The sun is undoubtedly good for us: sunshine on our skin helps to create vitamin D, responsible for building strong bones and preventing issues like hair loss, bone loss, and fatigue, and diseases like multiple sclerosis, depression, and prostate cancer. Beyond all of this, sunshine feels good.
Still, most people are aware of the potential risks of too much sun exposure. These include the more aesthetic issues (fine lines, wrinkles, leathery skin) and the deeper, less visible ones like skin cancer. Health magazines, medical institutions, and research tell us to wear sunscreen anytime we go outside, and there are entire websites dedicated to the simple message, “Wear sunscreen.” Some recommend a minimum of 30 SPF, and up to 50 SPF if spending more than a few minutes outdoors.
Unfortunately, always covering up with long sleeve shirts, pants, and a hat, or applying sunscreen anytime you step outside, can actually be detrimental to your health in the long run. Most commercial sunscreens contain harmful ingredients, as the Environmental Working Group explains, like parabens, which are carcinogenic, and oxybenzones, that are hormone disruptors and act like estrogen in the body. (Make your own sunscreen instead!) Additionally, sunscreen use (specifically sunscreen containing oxybenzone, mentioned above), is associated with the demise of baby coral and overall coral bleaching, as this article states.
What’s a sun-loving, vitamin D-appreciating person to do?
To start, it can be helpful to know what type of skin you have. Most research divides skin types into four groups, ranging from “pale, freckles, burns easily” to “rare sunburn, naturally dark skin.” Knowing where you stand on the spectrum is helpful for guiding the sun exposure (UV radiation) that you need. Do you have pale skin? If you haven’t built up any tolerance, don’t stay out for longer than 5 to 10 minutes the first few times you go without sunscreen. Have darker skin that rarely, if ever, burns? You can probably withstand an uncovered 20 to 30 minutes without issue.
Building up tolerance is key, but ensure that your skin never turns pink, and certainly not red. Sunburns are highly damaging to the skin, and are linked to increased risks of skin cancer.
Luckily, science tells us that moderate sun exposure is incredibly beneficial, and even necessary. If you plan on being out in the sun for longer than 30 minutes to an hour, especially between the hours of 11 and 3 when the sun is at its strongest, consider wearing SPF 15 or SPF 30, or covering up with a hat and light layers.
It’s also possible to boost your skin protection from the inside-out. Believe it or not, what you eat can help. Focus on a wide range of antioxidant-filled fruits and vegetables, like blackberries and blueberries, leafy greens, darkly-pigmented eggplant or peppers, and add more high-quality saturated fats, like coconut oil, to your diet. Similarly, reduce your intake of processed sugars, grains, and vegetable oils.
Sun exposure isn’t a black or white issue, as much as I wish it were—it would make the decision to go without sunscreen much easier. Always consult with your doctor or primary health provider before making any decisions, but, in summary, consider adding the following protocols to keep your body happy, and your skin healthy:
Tips to Keep Your Skin Healthy in the Summer Sun
- Eat your sunscreen (think: organic, plenty of vegetables and fruits, low sugar, quality fats).
- Avoid the sun at its peak strength.
- Acclimate your skin to the sun by going out in increasing amounts.
- Consider using a titanium-oxide or zinc-oxide-based sunscreen, and watch out for harmful ingredients like oxybenzone; or, make your own.
- If in doubt, cover up with layers and a hat.
What’s your idea of safe sun exposure? What sunscreen do you use, or do you make your own? Let us know in the comments below!