Contrary to the current belief, the sun is not bad or dangerous for you. In fact, just about every form of life you see on this planet is here today because of the sun. And because the sun has been a constant in the story of life on earth, it has played an important role in the development of many physiologic processes. For instance, sunlight charges a biochemical ‘battery’ within the mitochondria, the energy production centers, of every cell of our bodies. Think about your experience with other batteries. If your car battery dies, you aren’t going anywhere. If the battery is your watch is running low, the watch runs slower and fail to keep time correctly.
It’s the same for your cellular battery in your mitochondria as well. If you struggle with fatigue, poor sleep, low energy, or chronic inflammation, you probably have a ‘low battery.’ Diet and exercise might help the battery last a little longer, but they aren’t going to recharge it like UV light from the sun will.
That being said, there is a way to be smart about sun exposure. Getting a sunburn is not only painful and uncomfortable, but it does damage the skin and potential lead to the development of skin cancer. However, smart sun exposure can be healthy. So how can you make sure that you get a healthy dose of sun?
- Build up gradually. A suntan is an increase in the amount of protective melanin in your skin. If you aren’t in the sun a lot, start with little bits of sun exposure on as much of your body as possible, slowly building the duration as your tan (natural protection) deepens. Get out of the sun at the first hint of pink!
- Supplement with Vitamin D. Since the effects of Vitamin D include inhibition of cell proliferation, promotion of cell differentiation, and apoptosis, it has an important role in prevention of cancers. For this reason, it may be worthwhile to take it even while getting Vitamin D from UV exposure. Since melanin blocks UV-induced Vitamin D production, it’s probably a good idea to continue supplementing as your tan develops.
- Use a non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen. When don’t know how long you will be in the sun or can’t control when you can get out of it, make sure to have non-toxic sunscreen to put on and help protect your skin. Zinc oxide is a natural sun protectant, but many popular drug store brands are using nanotechnology to make the zinc particles smaller so that you can rub them in easier. The problem with this is that nano particles are so small, they can cross physiologic barriers that are normally designed to keep minerals out, like the blood-brain-barrier. Ick. You don’t have to sport the old-school lifeguard look to stay safe though. Beautycounter makes a create non-nano zinc oxide sun protection product that rubs in easily and quickly. I’m also partial to the Sun Face Protect product from Feather Eagle Sky because its smells amazing!!!
- Use your smartphone to help you keep track. The D Minder app factors in the UV index for your area for that day, percent of skin exposed and current blood levels of Vitamin D. It will give you an alert when you have reach the limit of safe sun exposure for that session.
- Don’t forget the wide brimmed hat! Your facial skin and the skin around your ears and neck is thinner and more easily damaged by too much UV radiation, so keep a wide brimmed hat handy that will shade the skin on your face and also cover the top of your ears (which a baseball cap doesn’t!).
Make a plan to get plenty of Vitamin D (safely) this summer, so you’ll have enough naked in reserve for next winter!
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