Winter is here and this is the time when many of us will be using heating power of nature by basking in the sun. It is the time of year we get the most exposure to sunlight, which comes with pros and cons. We need to find balance to prevent overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays—which increase the risk of sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer. While at the same time, we should maximize the beneficial aspects of sunlight that influence levels of vitamin D and enhance mood, energy, and sleep.
1. Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble essential vitamin that plays multiple roles in the body. In addition to maintaining bone health, vitamin D can protect against heart disease, diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Vitamin D is necessary for healthy immune function and may reduce inflammation, pain, depression, and sleep.
2. Sleep and Mood
Our natural rhythm is programmed for us to be outdoors while the sun is shining, and in bed at night. In addition to producing vitamin D, exposure to bright sunlight interacts with our pineal gland and regulates melatonin production, which influences our sleep cycles. Getting outside during the day and sleeping in complete darkness can boost our sleep, energy levels, and mood.
3. Helps Some Skin Conditions.
UV is used in the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis. This is a condition where the skin sheds its cells too quickly and develops itchy, scaly patches. Exposure to UV slows the growth of the skin cells and relieves the symptoms.
4. Sun Exposure Boosts Growth In Children.
This benefit is especially true for infants. Studies reveal the amount of sun exposure in the first few months of a baby’s life has an effect on how tall the child grows. Many cultures around the world recognize this fact and expose children to mild sun to boost growth and height.
5. Sun Exposure Eases Mild Depression.
Moderate sun exposure, however, increases levels of natural antidepressants in the brain that can actually help relieve this and other forms of mild depression. That’s because on sunny days the brain produces more serotonin, a mood-lifting chemical, than on darker days.
The immediate danger of too much sun is sunburn. If you looked at sunburned skin under a strong microscope, you would see that the cells and blood vessels have been damaged. With repeated sun damage, the skin starts to look dry, wrinkled, discolored, and leathery.
2. Skin Cancer.
Another negative effect of sun exposure is the increased risk of skin cancer. Humans are mostly susceptible to this, but animals can be affected too. Most instances of skin cancer can be avoided simply by taking preventative measures against prolonged sun exposure.
3. Damages Immune System .
Over-exposure to UV radiation has a harmful suppressing effect on the immune system. Sunburn can change the distribution and function of disease-fighting white blood cells in humans for up to 24 hours after exposure to the sun. Repeated over-exposure to UV radiation can cause even more damage to the body’s immune system.
4. Ages Skin.
UV speeds up the aging of skin, since the UV destroys collagen and connective tissue beneath the top layer of the skin. This causes wrinkles, brown ‘liver’ spots and loss of skin elasticity. The difference between skin tone, wrinkles, or pigmentation on the underside of a person’s arm and the top side of the same arm illustrate the effects of sun exposure on skin. Usually, the top side of the arm has had more exposure to the sun and shows greater sun damage.
5. Damages Eyes.
Prolonged exposure to UV or high intensities of UV damages the tissues of eyes and can cause a ‘burning’ of the eye surface. The effects usually disappear within a couple of days, but may lead to further complications later in life. UV damage to the eyes is cumulative, so it is never too late to start protecting the eyes.
Staying out of the sun is the best way to avoid sun damage, but most of us go outdoors regularly. So when you go outside, take these precautions:
- Always wear sunscreen. Apply it on your skin every day. Make it a habit, as you do with brushing your teeth.
- Avoid sun in the middle of the day, from about 10 am to 3 pm. The ultraviolet rays, which cause sunburn, are strongest during this time.
- Wear protective clothing. When you do go outdoors, especially for long periods in the middle of the day. Long sleeves and slacks, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, help protect your body against the sun’s harmful effects.
- Wear sunglasses that filter UV light.