Sunshine is your number one source of vitamin D, a vitamin needed to keep your bones strong, support your immune system and protect your mental health. Too much sun exposure, however, damages your skin, putting your at risk for skin cancer.
At the same time, sunscreen lotions are currently under scrutiny, because some of the chemical active ingredients they contain may be harmful to your health and the environment.
How can you get the benefits of sunshine and still protect your skin?
Why sun exposure is both good and bad for you
Remember the days when people would rub themselves in oil (not the SPF kind) to get the perfect tan? Public health campaigns have made most of us aware of that sunburns increase your risk of melanoma, a dangerous kind of skin cancer. So nowadays, we diligently apply sunscreen when we go to the beach or spend the day outside.
However, at the same time, there’s an increasing number of people who suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Because only a few foods naturally contain vitamin D, sunshine is its most important source. When you’re deficient in vitamin D, you can develop rickets, osteoporosis and hormonal problems. Low blood levels of vitamin D can also lead to muscle weakness, cognitive impairment, heart disease and cancer.
So while sunburn hurts your health, moderate non-burning sun exposure has many benefits for your body and mind. What’s more, safely exposing yourself to sunlight can even reduce your risk of melanoma.
The problem is that we spend most of our waking hours indoors – in the office, gym, shopping mall, at home, behind screens. On vacation or during sunny weekends however, we love to go outside and catch as much sunshine as possible. But when you go from sun avoidance to full exposure, your skin doesn’t gradually build a tolerance for ultraviolet radiation. Instead, your indoor skin will burn more easily when it’s suddenly exposed to strong UV rays. That’s why occasional sunbathing is linked to a greater risk of melanoma than regularly spending time outdoors all-year round.
Knowing all this, what is the best way to safely enjoy the summer sun? Recommendations vary, depending on where you live, the color of your skin and your age, but here are some general guidelines.
6 Ways to Safely Enjoy the Summer Sun
1. Time your sunbathing wisely
To produce enough vitamin D, you should expose your skin to sunlight without sunscreen for 10-20 minutes, at least three times a week. If you have darker skin, you may need a little more time in the sun to get healthy blood levels of vitamin D.
After that, apply good-quality sunscreen with high SPF or avoid intense sun exposure. Depending on where you live, the sun’s high in the sky between 10am and 3pm. It’s best to stay mostly in the shade during these peak hours to avoid sunburn.
2. Spend more time outdoors, all-year round
Allow your skin to gradually get used to UV radiation by spending more time outdoors throughout the seasons – and not just on hot summer days. This also helps you get your daily dose of vitamin D. It isn’t always easy to get outside on busy days, especially if you live in an urban area or you’re stuck at home with illness. But go for a short stroll, eat your lunch outside or head into nature on the weekends. The benefits for your health and happiness are worth it.
3. Cover up
Wear lightweight clothes and a cute hat to avoid sunburn and premature aging of your skin. Consider buying UV-protective clothes for young kids who love playing outside. And don’t forget to protect your eyes! The Mayo Clinic recommends sunglasses that block 99% of both UVA and UVB rays.
4. Research the best sunscreen lotion for you
It’s hard to give universal advice on which brands to use, since regulation regarding sunscreen and the ingredients used differ from continent to continent. This article from goop explains which chemicals found in sun lotions are safe, and lists the best-scoring sunscreens in the US. You can also take a look at natural face sunscreens that use minerals to protect your skin.
Still got some leftover sunscreen from last summer? Check the expiry date to see if it’s still effective.
5. Apply your sunscreen right
Life isn’t always predictable. But whenever you can, it’s best to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading into the sun. That way, the lotion has time to form a uniform coating on your skin, protecting every body part. Also make sure you put on a relatively thick layer of sunscreen. Don’t forget easily overlooked body parts like your hair line, ears, back of your knees and your feet.
Finally, reapply your sunscreen every two hours and/or after swimming. Yes, that goes for the “all-day” and “water-resistant” lotions too! Sunscreen rubs and washes off throughout the day.
6. Eat your sun protection
UV rays generate free radicals in the body, molecules that damage cells. Thankfully, antioxidants in berries, leafy greens, carrots and dark chocolate help fight these free radicals. For example, lycopene found in tomatoes has been shown to protect against skin damage. So eat a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables and stock up on antioxidant-rich spices to protect your skin from the inside out. Or drink your ‘sunblock’ with a goji ginger lemonade!
How do you take care of your skin on sunny days?
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