Humans evolved with the sun. Our ancestors spent most of their lives outside. The sun helped to provide warmth and rhythm to their days.
Our planet also needs the sun, it plays a crucial role in providing light, weather, climate, seasons, and ocean currents. Plants require it for growth and photosynthesis.
Yet, these days there is so much fear surrounding spending time in the sun.
Yes, excessive time spent in the sun has negative effects, so it's once again about finding that magical middle. We need enough time spent outside to gain the health benefits but not too much time that you burn your skin.
The dangers of excessive sunlight exposure
Premature skin aging
The development of cataracts in your eyes
Some individuals can experience UV radiation-induced reactivation of latent viruses eg cold sore outbreaks.
These dangers are mostly benign and require cumulative exposures with long time frames between exposure and the start of a problem.
This is with the exception of Melanoma. Unfortunately, melanoma is malignant and incidents are on the rise.
When did you last check have a skin cancer checkup?
Do you know the 5 skin signs to look out for?
It’s as easy as ABCDE
A is for Asymmetry -an asymmetrical skin spot or mole should be professionally checked
B is for the border - if your mole edges are uneven, scalloped, or notched - get it checked
C is for colour -if there are different shades or colours get it checked
D is for diameter - any spot greater than 6mm or 1/4 inch get it checked
E is for evolving - has the spot changed? Differences to look out for include size, shape, surface, colour, bleeding, or itching.
It's also worth checking any skin sores that don’t heal in a reasonable amount of time.
The biggest benefit that springs to mind for me is the promotion of a healthy circadian rhythm. Your sleep-wake cycle. Ideally, we want to aim for 20 minutes of early morning sunlight exposure. Do it as early as possible after waking. This time outside should be without sunglasses or sunscreen. It can be a walk around the block or even just drinking a savored cup of coffee while standing in the sun. Depending on your geographical location, if the sun isn’t up when you are consider investing in a light therapy device.
Early morning sunshine exposure isn’t just about resetting melatonin, it's also about improving your serotonin production. This helps improve mood, making you feel more calm, more focused, and happy. Something most women transiting into menopause would love and it's free! Another reason why it's so beneficial for this stage of life is due to the potential hot flush reducing benefit of serotonin. Serotonin plays a key role in body temperature regulation and not having enough of it can increase your risk of flushes. This is the reason why some doctors are prescribing anti-depressant medicine to help improve serotonin levels, regulate your temperature, and prevent flushing. You can try this medication but may I suggest you try daily sunlight therapy first? It’s cheaper and has fewer long-term complications and interactions to consider.
An Australian study published in 2020 called an examination of the relationship between sunlight exposure and hot flush in working women suggested that circadian disruption may play a role in hot flush intensity and frequency in menopausal women especially those that are shift workers. They found these women benefits from an hour a day of sunlight and were rewarded with less frequency and intense hot flushes. How good is that!
While we are talking about menopause research and sunshine I found 2 other studies, a USA one with 63, 801 women and a much smaller Turkish study, both these studies found that low levels of lifetime sun exposure were linked to experiencing a younger menopausal transition. That alone is enough to get me outside!
Another hormone involved in the circadian rhythm is cortisol. Sunshine has a regulating effect on cortisol, it can stimulate it to promote wakefulness but can also help to diminish excessive levels caused by stress. This is why sunbaking can be so relaxing. Just don’t fall asleep and burn your skin.
Most people probably think of Vitamin D when it comes to sunshine therapy and they would be right. Sunshine is the preferred way to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in over 200 bodily processes including energy production, bone health, immune function, hormone regulation, mood stabilisation, pain reduction, and more.
Sunlight therapy may play a role in Nitric oxide release. This may help regulate and reduce elevated blood pressure and improve cardiac health.
Sunlight can also help produce many other “photoproducts”. Some of the additional benefits of these substances include better pain tolerance, improves immune regulation, improved blood flow and blood pressure, more energy, and less inflammation.
Remember it's about the magical middle. Don’t overdo your sunshine exposure and don’t go out of your way to avoid it. If you are heading on holiday and potentially seeing more sunshine than your skin is used to you may want to take extra steps to protect your skin. Fernblock is one ingredient that helps improve the skin's resistant to sunburn. Protecting the skin from all 4 form forms of ultraviolet light. It also helps to repair sun-damaged skin. It’s good for protecting against both short-term and long-term dangers that come from too much time in the sun. Personally, I don’t use this daily but instead, save it for holidays when my skin may get more exposure than it's used to. Big thank you to Dr. Sandra Kaufmann for telling me about this herbal extract. You can find our interview on my podcast episode 101 Why we age and How to slow it down.