Health Effects of Sun Exposure on Your Skin

Health Effects of Sun Exposure on Your Skin

You may have heard conflicting evidence regarding whether
sun exposure is good or bad for your health. Health advice is constantly
changing as the scientific community finds new evidence of health benefits for
everything from wine to green tea. While sun exposure is the leading cause of
skin cancer, it is also required for vitamin D synthesis and to ward off winter

Enjoying a little sunlight every day is not harmful. In
fact, it can boost and stabilize your mood. At the same time, we should be
mindful that too much sun can be dangerous for your skin.

Sunlight helps address seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
and winter blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder is the type of depression that
occurs during winter months when there is less natural light. It often ends by
spring or early summer. The exact cause, though unknown, is believed to be a
lack of sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder is different from the winter
blues. Winter blues are waves of low emotions that do not impair one’s daily
life. Seasonal affective disorder, which occurs because of lack of stimulation
of the hypothalamus (a part of brain that helps control circadian rhythm, which
is the body’s internal 24-hour sleep-wake clock), causes depression that
affects daily activities. A chemical imbalance occurs due to lack of sunlight,
which results in less serotonin and more melatonin. Serotonin is the chemical
that lifts your mood.

The criteria for diagnosing seasonal affective disorder are:

  • common
    symptoms of major depression

  • coincides
    with fall and winter months

  • experience
    over a minimum of 2 years

Common symptoms include losing interest in activities that
you’ve enjoyed, sleep issues, feeling worthless, changes in weight or appetite,
feeling agitated or sluggish, and trouble recalling and remembering things.

SAD is more common in people who live far north or south of
the equator where there is noticeably less light during fall and winter.

Light therapy and/or antidepressants may be prescribed by
your doctor for SAD. Additional interventions that can help you address
seasonal affective disorder and winter blues include:

  • Sleep

    • Keep
      a regular sleep schedule and sleep only as much as you need.

    • Avoid
      caffeinated beverages after lunch.

    • Avoid
      alcohol near bedtime.

    • Do
      not go to bed hungry.

    • Make
      sure your bedroom environment is conducive to sleep.

    • Exercise
      regularly, preferably 4 to 5 hours before bedtime.

    • Two
      hours prior to your desired time of starting sleep, avoid or minimize
      light exposure. Blue light from televisions and computer monitors may
      especially affect sleep.

  • Enhance
    indoor lighting

  • Incorporate
    some form of aerobic exercise after checking with your doctor. Whether an
    elliptical trainer, swimming or cycling, aerobic exercises have proven to
    improve symptoms of depression.

  • Daily
    walks outside, even on cloudy days, can be remarkably effective in
    improving symptoms.

Sun exposure is effective for vitamin D production in the

Vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and several
other important functions in the body, is generated in the skin with the
influence of sunlight. Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production between the
months of March and October at 42 degrees latitude or more north.

Make sure to spend some time in the sun. At the same time,
be careful not to burn your skin or overdo the sun exposure. Always protect
your skin by wearing sunscreen before your skin starts to turn red or burn. The
amount of sun you need for synthesis is achieved in the exposure of just
minutes not hours. So, it is important to protect to avoid both sun damage and
skin cancer.

Skin damage or premature aging of the skin with sun rays

Premature aging of the skin also called “photoaging”, can
occur with exposure to sunlight. When unprotected skin is exposed to
ultraviolet light there are changes at the skins’ cellular level. If the damage
involves deeper layers of the skin, called the dermis, it can take years before
the damage resurfaces and is visible on the skin.

Symptoms of sun damage include:

  • Wrinkling

  • Pigmentation
    such as age spots and freckles

  • Even
    skin texture

  • Broken

  • Redness

  • Blotchiness

Good sun protection is key to preventing sun damage. Make
sure you use broad-spectrum sunscreen, which will shield your skin from both
UVA and UVB rays. Be sure to use a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

Skin cancer and sunlight

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause damage to skin
cells’ DNA. When this damage builds up over time, cells start growing uncontrollably
and create cancer.

Getting sunburn can increase your risk of cancer. People
with light skin who burn more easily are more prone to developing skin cancer.
Skin cancer can appear as an abnormal area of skin, which may be red, swollen,
pink, peeling, thick, crusty, or an open sore.

It is important to protect yourself with:

  • Proper
    clothing for sun protection

  • Broad
    spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) at 30 or higher

  • Reapply
    sunscreen every few hours if in the sun

  • Stay
    out of the sun in the middle of the day

  • Avoid
    tanning beds

Sun allergy (Photosensitivity)

Some people experience an intense immune reaction, commonly
causing an itchy rash. The rash is often seen in the sun-exposed regions of the
body. It occurs when our immune system recognizes some components of the
sun-altered skin as “foreign,” and attacks it.

In conditions such as Lupus, and the use of certain
medications, including Sulfonamides, the skin reaction may be severe. It can
produce skin rashes, sometimes including blisters.

The bottom line

Some exposure to the sun can be beneficial to create a
chemical balance in the brain and improve your mood, especially during
wintertime. But too much exposure can negatively impact the skin, causing sun
damage, aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Do not let sun exposure consequences take away from spending
the time at the beach during summertime, or time with your family in the
backyard unless your doctor has advised you to not spend any time in the sun.
Make sure you and your loved ones are properly protected from the sun with
sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and an umbrella. Then enjoy creating more
fun-filled memories!

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