How Does the Sun Affect Your Health? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
There’s no question that the sun can have harmful effects on the overall state of your health. However, the sun is complex, and its effects have mixed outcomes. Moderate sun exposure can have some health benefits that many may not realize, such as mood and vitamin deficiency. On the other hand, unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can also lead to various health risks and become potentially life-threatening when accumulated over time.
So here it is; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of sun exposure:
How the Sun Affects Your Health: The Good
While darkness stimulates melatonin production to make you tired and ready for bed, sunlight kindles serotonin production. Serotonin is a hormone associated with improving mood and overall happiness. Colder months bring shorter days, causing serotonin levels to decrease dramatically in many people. This drop can even lead to seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which causes depressive feelings at the same time each year.
With moderate sunshine and longer days, the sun can elevate your mood and increase your serotonin levels. No wonder everyone gets that spring fever!
Being outdoors has proven to be very beneficial for your health. It can not only improve blood pressure but also boost mental health and deliver a de-stressing effect. Nature therapies have become increasingly popular as a method to help people with anxiety.
Nature therapy can include exercising in the outdoors, going for a walk, and practicing relaxing hobbies outside. This technique also works when given visual or auditory stimuli during anxiety episodes. This means listening to the sound of the ocean and birds chirping, or viewing a video of a sunny day can reduce stress.
Vitamin D Production
Various health ailments can be attributed to a lack of vitamin D. A few benefits of healthy vitamin D levels include: maintaining healthy bone strength, regulating insulin levels, supporting the immune system, and reducing depression. The sun triggers vitamin D production in your body by hitting cholesterol in the skin cells.
Now, this does not, by any means, mean you should go out in the sun all day unprotected to ensure you aren’t vitamin D deficient. According to Healthline, your body only needs roughly 13 minutes of exposure a few days a week to give you optimal vitamin D levels. However, the sun isn’t the only method of getting more vitamin D, as food and supplements can also serve as viable sources.
How the Sun Affects Your Health: The Bad
One of the most obvious signs of sun damage is sunburn. These are tricky because their full effects aren’t visible until a few hours after sun exposure. As many of you may know, you don’t even think you’re getting any color until it’s too late. A bad sunburn can cause undesired consequences such as redness, pain, blistering, and even flu-like symptoms.
That’s why it’s crucial to always wear sunscreen at all times, even on cloudy days. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are best as they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Be sure to reapply every two hours and more frequently when sweating or in the water.
Hair & Eye Damage
In addition to your skin, the sun can also pose risks to your hair and eye health. Prolonged sun exposure can cause discoloration, brittle strands, and overall hair thinning. If you notice this early on, you may want to find hair thinning solutions for both preventative and reparative purposes.
As for vision, sun damage to the eyes can lead to a condition called photokeratitis, which is basically like a sunburn on the surface of your eyes. This condition is apparent if you’re experiencing eye redness, blurry vision, and sensitivity to light. In most cases, this will heal on its own, similar to how skin recovers from a sunburn. To protect yourself, always wear sunglasses with a UV shield when outside, and never look directly into the sun or an eclipse.
Other than smoking cigarettes, UV damage is one of the most significant contributors to premature aging. UV rays damage the protein, collagen, which is essential for skin’s elasticity and youthful look. As a result, the skin becomes more fragile and can start to sag and wrinkle. Additionally, it may lead to dark, uneven spots on the skin and the development of spider veins.
As previously mentioned, sunscreen is your best weapon. Use beauty products that contain SPF to make it a natural step in your routine. Additionally, you can utilize anti-aging complexes that boost collagen production and cell turnovers, such as retinoids or collagen supplements.
Those hot summer days sound great but can lead to dangerous conditions, such as heat exhaustion. This occurs when there’s a lack of salt and water, typically due to sweating and reduced hydration. People who work outdoors are especially at risk for developing heat exhaustion. Some symptoms to look out for include headaches, nausea, irritability, weakness, and decreased urine output.
To prevent heat exhaustion, you should drink plenty of fluids, stay in shaded areas, and wear loose, lightweight clothing in hot weather. If you’re experiencing heat exhaustion, you need to immediately remove yourself from the sun, lie down, and drink filtered water or an electrolyte beverage to regain hydration.
How the Sun Affects Your Health: The Ugly
The worst consequence of sun exposure is the development of skin cancer. Sun damage accumulates over time, meaning your risk of developing skin cancer increases as you age. The three most common forms are:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
- Malignant Melanoma
For more information on types of skin cancers, what to look out for, and when to see a doctor, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Although the sun provides benefits for your overall health, it’s important to always protect yourself from the sun to prevent the risk of overexposure. This means you should be using sunscreen daily, as well as wearing protective attire when out in the sun. It’s also vital to recognize signs that indicate you may be getting too much exposure, such as sunburns or heat exhaustion. The good news is you can prevent sun damage from ever happening. However, if you are concerned with any sun-damaged skin, you should schedule a visit with your healthcare provider.