My favorite topic! A peculiarly controversial one.
Many have the belief that the sun is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. I believe this mentality does our collective health a great disservice, and is not only illogical when given the history of life on Earth, is outright harmful.
The sun is necessary for optimal health. There I said it.
Sunlight serves a purpose to our biology. It is an environmental signal that helps our bodies work properly. Ever heard of circadian rhythm? It’s our internal clock that tells our bodies it’s day and night and signals to us when it’s time to do the vital actions we need to live healthy lives. Sunlight in the morning helps regulate our hormones for the entire day, the lack of sunlight in the evening helps us create melatonin which lets us have regenerative sleep. It’s been a major part of our daily lives for all of human history, and remains today, an important part of daily life for most living creatures on this planet. We’re biologically meant to be exposed to the sun for varying amounts of time (darker skin more so than paler skin).
One of the most well known benefits to getting sunshine on our skin is Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone precursor responsible for many health systems in our body. Although vitamin D is important for calcium and phosphorus absorption and the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth, it’s most impressive function is its role in our immune system.
Many studies show the risk associated with sun avoidance and the importance of vitamin d in regulating immunity. Here are just a few:
A 30 to 50% reduction in risk for developing colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer is found by increasing vitamin d blood levels. For every skin cancer diagnosis due to skin exposure, 55 cancer cases are attributed to lack of sunlight:
This study out of Sweden even claims “avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking”
And some more:
But simply taking Vitamin D is probably not the answer. There is some concern that supplementation of vitamin d does not provide us the same benefit of the sun or even worse, could have negative impacts to our health (as is the case with many things when we isolate them and take them out of their natural context). And of course, there’s more to sunlight than just vitamin D, and it’s plausible there are factors involved in sunlight that simply can’t be replicated. The sun shines a wide variety of light spectrums on the world. A few of which are known and can be harmful in high doses, but many are vital to the everyday functions of our bodies and our mitochondria. Life was created by the light of the sun, and to think we are meant to avoid it at all costs is naive at best.
Shying away from the sun for a potential (but arguable) deduction in risk for one cancer to deprive our bodies of an essential nutrient and increase our risk of everything else our immune system is responsible for.. is mis-informed.
We don’t want to get sunburned, this is true. So don’t. The sunburn is a signal that your body has had too much of the sun, you don’t want more than your body can handle. But the solution isn’t to avoid the sun at all costs. The solution is responsible sun exposure and when that’s not possible, to:
- Leave the sun
- Find shade
- Cover up
- Wear a natural sunscreen if you’re out for extended time periods
But for goodness sakes, don’t be afraid of the sun.. go get yourself some vitamin D!!
The problem with sunscreen
This topic really riles people up because it’s assumed that if you think sunscreen isn’t necessary most of the time that you don’t take skin cancer seriously. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I’m all for safe sun exposure.
Humans have evolved under the sun for their entire existence. According to modern theory then, all our ancestors should have had skin cancer. They certainly weren’t using sunscreen and many were out in the open sun for hours on end day after day, year after year. But did they all have skin cancer? No, of course not. It’s far more complicated than that.
Sunscreen should be used to keep us from getting too much exposure to the sun and burning. That does not mean that you should never be exposed to the sun. Sunburning is our bodies telling us to get out of the sun, and wearing sunscreen gets rid of that signaling, making us stay out in the sun longer than what is healthy for our skin. Too little sun, not good. Too much sun, even with sunscreen, not good either. Sunscreen completely blocks the body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D, so should be used with caution and necessity.
In MOST situations that people use sunscreen… a simple walk to the park, 20 minutes here or there, most people are not going to burn. That is the exact situation where you WANT to be exposed to the sun. Short bursts of time with little to no risk of burning.
Life evolved with the sun. To think that the sun provides no positive benefits to the human body goes against all we know about evolution and biology. It regulates our circadian rhythm (which regulates endless processes in our bodies) and provides us with Vitamin D, a nutrient whose lack of presence is linked to countless negative health consequences.
You don’t want skin cancer. You don’t want to burn. Be logical about the situations you use sunscreen and keep it for times it’s genuinely necessary. And cover up before you lather up.
If you must lather up, do choose responsiblity. Here is a list from the Environmental Working Group of safe sunscreens: