Do you dutifully don sunscreen and sunglasses every day, and stay out of the sun as much as possible?
Despite what most of us have been told, that may not be good for you. And this is coming from someone who had melanoma! And who, for most of my life, subscribed to this anti-sun rhetoric.
Definitely don’t throw out your sunscreen, and don’t go lay out for hours in the blazing sun. That’s not where I’m going with this! Hear me out...
I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogren's Syndrome. I became very sensitive to the sun and my rheumatologist advised me to stay out of the sun to avoid having it flare up my symptoms. But I had already received the same advice from my dermatologist, because I had also had melanoma a few years prior. Fortunately it was stage 1 and I was able to have it removed... but yet another reason to stay out of direct sunlight.
However, I started seeing more and more evidence of the medicinal power of the sun. For example, scientists have found that the vitamin D we receive from the sun is perhaps the greatest preventative from getting very sick from COVID-19, and other illnesses. Research has also shown that proper levels of vitamin D correlate with weight loss, and a lower risk of autoimmune diseases, breast cancer, and multiple sclerosis, among other ailments.(Sources are all linked at the end.)
Of course, we should consider skin cancer risk-- but the latest research shows that getting a moderate amount of direct sun on your skin (essentially, not burning) actually helps prevent melanoma and other skin cancers!
Researchers at Boston University and University of South Carolina found that people who work outdoors are less at risk for melanoma than those who work indoors, and most melanomas occur on areas of our body that get lower amounts of sunlight.
Humans evolved from the energy of the sun. We spent hundreds of thousands of years living mostly outside without any sunscreen. Our bodies have evolved to not only tolerate sunlight, but to thrive from it. And, how handy that we have the sunburn as a built-in warning system for getting too much of it!
The shade of your skin is an important factor in determining how much sun you need and can tolerate before getting burned. I am fair-skinned, and my Northern European ancestors would not have been exposed to a great amount of sun. Therefore, I need a smaller dose of sunlight to process into vitamin D than someone who is dark-skinned. In fact, a very large percentage of African Americans, Latinx, and other people of darker skin tone who live in Northern latitudes are vitamin D deficient.
“The Black population in northern latitudes suffer incredible health disparities which include hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and birth complications. I and others believe that a major factor underlying all of these afflictions is a lifelong chronic deficiency of vitamin D. If this one thing, vitamin D deficiency, could be corrected in the Black population, [many] of the health disparities they are currently experiencing could be largely alleviated.”
-Dr. Bruce Hollis, Medical University of South Carolina
I recommend asking your doctor for a vitamin D test if you have not had one in the last couple years. Your current vitamin D levels and your skin tone are a few factors that can help determine your unique sun exposure needs. But for the sake of simplicity, this is how much sun the average person might need:
If you really want to geek out on finding your unique needs for healthy sun exposure, you can check out an app called “dminder” created by a team from Boston University School of Medicine-- it's designed to help you determine the best time and duration to go outside and soak up the sun.
Because of my autoimmune sun sensitivity, I had to slowly reintroduce sun exposure. But I found that as I did, I experienced far fewer side effects from the sun than I had when I was mostly avoiding it. Currently, I get about 3 hours of direct, mid-day sun per week in the winter, and 1-2 hours per week in the summer. I find this sunbathing very therapeutic, with markedly boosted mood and energy following my time outside.
But can’t you just take a vitamin D supplement? This newsletter is already getting long so I won’t go into the science on this one. (Though I do in my Natural Living course!) But in a nutshell, while supplementation is often necessary for many people (usually those living above the 37 degree North line), the awesome burning energy star that is 1.3 million times larger than our planet, and which is spiraling in space among billions of others unfathomably powerful orbs, cannot be distilled into a pill. Supplements are not to be canceled, but sun exposure is the most ideal form of vitamin D. (Full disclosure: I do take an organic vitamin D supplement once-twice per week in the winter).
Should you be interested in learning more related to sun exposure, such as:
-how and when to use sunscreen and which types are non-toxic
-how to get enough skin exposure to sun in the winter without freezing
-how to approach supplementation with vitamin D
-the role optical exposure to sunlight has in our health
...then please consider joining my Natural Living course! I will discuss all these topics and more related to natural health and wellness, and provide links to any resources you might need. I am applying my knowledge as both a wellness coach (certified by Cornell University) and as a teacher (MA in Teaching from Stanford). The self-paced course costs $37 if you sign up before March 10th, and $47 thereafter. Shoot me an email if interested!
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