You’re probably used to stern advice from dermatology professionals warning you to slather on the sunscreen and limit your sun exposure to protect skin from sunburn, dryness, wrinkles, premature aging and sun cancer.
While it’s very true that sunscreen is important for your skin, especially if you anticipate prolonged exposure, there are many reasons why spending regular time outdoors in the sunlight is very good for your health – including your skin’s health!
Need a Sunnier Disposition?
The amount of sunlight we’re exposed to can have a direct effect on our mood. This is because sun exposure increases the amount of serotonin our body produces. Serotonin is the “feel-good” chemical that keeps our moods in balance. This is also why many people suffer depression from Seasonal Affective Disorder in the wintertime, due to the lack of natural full-spectrum daylight.
People with SAD or those who live in far northern latitudes, often spend time under full-spectrum light fixtures or “sun-lamps” to compensate for what they miss in winter days when the hours of sunlight are short or non-existent.
Even if you can’t get outdoors as much as you wish, just bringing light into your environment by opening up curtains and blinds is sure to improve your mood.
Finding Your Rhythm
Exposure to daylight and sunshine are critical in helping set your body’s internal clock, and what’s called your circadian rhythm. Your ability to fall asleep, wake up, and maintain energy and a positive mood throughout the day depend a lot on your internal body clock. When we’re deprived of daylight, this subtle mechanism can get confused, resulting in trouble sleeping and a sense of fatigue throughout the day. One of the best cures for jet lag is seeing lots of sunshine each morning as soon as you wake up in your new time zone to help reset your internal clock.
How Sunlight Changes our Body Chemistry
More sunshine affects a wide range of hormones in your body, and can increase female fertility by 33% both naturally and with IVF. Adequate vitamin D can also affect male fertility, increasing both sperm count and sperm motility.
But what’s most important is that sunlight absorbed by our skin is converted in the body to vitamin D. While our diets can provide enough of this essential nutrient, most Americans – especially older adults – are deficient in vitamin D. This is why a little time in the sun helps your bone health and your immune system.
Diminished vitamin D production weakens the immune system and may be why autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in northern climates with less sunshine. Many skin conditions can have an autoimmune component, such as eczema, psoriasis, and TSW. Many who suffer from psoriasis, especially, report that their scaly patches often disappear in the summer when they are outdoors frequently. While some with chronic skin conditions see improvements after sun exposure, others experience sun exposure as a trigger for flare-ups.
Monitor carefully if sunshine is a help or a trigger in your case. If it helps, always apply sunscreen if your skin condition can tolerate it. Choosing sunscreen can be tricky. Treat it as you would any skin product, reading labels carefully, and choosing fragrance-free, dye-free, natural-based products whenever possible. Test it on a small patch of skin first, before applying it all over.
Sun and Rosacea
Unfortunately, for those with rosacea, sunlight is ranked as one of the top triggers for a flare-up. Part of this may be the heat associated with the sun. This is an instance when going outdoors in the cooler morning hours or later in the evening may be best, or staying in indirect daylight under a shady tree.
Sun and Acne
Many people prescribe sunbathing for acne, but this is unfortunately not the best advice. It’s true that sunshine is a disinfectant that can kill off germs and bacteria that can trigger acne, and as the sun dries and tans your skin it may temporarily improve the appearance of acne. However, the UV rays can also cause greater inflammation that can increase redness later and turn acne into dark scars. The tip is to not overdo it, and always wear sunscreen – even and especially if you have acne.
How Much is Enough?
Sunlight is such a potent factor in our health, but we don’t need all that much to experience its positive effects. Scientists agree that even 5-15 minutes of sun exposure each day is enough to reap most or all of the health benefits it offers. The amount of sun exposure you can safely tolerate will depend on your skin tone and overall health. Darker-skinned people might be able to stay in the sun a bit longer, say 30 minutes, while fair-skinned folk who freckle or burn easily, may do better with just five minutes in the sun.
While it’s important to protect your skin from too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays, there is no reason at all to live like a vampire who only goes outdoors at night. Moderate and safe sun exposure is great for your mood, your health, and even your skin!
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About the Author
Olivia Hsu Friedman, LAc, Dipl.OM, DACM, Cert. TCMDerm, is the owner of Amethyst Holistic Skin Solutions and treats Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis, and TSW. Olivia treats patients via video conferencing using only herbal medicine. Olivia is Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Acupuncturists, serves on the Advisory Board of LearnSkin, and is a faculty member of the Chicago Integrative Eczema Group sponsored by the National Eczema Association.