Too much and you risk skin cancer, too little and you’ll lack vitamin D – so just how much sun should we all get?
Recent headlines about the health benefits of catching a few rays have left many of us confused. Rates of malignant melanomas – the most deadly form of skin cancer – are increasing faster than for any other cancer in most countries. So understandably, doctors are insisting it’s vital to use plenty of suncream and to avoid roasting in the sun for hours. But how do we strike the right balance and stay healthy while enjoying summer weather?
How much sunshine does it take to make enough vitamin D?
The most natural way to get vitamin D is by exposing your bare skin to sunlight (ultraviolet B rays).
The amount of vitamin D you get from exposing your bare skin to the sun depends on:
The darker the skin, the more it’s protected against skin cancer but the less able it is to absorb UV-B rays. It also depends on how much skin is exposed and the time of day. If you’re fair skinned and sunning yourself outside in a bathing suit at noon, you only need a few minutes without sunscreen. If you’re already tan or of Hispanic origin, you need maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Black skin may require six times the sun exposure to make the same vitamin D levels as a very fair-skinned person.
How does sunlight effect our mood?
The key is the visible part of the light spectrum. It turns out, the light and color we can see, which enters our bodies through our eyes, doesn’t cause skin cancer but does play a huge role in how we feel.
If you step outside after waking up in the morning, for example, your eyes take in the bright light. The optic nerve communicates with your brain, which affects hormones like melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, and chemicals like serotonin, which helps balance your mood. That light helps your brain adjust so you can feel energized and happy. Wearing sunscreen, or a hat and long-sleeved shirt, doesn’t interfere with those operations. Looking at bright light is a good way to improve your mood. But also doing things that help your brain release feel-good chemicals like endorphins, such as vigorous exercise, getting a massage, connecting with friends and loved ones, even petting a dog, can also lift your spirits.
Sun safety tips:
Reapply regularly, especially after going swimming!