Manhattan Wellness Group promotes health and well being through chiropractic care, physical therapy, massage and acupuncture.
You’ve heard the advice before: stay out of the sun or use plenty of sunscreen and reapply every few hours. But while it’s true that excessive sun exposure resulting in sunburn may increase your risk of skin cancer, it’s a fallacy to believe that sun exposure should be avoided altogether.
The key is to find the right balance, where you’re exposing plenty of skin to the sun’s rays, but not staying out to the point of getting burned. Sun exposure can only be therapeutic when it’s done in appropriate and measured amounts.
Excessive sun exposure provides no benefit and can only result in damage like sunburn, which is an inflammatory response in your skin to UVB overexposure. However, UVB exposure is precisely what you want, in appropriate amounts, because when UVB strikes the surface of your skin, your skin converts a cholesterol derivative into vitamin D3.
Ironically, one of the benefits of exposure to Vitamin D is actually a significant reduction in cancer risk, both skin cancer and many other types of cancer.
Research continues to support that vitamin D truly is a master key for optimal health and disease prevention. This is why it’s so important to strike the right balance. You need sun exposure, but not so much that you burn your skin.
So, how can you get the benefits without raising your risk for skin damage? It’s important to remember that the sun can either be helpful or harmful depending on what type of ultraviolet light you’re getting. The ultraviolet light from the sun comes in two main wavelengths:
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) – Considered the unhealthy wavelength because it penetrates your skin more deeply and cause more free radical damage. Sunblocks containing SPF filter out the beneficial UVB, not these cancer-causing UVAs, unless they also contain a UVA blocking ingredient.
As a result, wearing sunscreen may prevent you from burning, as excessive UVBs are the chief cause of sunburn, but you still receive a large amount of skin-damaging radiation. Moreover, UVA rays are constantly available, even on cloudy days. There are likely some benefits to UVA in moderation that we do not fully understand, as there appears to be with many spectrums emitted from the sun.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) – This is the ‘healthy’ wavelength that helps your skin produce vitamin D. While both UVA and UVB can cause tanning and burning, UVB does so far more rapidly.
Contrary to UVAs, which are more readily available, UVB rays are low in morning and evening, and high at midday or solar noon, making this the most optimal time for vitamin D production (roughly between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.). Ironically, this is the timeframe most mainstream experts warn you to stay out of the sun.
As a general rule of thumb, to optimize your vitamin D levels, you need to expose large portions of your skin to the sun, including your legs, back, arms, and chest. For optimal benefit, strive to have at least 40 percent of your skin uncovered.
The key is knowing when to cover back up. You want your skin to turn the lightest shade of pink. This can occur in as little as 10-20 minutes, depending on your skin tone and other factors, such as location and cloud cover.
At that point, you’ve reached your skin’s equilibrium or saturation point, and your body will not produce any more vitamin D. It can take three to six times longer for darkly pigmented skin to reach the equilibrium concentration of skin vitamin D.
You can create as much as 20,000 units of vitamin D per day this way. Best of all, your body has this built-in feedback loop that prevents you from overdosing on the nutrient when you get it via sun exposure.
It’s important to remember that there’s no additional benefit to staying in the sun past the point of “pinking.” For some light-skinned individuals with minimal previous sun exposure, this could only be a few minutes. You’re only raising your risk of sunburn, which is something you definitely want to avoid. The risk of sunburn is higher if you have a lighter complexion.
The benefits of sun exposure definitely outweigh its risks, but you do need to be smart about it. Taking a few sensible steps to avoid sunburn will ensure you’re maximizing the benefits while limiting any potential adverse effects. To continuously enjoy the positive effects of sun exposure without getting burned, I recommend following these safety tips:
- Protect your face and eyes by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or a cap. The skin around these areas is much thinner than other areas of your body and is more at risk for cosmetic photo damage and premature wrinkling.
- Limit your initial exposure and slowly work your way up. If you are a fairly light-skinned individual who tends to burn easily, limit your initial exposure to just a few minutes, especially if it is in the middle of summer. The more tanned your skin gets, the longer you can stay in the sun without burning.
- Moisturize your skin naturally. Before sunbathing, apply organic coconut oil on the exposed areas of your skin. This will not only moisturize your skin to prevent dryness, but will also give you additional metabolic benefits.
The amount of antioxidants you get from your diet actually plays a major role in how you effectively avoid sunburn. The more antioxidants you have in your skin, the lower your risk of getting burned. They act as an internal type of sunscreen and allow you to maximize your sun exposure while minimizing the risks. Carotenoids, for instance, are critical to the photosynthetic process and protect a plant or organism from damage by light and oxygen.
By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, you gain a similar protective benefit. Vitamins A and C are also important, your cells use them to regulate both light absorption and protection against sun overexposure. Whole fresh vegetables and fruits such as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Although the exact pathway by which antioxidants help protect your skin from burning has yet to be pinned down, it’s most likely related to the antioxidants’ anti-inflammatory properties, as sunburn is actually an inflammatory process.
Taking measures to prevent sunburn from occurring is clearly your best course of action. But should you end up getting overexposed, the following strategies can help speed the healing of your skin, and minimize the damage. One of the most effective first-aid strategies I know of is to apply raw aloe vera gel topically to the burn. It’s loaded with powerful glyconutrients that accelerate healing. Aloe is also easy to grow if you live in a southern location, and is an excellent medicinal plant to keep in your home garden.
You need to be careful of the species as many have very flat leaves with virtually no gel. The best plants have the thickest leaves. They are relatively easy to propagate and you can turn one plant into six or more in under a year. After cutting the leaf from the plant, you want to first cut off the prickly edges. Then, using a peeler, peel the skin off one side. You can now rub the jelly side directly on your sunburn. Apply it five times a day until your condition improves.
Applying cold compresses to the sunburned area can also help lessen the burning pain. To avoid further irritation, do not wash sunburned skin with harsh soaps. Speaking of water, you also want to make sure to stay properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Young children need to be carefully monitored for signs of dehydration.
Avoid applying petroleum jelly on your sunburn, as it may exacerbate the burn. It is also a petrochemical that is loaded with toxins you don’t want in your system. I would suggest never applying petroleum jelly topically. Also, it’s inadvisable to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers in most cases, as they may simply worsen your condition. Besides aloe vera, there are plenty of other topical food-based remedies that can help ease the pain and speed healing. Potatoes can help, as can honey, vinegar, green tea and cucumbers.
As noted earlier, sunscreens effectively protect against UVB, which is the main cause of sunburn, and are classified into their level of sun protection factor or SPF:
- SPF 15 – Blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation
- SPF 30 – Blocks up to 97 percent of UVB radiation
- SPF 50 – Blocks up to 98 percent of UVB radiation
This means that when you apply sunblock, even at a lower SPF 15, you’re effectively eliminating any chance of raising your vitamin D level. And, as mentioned earlier, most sunscreens do not filter out the more damaging UVAs, unless it also contains a UVA block. So you’re still being exposed to harmful UVA rays, even if you don’t get burned. Besides preventing vitamin D production, sunscreens are problematic for other reasons as well.
Many contain toxic and/or hormone-disrupting ingredients, which migrate through your skin directly into your bloodstream. Products that contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate, may also increase the speed at which malignant cells develop. Parents should stop applying spray-on sunscreens on their kids until more research is done to assess the dangers of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, two key sunscreen ingredients. According to reports, children may be inhaling these chemicals when the sunscreen is sprayed on.
In my view, sensible sun exposure is so important for optimal health, you’re really doing yourself and your kids a disservice by not learning how to do so safely and effectively. A robust and growing body of research clearly shows that vitamin D is absolutely critical for disease prevention. Researchers have pointed out that increasing levels of vitamin D3 among the general population could prevent chronic diseases that claim nearly one million lives throughout the world each year. Incidence of several types of cancer could also be slashed in half.
So enjoy the sun, and as with anything that is good for you, enjoy in moderation, don’t over do it!