Living in Asia, I saw people actively avoid the sun because it would darken their skin and weather it. While this is true, it is also good for your skin.
Why is the sun good for you?
Sun exposure is necessary for Vitamin D production in the body. The “sunshine vitamin” as it is commonly known, is vital in the following ways:
- It helps the body regulate calcium which sustains bone density.
- Helps the body absorb and regulate phosphorous
- Facilitates normal immune system functions
Research suggests that Vitamin D also:
- Helps the body fight and protect against disease e.g. the flue=, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, etc.
- Helps fight depression and regulate moods.
- Helps to lose weight through its appetite suppressing effect
So, it is good to step out in the sun occasionally because your body needs it, but first, understand what happens when you go out into it.
How do you get a sunburn?
Most people think we get sunburns because the heat it has is burning our skin. What really happens is that your skin is overexposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays. In response, your skin triggers and accelerated the production of melanin. Melanin is a natural pigment in your skin that is produced by melanocytes.
Why is melanin important?
“It has been traditionally believed that skin pigmentation is the most important photoprotective factor, since melanin, besides functioning as a broadband UV absorbent, has antioxidant and radical scavenging properties.” Michaela Brenner, Vincent J. Hearing
Basically, melanin is the body’s natural defense against overexposure to UV light, so when you go out in the sun, your body starts to produce melanin. This is how a tan comes about. However, the melanin can only take you so far. The longer you stay, the more the defenses are weakened, causing your skin to burn.
How long can you stay out in the sun?
The sun has two types of ultra-violet rays. They are;
- a) long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) rays: UVA rays penetrate the skin to the thickest layer, the dermis. Overexposure leads to early aging and begins to undermine the immune system. UVA rays are there even on cloudy days.
- b) Shortwave ultra-violet (UVB) rays: UVB rays burn the top layers of the skin, but they are strongest on sunny days. These are even more dangerous because of the increased risk of skin cancer. UVB rays are strongest on hot sunny days.
So, on a cloudy day, you are exposed to UVA rays and on a sunny day, you are more exposed to UVB rays. Aging and a weak immune system or cancer? I say, how about none!
Remember: the human skin can only withstand ultraviolet light exposure for a limited period of time.
Depending on how hot it is, and what your skin color is, you can stay for longer or shorter.
People with dark skin already have a high concentration of melanin in their skin, whereas people with lighter skin do not which means that the latter cannot stay out in it longer and vice versa
This means that a light skinned person needs to stay out in the sun only 10-15 minutes at a go, a few times during the week. A darker skinned person can stay up to 5x or 10x longer. This doesn’t mean the dark-skinned people can’t burn, only that they have a greater tolerance to the sun rays.
“The darkest skin colors at best only provide a sun protection factor of 6 to 8” Dr. Charles Crutchfield III
Because sunburn can happen even on cloudy days, the longer you stay out, the greater the risk of a burn no matter what your skin color. Sun exposure symptoms may take a few hours to show themselves (2-4 hours)
Health risks – long and short-term
A sunburn can be more than just an irritating nuisance. Consider this, when your skin is peeling off, it is the body killing off skin cells that have been damaged by UV radiation. The sun literally kills your skin. Immediate symptoms include warm skin that is red and tender, dehydration, and pain.
Short-term health risks f
This is the mildest form of a burn and consequently the most common one. The symptoms are mild pain and redness of the skin.
Slightly more serious, this happens when there has been damage to nerve endings and deeper layers of the skin. It presents itself as red, painful, swollen skin- also known as edema. Blisters caused by fluid retention are also a sure sign of second-degree burns because it means the burn penetrated to the second layer of the skin.
A burn may become infected leading to a secondary infection and even more treatment.
This happens when you stay out in the sun too long. The body overheats (hyperthermia) and it can be life-threatening.
Another severe side effect when too much is sun poisoning has the following symptoms: nausea, fever, dehydration, dizziness, rapid pulse, short breath, chills, severe blisters and sometimes even shock and loss of consciousness.
Long-term health risks
The relationship between too much sun and skin cancer is well known. Skin cancer is also the most aggressive form of cancer and both types of rays can cause cancer. However, intense exposure to UVB sun rays is the most dangerous. This is what scientists say about the correlation between the two.
“A person who has had five or more sunburns in his or her life has doubled the risk for melanoma. While other types of skin cancers are brought about by cumulative sun exposure, melanoma occurs from brief intense exposures, such as blistering sunburns.” Dr. Leffell
Avoid days where you have no sunscreen and get heavily burned. It may seem like its ok once in a while, but as you can see, a bad burn is worse than a few mild ones.
“having five or more blistering sunburns before the age of 20 was linked with a 60 percent higher risk of melanoma.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
The opposite proves just as true:
“people who used sunscreen that was SPF 15 or higher had a “significantly decreased” melanoma risk compared to those who used a lesser SPF.” The Journal of Clinical Oncology
As we mentioned above, Longwave UVA rays go all the way into the dermis layer of the skin below the epidermis. Here they destroy elastin tissue and collagen cells. This leads to; wrinkles, line, age spots, sagging skin, uneven skin tone, melasma.
Skin damage from it is irreversible but can be reduced with certain products or medications.
The sun is incredibly bright and overexposure is harmful not just for your skin, but for the eyes too. Cataracts is a disease where the natural lens in the eye behind the pupil and iris becomes cloudy limiting vision. An increased chance of having skin cancer. Direct and indirect exposure over the years may lead to cataracts. Cataracts may lead to blindness.
Sunburn may lead to the aggravation of certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea. It may also lead to problems with some health conditions, e.g. lupus.
An acronym to help you remember: SPAWS
S- sunscreen: wear water-resistant one at least 20 minutes before you go into the sun. Make sure to re-apply every 2 hours.
P- protective clothing. Wear light clothes that still protect your skin from the sun, although this is incredibly difficult to do in summer.
A – Avoid being outside at the hottest time of day between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm
W – Wear a hat. They don’t have to be fashionably restrictive and they will protect your face.
S- Sunglasses. Your eyes also need protection, prevent future blindness and look cool at the same time.