Sunlight: It lifts you mood, brightens your spirits, and makes you feel good! It stimulates the production of large amounts of vitamin D in your skin (10,000 – 25,000 units from 15 minutes in direct overhead sunlight). It suppresses melatonin in your brain, generates full wakefulness, and prepares you for deep, restorative sleep the following night. The benefits are enormous, ranging from focus and mental clarity, increased immunity and reduced inflammation to stronger bones and healthier arteries.
Skin cancer: This is the reason why we now avoid the sun, rub on masses of sunscreen, and forgo the great benefits of sunlight. The ultraviolet rays that produce vitamin D can also burn and damage the skin, causing cancer. Scary! Fire is also scary – it can warm your room in winter, but it can burn your house down. Once you understand it and learn to contain it, you can enjoy its benefits without fear. And sunlight is no different.
There are three secrets to safe sun exposure:
- Brief and often. In the first 15 minutes of exposing large areas of skin to the sun, you produce huge amounts of vitamin D – before you start to turn pink and long before you burn. Do this as often as you can, to build up vitamin D levels, but avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, as the risks begin to rise.
- Being in the shade (indirect sunlight) is the best way to keep your skin safe. Clothing is next best, and sunscreens and creams are least protective.
- Vitamin D, at optimum levels, is your best protection against skin cancer – indeed it seems to protect against many other cancers as well. That’s why your body produces so much of it so quickly. But unless you are getting regular brief exposure of significant areas of skin to overhead sunlight, you probably have less than optimal levels of vitamin D in your body. The only way to be certain is to have a blood test; in the absence of a test, you could consider, and discuss with a medical advisor, taking a modest dose of vitamin D (I consider 2,000 units a day a modest dose) to make sure you are not deficient.
Love the sun in safety!
Dr Rodney Adeniyi-Jones