Ask any dermatologist, and they’ll be sure to tell you the dangers of sun exposure. Getting too much sun increases someone’s risk of skin cancer and can even make them age much faster.
So, does this mean you should stay out of the sun? Not necessarily.
In this guide from Nourishing Biologicals, we’ll explain why some sun exposure may be beneficial, how much sun your unique body requires, and how you can protect your skin from excessive damage.
How Does the Sun Damage Your Skin?
It’s no secret that the sun can seriously damage your skin. According to some studies, as much as 80% of negative skin changes can be attributed directly to sun exposure.
Sun damage is also referred to as photodamage, solar damage, and photoaging. The latter is especially important because it refers to how the sun can speed up signs of premature aging, making someone look potentially decades older than they are.
Sun damage happens when ultraviolet (UV) light penetrates the skin, causing changes in someone’s DNA. Because the damage is so deep-set, it can take years before the damage comes to the surface and becomes visible to the naked eye.
There are two kinds of UV light responsible for sun damage:
- UVB light: UVB light is made up of shorter rays that hit the top skin layer (the epidermis) and is responsible for burning or tanning the skin. UVB light can cause damage to the epidermis, which can show up as sun spots, broken capillaries, and hyperpigmentation.
- UVA light: UVA light is made up of longer rays that can penetrate deep into the skin, causing structural changes such as loss of collagen and elastin. UVA light is generally worse for the skin than UVB light. Unfortunately, it’s out even if the sun is not, such as on cloudy days.
The harms of sun overexposure are serious and include an increased risk for certain conditions.
Sun damage can begin to show itself as soon as someone’s early 20s and manifest as the following:
- Loss of skin firmness and elasticity
- Crepey skin
- Pigmentation changes, such as age spots and liver spots
- Broken capillaries
- Uneven skin color
So, with all these negative effects linked to sun exposure, you may think that the solution lies in avoiding the sun 100% of the time. While that may be great for the skin, it’s still not the wisest solution when it comes to your health. In the next section, we’ll explain why.
Is Some Sun Exposure Necessary?
Humans evolved as outdoor creatures who were constantly exposed to the sun. For this reason, it wouldn’t make sense for all sun exposure to be bad. And indeed, the sun is necessary for many biological processes, such as making vitamin D.
Vitamin D is not only necessary for keeping the bones strong but also for regulating immunity, improving mood, keeping blood pressure healthy, and even aiding weight loss.
Some studies suggest that sun exposure may even be important for longevity. In a study published in the Journal of International Medicine, researchers linked sun avoidance to early mortality. In women who avoided the sun, the risk of premature death more than doubled compared to those who got regular sun exposure. The researchers also found that the higher the sun exposure, the lower someone’s risk of early death.
Can Vitamin D Supplementation Replace Sunlight?
While supplementing with vitamin D is good for improving bone health, there’s little research to support any other benefits. For instance, in one study, supplementing with vitamin D for five years did not reduce the risk for heart disease or premature death.
Getting sun exposure is also linked to lower rates of autoimmune disorders, such as allergies, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Last but not least, sun exposure is important for mood and cognition — it’s not called “the happiness vitamin” for nothing!
So, it seems that getting at least some sun is beneficial for general health. But getting sun exposure doesn’t mean you must endure skin damage. There’s a smart way to get some sun without causing serious harm. In the next section, we explain how.
How Much Sun Exposure Do You Really Need?
It can be hard to strike the right balance between getting healthy sun exposure and causing serious skin damage.
In general, those with darker skin tones need much more sunlight to produce vitamin D, while those with lighter skin can get away with as little as five minutes per day. Age also plays a role, with older adults needing more sun exposure than younger adults.
It’s important to keep in mind: Just because you’re out in the sun doesn’t mean you’re getting the benefits of sun exposure.
For instance, it’s virtually impossible to make vitamin D if you live 37 degrees above the equator in the winter. That’s because UVB rays — responsible for tanning the skin — can’t reach far enough during this time.
Some other factors include the time of day, altitude, pollution, and weather conditions. All in all, for sun exposure to be most beneficial, it’s best to be outside in the middle of the day with clear skies.
To avoid damaging your skin, it’s best to talk with a primary care provider about how much sun you need — as this varies widely from person to person.
What Are Safety Tips for Sun Exposure?
Getting the recommended amount of sun exposure — which is just the amount you need to make vitamin D — shouldn’t cause too much skin damage. However, there are still some things you may do to protect your skin.
Here are some strategies for sun safety:
1. Avoid Burning
When you get too much sun exposure, your immune system reacts by increasing blood flow — which can lead to inflammation in the burned areas. It’s a sure sign of skin damage and can lead to premature aging if it happens too often. It’s important to remember that sunburn can happen even on overcast days.
2. Protect Your Face
The skin on your face is very delicate and endures more damage than thicker skin on the rest of the body. And to make vitamin D, exposing it to the sun isn’t even necessary because of its small surface area.
If you’re getting sun exposure, leave your legs and arms uncovered. However, your face should be covered up with sunglasses and a wide brim hat.
3. Cover Up
If you’re going to spend a lot of time outdoors, covering your skin is a sure way to block the sun’s rays. Aside from staying in the shade, wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, is a smart strategy to avoid excessive UV exposure.
4. Use Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen
It’s not always possible to cover up, like when you’re swimming at the beach or playing outdoor sports. In this case, the right water-resistant sunscreen or sunblock can be your exposed skin’s best friend for UV protection.
Of course, not all products with SPF (sun protection factor) are made the same, which makes it important to do your research and pick the right product for you.
5. Eat Properly
A healthy diet can act as an internal sunblock, making your skin stronger and better able to fight against stressors.
For instance, carotenoids — antioxidants famously found in carrots — can accumulate in the skin and absorb sunlight. In addition to carotenoids, antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E can protect the skin against free radical damage that leads to premature aging.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also help to protect the skin by offering soothing properties.
To protect your skin, eat plenty of fresh, colorful produce — aim for a few servings at every meal. Eating healthy fats, such as fish, nuts, or avocados, is also important.
Here’s to Healthy Sun Exposure
Excessive sun exposure can cause skin damage and lead to premature aging. However, a little sun is important for overall health.
To keep your skin healthy in the sun, make sure to nourish it with high-quality ingredients. Our Miracular Line Collection is made with botanical ingredients that can support your skin’s resilience and keep it looking youthful for as long as possible.