Our bodies are programmed to be in-sync with the sun. And the health effects of sun exposure can be either negative or positive.
We’re able to stay awake during the daylight hours and sleep peacefully throughout the night because of sunlight. Some people even get depressed if they don’t get enough sunshine for a prolonged period of time.
But the sun has also been linked to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause damage to the skin. It’s easy to get confused about how much sun is too much, or too little.
Understanding the health effects of sun exposure is the best way to find out how much sun you should be getting, and what you can do to protect yourself.
The Positive and Negative Health Effects of Sun Exposure
The Types of UV Light
Sunlight is widely known as any light emitted by the sun. However, did you know that sunlight consists of both invisible and visible rays or waves? Longer waves such as radio waves pose no threat to people.
However, shorter waves, which include ultraviolet (UV) light, can penetrate the earth’s atmosphere and have positive and negative effects on human skin.
UV light that reaches the surface of the earth has three basic types, namely:
- UVA rays: This type of UV light is longer in wavelength. This means that UVA rays can penetrate the middle layer of your skin or the dermis. Most of the sunlight that you come in contact with are UVA rays.
- UVB rays: This type of UV ray has a shorter wavelength. This means that UVB rays can reach the outer layer of your skin, called the epidermis.
- UVC rays: This type of UV ray has the highest energy among the types of UV rays. But for the most part, UVC rays are blocked by the ozone layer, so it doesn’t reach the earth.
However, the body isn’t completely defenseless against UVA and UVB rays. Melanin, which is produced in the epidermis, protects the skin from UV rays. If you notice that you get a tan when exposed to the sun, it’s actually melanin doing its job.
The Positive Health Effects of Sun Exposure
Just because UV rays are known to have negative effects on the skin, doesn’t mean you have to avoid it completely. Sunlight plays a vital role in some of our body’s natural functions. Here are the benefits of sunlight and why you ought to get a bit of sun every once in a while:
Sun Exposure Helps Build Healthy Bones
A moderate amount of UV rays or sunlight is needed for bodies to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D encourages the body to absorb calcium and phosphate from what a person eats. Calcium and phosphate are minerals that help make the bones, teeth, and muscles healthier.
You need about 10-15 minutes of sunlight exposure daily to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Sun exposure can also help prevent a disease called rickets, which is an illness caused by a lack of vitamin D.
Sun Exposure Helps You Feel Better
Don’t you notice that everyone seems to be more festive during the summer season? This is probably because people are getting more sun than they usually do. Research has shown that sun exposure stimulates the pineal gland, a structure in the brain that’s responsible for producing the happy hormone, serotonin.
Sun Exposure Can Treat Some Medical Conditions
Exposure to UV rays is part of the treatment for the skin condition called psoriasis, which is a chronic disease that causes red and patchy skin to appear in some areas of the body. This treatment is called “phototherapy”, and it usually involves the use of artificial UV rays or natural sunlight.
Sun Exposure Can help Treat Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s usually caused by the changing of seasons. Light therapy or even exposure to sunlight after waking up can help alleviate some symptoms associated with SAD.
Harmful Health Effects of Sun Exposure
Too much exposure to sunlight or to UV rays can damage the skin’s elasticity, making your skin more vulnerable to the effects of aging. Other harmful effects of too much sun exposure are the following:
Sun Exposure Can Cause Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke
Sun Exposure Can Cause Eye Injuries
Exposing your eyes to UV rays without protection over long periods of time can cause damage to your retinas or corneas, parts of the eye that play vital roles in maintaining your eyesight. This results in a condition called photokeratitis, which is similar to a sunburn on the eye.
Sun Exposure Can Cause Skin Cancer
Too much sun exposure over long periods of time can also cause skin cancer, since UV rays are known carcinogens. Data has shown that 90% of skin cancer cases are linked to sun exposure.
Sun Exposure Can Cause Sunburn
People who visit the beach frequently know how inconvenient sunburns are. Sunburns are caused by UV rays penetrating into the deep layers of the skin. If you get sunburnt, it means that the sunlight has caused direct damage on your skin cells.
How to Minimize the Harmful Health Effects of Sun Exposure
You’ll be able to benefit from the sun’s rays with just a few minutes of sun exposure each day. If your day to day activities entail prolonged sun exposure then it’s best to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from sunlight. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself:
Even if you aren’t planning to go swimming, it’s always best to put on sunscreen every time you’re exposing yourself to the sun. Choose sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and ideally with water resistance.
Be sure to also reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
Get The Gear
Protect your eyesight from the UV rays by investing in UV filtering sunglasses. If you’re always under the sun, it’s also a good idea to wear a brimmed hat and clothes that cover you up in areas most prone to sun damage.
Never stay under the heat of the sun for longer than you need to. If you’re doing work or any activity that requires you to be exposed to the sun, try to take breaks to cool down in the shade.
The sun can be both an enemy or a friend, depending on how much UV rays you’re exposing yourself to. Understanding the positive and negative effects of sun exposure is the best way to determine how much sun you actually need.
Learn more about skin health, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.