June 2016

How to Be a Healthy Sun Worshiper

Author: Kent Thune

Sunbathing seems to be taboo these days, but if done correctly the benefits can far outweigh the risks. And since we live in one of the best places in the world to catch rays, it’s important to learn how to responsibly enjoy the beauty of local parks, beaches, rivers, and the ocean without doing harm to our skin.

Far beyond the superficial attraction of a healthy-looking tan, the benefits of responsible sunbathing are numerous and stimulating. Sunshine can increase your energy, mood, libido, and immune system. Of course, the single biggest concern about sunbathing is skin cancer, which can come from burning and extreme levels of sun exposure. But if we ignore the sun completely, we introduce other potential health risks, many of which are a direct or indirect result of low levels of Vitamin D, an essential nutrient that is best attained by exposure to the sun.

Vitamin D helps the body regulate the immune system; it helps with calcium absorption, which leads to strong bones; it can also help to avoid kidney stones, diabetes, and even obesity. In fact, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology, regular sun exposure can reduce the risk of breast cancer! And, according to WebMD.com, women should also note that Vitamin D is essential during pregnancy and nursing. For example, adequate blood levels of Vitamin D have been linked to lower instances of premature labor and the general risks of pregnancy complications. Lying in the sun can even help decrease symptoms of PMS or menopause.

If you’re not quite convinced that adequate sun exposure is crucial for good overall health, there are also links between low vitamin D levels and Parkinson’s disease, bone disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
There are benefits to our mental health as well. Exposure to the sun causes your brain to produce serotonin and endorphins, which can put you into a better mood and even help fight depression. It also helps with the production of melatonin, which aids in healthy sleep habits; and it can aid in regulating the production of hormones. Being in the sun also stimulates the pineal gland of the brain, which may allow for more creativity and mindfulness.

After hearing all about the amazing benefits of the sun, and the potential risks of avoiding it, there still is that lingering concern about our skin. How can we worship the sun and gain its benefits without worrying about getting cancer later in life?

Let’s first address what may be the biggest misconception about sunbathing. You might be surprised that sunscreen can do more harm than good. Much of the information about sun exposure and sunscreen has been a result of mass marketing tactics that are designed to scare you into using skincare products. When you wear sunscreen, your body’s ability to produce Vitamin D3 from sunlight is limited. Many sunscreens contain numerous harmful chemicals, some of which have never been approved by the FDA. The chemicals in some sunscreens can even compromise your immune system.

Sunscreen can also be washed off in the water, which may give you the misconception that you are completely protected and might lead you to stay out in the sun too long. Also, not all types of ultra violet radiation are blocked by sunscreen, including UVA rays, which do not cause sunburn but can cause skin cancer. And let’s not forget about all the contaminants from sunscreen that enter our planet’s precious water supplies.

Skin irritations such as acne, rashes, eczema, and athlete’s foot can be cured by sun exposure. Not only does getting some sun clear your skin, it can also give you a healthy glow. And sunscreen may get in the way of these benefits.

So how does one go about sunbathing responsibly, in order to receive the sun’s benefits, without being over-exposed? What may be the most important thing to know about sunbathing is how long you should spend in direct sunlight at one time. The length of time varies depending on your skin complexion, the amount of sun you’ve been exposed to previously, and the time of day. For example, if you have a light complexion and you’ve not spent much time in the sun recently, it is smart to gradually increase your sun exposure at intervals beginning at about 10 to 30 minutes, a few times per week. As you spend more time in the sun, your skin produces more melanin, and then your body has increasingly more ability to absorb rays. Awareness is vital for healthy sunbathing. Get to know how much sun exposure you can personally handle before you become red or burned.

As for timing, a good general rule for healthy sunbathing is to avoid prolonged exposure between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., especially during spring and summer. If you must be in the sun for a long time, wear a wide-brimmed hat and loose-fitting, white clothes. Wear chemical-free sunscreen on exposed skin. Some of the best, according to livestrong.com, are Jersey Kids All Natural Sunscreen (SPF 30), Elemental Herbs All Good Sport Sunscreen (SPF 33), Sunology Natural Sunscreen for Body (SPF 50), and Thinksport Safe Sunscreen (SPF 50).

It’s also important to eat a healthy, clean diet, especially proteins, healthy fats, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C, and E can improve your relationship with the sun.

To summarize our guide to healthy sunbathing, we know here in the Lowcountry that the sun is a beautiful thing. But it’s easy to take it for granted and to forget that its light and warmth are required by all life on Earth. Just like the plants and the animals, it’s important for us humans to enjoy the simple pleasure of basking in the warmth of the sun while soaking up its benefits. But remember that getting no sun at all is just as unhealthy as getting too much. As with all matters of health, moderation is the key to success. Sunbathe wisely and responsibly, and your mind and body will be happy. 

Kent Thune enjoys healthy sunbathing around Hilton Head Island with his wife, Angela, and two boys. He is an investment advisor and owner of an investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at TheFinancialPhilosopher.com or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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