We hear a lot about how getting too much of the sun’s rays can be harmful to your skin. But it’s not all negative… Achieving the right balance can actually have many benefits, especially for your mood.
This is because exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin – a hormone associated with helping a person feel calm and focused. By contrast, during hours of darkness, melatonin is released. This hormone causes you to relax and helps you sleep.
As a result, without sufficient exposure to the sun, your serotonin levels can drop. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (also known as SAD) – a form of depression triggered by the changing seasons.
However, this isn’t the only reason why you should aim to get increased amounts of sunlight. There are several health benefits associated with catching moderate rays.
Building strong bones
Being exposed to the ultraviolet-B radiation from the sun encourages the skin to create vitamin D – a vital part of bone health.
Low vitamin D levels are increasingly common as people spend less and less time outdoors, especially in colder countries. This has been linked to increased cases of rickets in children and diseases like osteoporosis and osteomalacia in adults.
Although excessive and prolonged exposure to sunlight can contribute to skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight actually has preventive benefits.
Research has shown that those who live in parts of the world with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have Hodgkin’s lymphoma or colon, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer than those who live where there’s more sun during the day.
Healing skin conditions
Sun exposure can help treat several skin conditions. Some doctors recommend UV radiation exposure to treat psoriasis, eczema, jaundice and even acne.
However, light therapy isn’t for everyone. Consulting a dermatologist will determine whether light treatments will benefit your specific skin concerns.
Several research studies are ongoing, looking into the benefits of sunlight for multiple conditions, including systemic lupus erythematosus, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and thyroiditis.
In these cases, however, further investigation must be carried out before solid conclusions can be made.
Sun exposure in moderation
The benefits of sun exposure cannot be underplayed. But it’s nonetheless important to note that if UV radiation penetrates the skin, this can lead to damaged cell DNA and skin cancer.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), getting anywhere from five to 15 minutes of sunlight on your arms, hands, and face two to three times a week is enough to enjoy the benefits of the sun on vitamin D production.
That said, the sun must penetrate the skin for this to happen. Vitamin D production won’t occur if you’re wearing sunscreen or clothing that covers your skin.
This is why you must be careful. If you’ll be outside for more than 15 minutes, you should protect your skin by applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
What’s more, people with fair skin typically get sunburnt more quickly than those with darker skin. Also, you’re more likely to get sunburn when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, between 10am and 4pm.