How many times has your doctor told you to protect yourself from the sun? If you’re over 50, you likely spent a large part of your life working and playing in warm rays of sunshine. What changed over the last twenty or thirty years that, like almost everything else, suddenly the sun is bad for you?
As kids, if the sun was out, so were we. Our mothers didn’t cover us in clothing from head to toe or spread cream all over our bodies every 30-minutes. They shuffled us out the door and said, be home before the street lights come on. Did we occasionally get a little sunburnt and eventually have a golden tan that lasted until the leaves fell off the trees? Yeah, we did.
Why is it that the same glorious sunshine of our youth is now the evil death star killing anyone who dares expose themselves longer than 20-minutes without the life-saving protection of a chemical-laden goop?
The fallacy of sun exposure
The big lie in health today is that exposure to the sun is harmful to you. If you wish to mitigate this risk, stay out of the sun as much as possible. Also, wear sunscreen at all times to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays that accumulate throughout your daily activities.
The marketing for sunscreen seems to ignore that humans have lived and worked in the sun for millennia. It’s a miracle that we are just now realizing the dangerous effects of the sun and somehow haven’t fallen into extinction by now.
What’s changed to make us so scared of sunlight? The first change is that we moved from an outdoor workforce of laborers to the fluorescent light of an indoor cubicle. We do so many activities in climate-controlled comfort that our tolerance for the sun diminished.
The second change is the impact of the Standard American Diet (SAD). As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” and it couldn’t be more accurate than the makeup of your skin. Your skin cells consist of the proteins, fats, and nutrients you consume and are continuously replaced monthly, give or take a week. Maybe the processed foods and sugar we eat are the culprits to our sun sensitivity. We know our food is at least partly responsible for the rise in the incidence of all cancers.
“I think you might dispense with half your doctors if you would only consult Dr. Sun more.” – H.W. Beecher
Finally, sunscreen and sun care products are big business. In 2019, the global sunscreen market was over 8.5 billion dollars, and that’s only for lotions and creams. The worldwide market expects to double in the next six years. North America accounts for roughly 35% of the sun care market. If you don’t think marketing has a tremendous influence on the rise of skin cancer diagnoses, we have a bridge to sell you.
Benefits of sunlight
Like almost every living thing on earth, humans absorb and metabolize sunlight. The sun is our primary and best source of vitamin D, but it’s not the only thing we get from its rays.
All those years of drinking milk for strong bones, and it turns out that sunlight was all you needed. High levels of vitamin D lower your risk of fractures by stimulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous. The older you get, the more valuable sunlight becomes to bone health.
Enhanced Immune System
Sunlight helps suppress an overactive immune system, and doctors treat some forms of autoimmune disease with sun exposure. Also, your production of white blood cells increases with sun exposure. White blood cells are your body’s first line of defense in fighting disease and combatting infections.
Lessen Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Ultraviolet (UV) light regulates circadian rhythms and helps lessen the symptoms of depression, nighttime wakefulness, and agitation in Alzheimer’s patients. Research shows patients exposed to the sun throughout the day coupled with nighttime darkness scored better on mental evaluations.
Lower Blood Pressure
Researchers in Scotland found that nitric oxide releases into blood vessels the moment sunlight touches the skin. Nitric oxide improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure, thereby diminishing your risk of heart attack and stroke significantly.
Ease Mild Depression
When it’s sunny outside, the brain produces higher levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a natural antidepressant chemical produced in your brain. A form of depression from sunlight deprivation called Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs when the days are darker in the winter.
The same circadian rhythms that affect Alzheimer’s patients also tell your brain when it’s time for sleep. When sunlight hits your eyes, a message goes to your brain to shut down the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. When the sun goes down, the melatonin switches back on, making you feel drowsy. The sun is nature’s alarm clock.
Studies show that vitamin D supplementation reduces your risk of developing any form of cancer by as much as 60%. A correlation exists between the beginning of our fear of the sun, a national vitamin D deficiency, and the rise of cancers over the last 40 years.
Australia conducted a skin cancer prevention campaign during the 80s called Slip, Slop, Slap. The idea was to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Thirty years after the successful public health campaign, the incidence of skin cancer decreased, but the percentage of deaths from melanoma, the lethal form of skin cancer, increased.
Vitamin D is especially effective in the prevention of colon and prostate cancers. A recent study of sun exposure over the lifetimes of white men, equally divided by those with and without prostate cancer, reports a 51% risk reduction between the highest and lowest exposures.
When it comes to cancer and the sun, the verdict is in. More sun exposure is better.
What should you do?
Before you go crazy and transform from the Pale Rider to Tommy Bahama, let’s get a few things straight. A sunburn is never a good idea, and a dark tan is only slightly better. Sun exposure doesn’t require much of a skin color change. Any change to your skin tone is likely damaging, and you’ll look older for the effort.
Most experts recommend up to 30-45 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin per day. During the peak of summer’s rays between 11 am and 4 pm, you should limit exposure to 15-minutes or less. Try getting your sun in the early/mid-morning or late afternoon. If you must be outside, wear a hat and loose-fitting clothing over usually exposed skin.
Use chemical sunscreen as a last resort. Read this report by the FDA on the toxicity of chemical sunscreens before rubbing poison on your body’s largest organ. It’s the skin, not the organ you were about to make a joke about rubbing. But hey, like we always say, “You do you!”
Take care, even down there.
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