exposure, adjusted to your health conditions, is a beneficial thing, which can support our immune system, and improve health of bones, sleep, and mood.
According to Australian researchers, spending some time outdoors in the sun is a must, even if your region is notorious for its cancer rates, like Australia. Another important note: if you apply sunscreen to every tiny spot of your skin, such moderate exposure does not count. The National Academy of Sciences is less enthusiastic about sunlight benefits–they state the dangers outweigh the benefits–but they also emphasize that UV beneficial effects should not be ignored, so simply recommending that everyone stays at home is not an option.
The key benefit
Despite its dangers, sunlight is the best source of vitamin D – it is rarely found in foods, except for eggs, and the way it affects the skin, which triggers vitamin D production, is unique.
Vitamin D is beneficial for bones, because it helps the body absorb calcium, a chemical critical for bone formation and health.
Another way sunlight benefits our health is that it appears to be able to lower blood pressure, though there is not enough plausible scientific evidence to support the idea. Still, preliminary results suggest staying in the sun can hinder development of autoimmune diseases, and help prevent obesity and diabetes (who knows – perhaps it’s because staying in the sun often implies moving outdoors?).
Swedish scientists have recently revealed that sunlight could affect longevity. Having analyzed cases of about 30 thousand women, they came to a conclusion that exposing your skin to sunlight more often than those who refrained from sunbathing resulted in a lifespan that was longer by 0.5-2 years.
What are the reasonable limits of exposure?
According to recommendations, staying in the sun for as little as 10 minutes can be enough to supply your body with vitamin D for a day. That being said, you don’t have to lie on a beach to have your organs functioning properly. Still, these figures are not fixed, and the time may vary: for some, even 10 minutes can be dangerous, while others won’t manage to produce enough vitamin D within this short period.
To calculate how much time you should spend in the sun, you can find the UV index in your area for a particular day (it is stated on many weather forecast websites), and divide 60 (which is minutes) by the UV index. You will get a number that represents standard erythemal dose (SED), a dose of sunlight enough to cause skin reddening. Depending on what skin type you have, there will be different numbers. If your skin is very fair, the limit is 1-2 SED, which means you get sunburnt fast, but if you have dark brown or black skin, it can endure up to 7-8 SED. Since reddening should be avoided, limiting sun exposure to the period shorter than the one calculated using the method above is a good idea. It is the limit for total daily exposure, not for one session.
Whatever the strategy, don’t forget to use sunscreen on your face and hands. Hats and sunglasses can also help you protect your body against excessive UV. And one more thing to add – enjoy sunlight, as it improves our mood!
The Health Benefits of Some Sun Exposure – Consumerreports.org
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sun Safety – Jamanetwork.com
Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for all‐cause mortality: results from the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort – Onlinelibrary.wiley.com