Sunshine is a mixed blessing. There’s no question that it may be a danger to your skin. But moderate sun exposure can have benefits for your health, including stronger bones, better sleep, enhanced mood, along a healthier immune system.
And when you continuously protect yourself from sunlight or always cover every inch of exposed skin with sunscreen, you might be missing out.
Since the evidence grows that sunlight comes with benefits, many experts are rethinking their staunch sun avoidance advice.
By way of instance, despite Australia having one of the maximum skin-cancer speeds in the world, Cancer Council Australia recognizes that a while in the sun without sunscreen or other defense is important, according to Robyn Lucas, Ph.D., a professor at the Australian National University College of Health and Medicine, who researches environmental effects on health.
And the National Academy of Sciences recently gathered a global group of medical experts from different fields to talk about sun security.
Bone Health and Beyond
The best-known advantage of sunlight exposure is vitamin D synthesis, which occurs in the skin in reaction to the sun’s UVB rays. Vitamin D is a critical nutrient. “It is absolutely crucial to promote absorption of calcium, the mineral that helps keep bones strong,” says Clifford Rosen, M.D., an obesity researcher in the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough.
But the sun may play other roles in promoting good health too. The study is continuing, but so many studies suggest that UV exposure may lower blood pressure (which helps protect against heart attack and stroke), curb appetite, and reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and possibly certain autoimmune disorders.
Sunshine may even be connected to longevity. A Journal of Internal Medicine study which tracked nearly 30,000 Swedish women for approximately 20 years found that people who spent more time at the sun lived six months to two years more than those who awakened with less sun exposure. “More study is required to replicate this job, but if it is a true effect, it is very significant,” Lucas says.
However, the UVB rays that assist our skin produce vitamin D is also the same type that causes sunburn, and becoming burned is a major risk factor for skin cancer. That is the reason it’s so essential to obtain the right balance.
Short Stints Do the Trick
According to Rosen, in the summer it takes just about ten minutes a day of unprotected solar exposure on a small area of skin to create around 5,000 IU of vitamin D, which is enough for most people–even older people, that have a slightly reduced capacity to generate vitamin D–to maintain normal blood levels.
However, for many folks, 10 minutes may be too long; for others, too brief. “How much is enough is hard to measure since skin pigmentation impacts just how much UV radiation your skin absorbs, but it is far less than you want to have a sunburn,” Lucas says.
To find out the length of time you may remain in the sun without burning, Lucas suggests using the UV index, which predicts that the degree of solar power locally on a scale of 0 to 11. To locate the UV index for any specific day and time in the U.S., enter the ZIP code of the area you’re in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
To figure out the right UV dose for you, divide 60 (as in the number of minutes in an hour) from the UV index to find out how many minutes outside it will take for you to receive 1 SED. SED stands for”standard erythemal dose,” a predetermined dose of sun intensity that will lead to erythema or reddening of the skin.
See the table below for the approximate SED it takes for various skin types to burn off. For instance, if the UV index is 7, then divide 60 by 7 to get 8 minutes for 1 SED. If you are honest, you’ll get sunburned with two to 3 SED (16 to 24 minutes).
So it is best to be conservative with them. From the preceding example, for instance, to be on the safe side you could go in the sun unprotected for 12 minutes max.
“You don’t even want to obtain a little pink, because UV exposure that is sufficient to cause sufficient damage to the skin clearly outweighs the benefits of that exposure,” says Robert S. Stern, M.D.
Remember, also, that the quantity of time you can spend in the sun without burning on a particular day doesn’t reset to zero with subsequent time outside. “If, for example, the calculation you work out involving the UV index is 15 minutes, which should be your complete limit for the day–whether that is in one sitting or two or three sittings,” Lucas says.
Permit From the Light
When going out to soak up some sun, Lucas recommends applying sunscreen to your face and hands (they’re always getting sunlight and therefore are at high risk for skin cancer, wrinkles, and brown spots), sporting a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and exposing what you can of your arms and legs. If you are particularly sun-sensitive (as an example, you have had skin cancer if you take a medication–for example certain diuretics and antidepressants–that raises your chance of sunburn), talk to your physician before visiting sunscreen.