Sun Exposure: The Good and The Bad

Woman with sunglasses facing the sun
Sun Exposure: The Good and The Bad
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Ah, the sun. We all love it but, at the same time, we know it’s not exactly the healthiest thing for the body or skin. But the effects of the sun on your health are not always as black and white as they may seem.

That’s why it’s useful to examine all the ways in which sun can affect your health and your body – for better or worse.

The Good News

The sun is the star at the center of our solar system, bringing life and light to all. Find out how it benefits the skin and body.

Sunlight Improves Your Mood

Given that the sun is the source of all life, it does have its benefits. The most obvious one is the fact that sunny days just make us feel better.

There is a scientific explanation behind this phenomenon. When you’re outside in the sunlight and your retina comes into contact with the sun rays, the glands in your body induce the release of serotonin, or the hormone of happiness.

And when your body is loaded with this happy substance, you feel content, re-charged and ready to take on whatever the day presents you with.

Therefore, you shouldn’t be trying to avoid the sun at all costs. With proper protection, a little bit of lazing around in the sun can do your body and your mental state a whole lotta good.

Moreover, if you’ve been wondering how to reduce stress levels in your life, perhaps the answer is as simple as stepping outside and soaking up the sun.

Still feel skeptical about this premise? Well, consider this: a number of disorders linked to anxiety and depression are related to seasonal changes and lack of sunlight.

When your body is replenished with serotonin, you won’t be as liable to dwell on everyday obstacles and run the risk of getting into an anxious or lethargic episode.

Daily Sun Exposure Regulates Sleep

Another way in which regular sun exposure can help your overall wellbeing is that is helps set up a regular sleeping pattern.

When you’re out there enjoying sun-filled days, your body releases a hormone called serotonin, which improves your mood and helps you keep calm and focused.

And when the sun goes down and day turns into night, your glands begin to release another substance, melatonin, which prepares your body for sleep.

Spending time outside and exposing your body to different times of day is key to establishing a healthy sleeping pattern.

If you avoid the sun, your brain might lose thread of when the day begins and ends, which can then cause insomnia and scattered sleep.

Even if your day-to-day obligations require you to spend most of your day in offices and other indoor spaces, make sure to step outside if only for a short amount of time.

This will refresh your brain and help your body preserve its natural sleeping cycle.

Sun Rays Can Boost Vitamin D Levels

Vitamin D is one of those components that often gets mentioned in relation to sun exposure and seasonal changes.

This is because controlled exposure to sun rays is the most efficient way to replenish your body with this crucial substance that can boost your physical and mental health in a number of ways.

For one, having an optimal dose of Vitamin D in your body will help with absorption of calcium and phosphorus, two substances which are vital for promoting bone health.

Moreover, Vitamin D can be effective in preventing a host of diseases, including the flu, multiple sclerosis and various cardiovascular conditions.

A well-known benefit of Vitamin D is that it can help fight off depression and anxiety. That’s why Vitamin D supplements are often recommended to people who live in colder climates that don’t get a lot of sunny days per year.

Finally, Vitamin D can also be a welcome addition for people who are looking to shed a few pounds. Since this substance has been noted for its appetite-suppressing properties, getting your Vitamin D dose via sun rays and supplements can help accelerate weight loss.

The Bad News

For all the wonders of the sun, there are a few undesirable effects, too. Find out what they are.

Sun Exposure Causes Sunburn

Sunburn is one of the most common effects of prolonged sun exposure.

It commonly manifests itself in red skin that is often sore and painful to touch.

More severe cases of sunburn can involve other symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Bloated skin
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chills

Sunburn is the result of the damage caused to our skin cells by UV rays, which can penetrate deep into your dermis and cause damage to the cells. Typically, sunburn is more likely to occur in people who have a fair complexion, although this doesn’t mean tan and deep skin tones shouldn’t take preventive measures when spending time in the sun.

In most cases, sunburn tends to go away on it own; however, since it can be extremely uncomfortable, there are a few relievers you can turn to soothe the skin and accelerate the healing process.

Common DIY remedies for sunburn include icing the skin, as well as application of natural coolers, such as:

  • Cucumber
  • Aloe Vera
  • Oatmeal
  • Baking soda

This can provide instant relief for inflamed skin. In the long run, you should work on stimulating cell renewal and skin growth. To that end, look for products with moisturizing and repairing ingredients, such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid and Vitamin E. Added amounts of H2O in your skin care will help rebuild the outer layer of the skin and help it heal from damage caused by the sun.

UV Rays Can Harm Your Eyesight

One of the often overlooked, but nevertheless harmful effects of the sun is on the eyes.

When you look directly into the sun without appropriate protection, the UVA and UVB rays travel straight into the lens of your eye, then penetrate the retina, which is sensitive to light.

These harmful UV rays can contribute to oxidative damage in your retina, which results in a condition called photic retinopathy.

In its mildest form, phonic retinopathy can manifest itself through:

  • Soreness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eyes watering
  • Headache

In more severe cases of this condition, you might also experience:

  • Disrupted vision
  • Inability to discern shape and color of objects
  • Occurrence of one or more blind spots in your vision
  • Blurriness

And the worst this of all? These damaging effects can all happen within a few seconds.

In most cases, photic retinopathy should go away on its own after a couple of hours. However, if you’re experiencing prolonged periods of discomfort, you should consult a medical professional.

That’s why it’s not enough to only shield your skin from the sun, but your peepers as well.

Luckily, you can do this not only in a practical, but also a chic way – with a pair of fashionable sunglasses.

Bonus points: a decent pair of sunnies will not only protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, they will also shield the area around it and prevent wrinkles and fine lines from forming on that delicate part of the skin.

Elsewhere, a chic wide-brimmed hat can also do the trick, as it will provide shade for the entire face during sizzling summer days.

Sun Ages Your Skin

UVA and UVB rays are often mentioned as one of the skin’s biggest enemies when it comes to aging.

This is because ultraviolet rays have the potential to penetrate deep into your dermis, where they cause oxidative damage to your cells.

And when your skin is not fully equipped to battle these free radicals, this can lead to accelerated aging processes.

Some common symptoms of sun-induced signs of aging include:

The best way to make sure these don’t occur on you skin is simply to make sure any exposed areas are protected from ultraviolet rays.

To that end, high-quality sunscreen is crucial, and not just in summer months, either. To make sure your skin is protected from the sun at all times, you should turn wearing sunscreen into an everyday habit.

Opt for a lightweight, watery formula with an SPF of at least 30 and you won’t have any problems incorporating it into your everyday routine. Your sunscreen should be applied liberally, after all the skin care and before makeup.

Also, whenever you plan on spending prolonged periods of time in the sun, make sure to reapply your sun blocker, as its protective capabilities diminish as the day progresses.

It Creates and Emphasizes Dark Spots

Prolonged exposure to UV rays isn’t good news for anyone, but people who are suffering from age spots, melasma or any other kind of discoloration in the skin should be extra careful when out in the sun.

This is because direct exposure to ultraviolet rays triggers the overproduction of melanin, a.k.a. the dark pigment in your skin.

In practical terms, this means that when you laze around in the sun without appropriate protection, you might find that your dark patches and spots may become even darker than they already are.

That is why quality sun protection should be paramount to people who are suffering from pigmentation.

This includes avoiding sun during its peak hours, applying a hefty amount of sunscreen every day (especially on the affected areas) and protecting the overly pigmented parts of your skin with light clothes, hats, glasses and other accessories.

To treat dark spots, make sure to keep your skin hydrated around the clock, since dryness only makes the pigmented areas more prominent.

Likewise, you might want to invest in a serum of spot treatment infused with Vitamin C, as this powerful antioxidant can help fade and even completely erase the highly pigmented patches on your face and body.

Overexposure Can Trigger Heat Exhaustion

The damaging effects caused by sun rays are more than only skin-deep.

Spending too much time in direct exposure to sun and high temperatures can also lead to heat exhaustion, a condition which arises due to the body’s failure to regulate its internal temperature.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Dizziness
  • Accelerated pulse
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Goosebumps
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Low blood pressure

Moreover, this condition can be aggravated due to dehydration, alcohol consumption, excessive exercise or overdressing. 

Generally, heat exhaustion is acute and the first thing you need to do if you feel like you’re coming down with these symptoms is to find a place in the shade and rest. You can also try sipping on water or energy drinks, if you have any at hand.

Once your body temperature is back to normal, the symptoms should begin to subside. However, if you are experiencing prolonged discomfort caused by intense heat, you might want to consult your doctor.

In order to prevent suffering through a heat exhaustion episode, make sure to wear light, breathable clothes when you know you’re going to be spending prolonged periods of time in scorching weather. Always carry a water bottle with you and wear plenty of sunscreen on any exposed areas of the skin.

Infographic on why you should wear sunscreen every day

Hopefully, this simple list has helped shed light on the upsides and downsides that accompany every longer stint in the sun. Now that you’re aware of all the potential risks and benefits, you’ll know how to make smarter choices next time you decide to soak up the rays. Now it’s time to go out and make the sun work in your favor!

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