Health Benefits of Sun Exposure

by Carollyn Mushro

Increasingly, American consumers are bombarded with public health messages that sun exposure leads to aging, skin cancer and DNA damage. Yet, in reality, today’s science tells us that sunlight has many beneficial effects on human health.

The fact is that the sun has been beaming down on humans since the dawn of time. It is quite literally a life force that we are dependent on for our survival. So, why do we see so much information about how it can be potentially harmful?

Let’s take a look at the ways the sun is essential to our well-being!

1. Vitamin D

Most everyone knows that the sun can increase Vitamin D levels, but why is that important? 

At least 1000 different genes are regulated by active Vitamin D--the type that can only be triggered in the body by sun exposure. Vitamin D also controls the flow of calcium in and out of bones. Without proper amounts, children run the risk of skeletal deformities, dental cavities, and adults are more prone to osteoporosis. 

Have you ever noticed that your energy is lower and you might even be a little sad on cloudy days without the sun? This is because low Vitamin D levels are associated with low mood and even seasonal affective disorder. Sunlight also increases relaxation and happiness by naturally increasing endorphins-- namely serotonin & dopamine.

2. Maintaining our natural sleep & wake cycle

The sun’s light is essential to regulating our circadian rhythm. Bright light during the day signals to our body that it is time to move and be productive, while the darkness signals the release of melatonin in our bodies to get restful sleep. Without proper sun exposure, we risk  not only disturbing our sleep cycle, but also hormone release, body temperature and other important body functions!

3. Immune support & longevity

Sunlight has been found to positively affect heart health as well as brain function. It has been noted that chronic sun deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment.  Sunlight has even been found to serve as a natural painkiller, as well as a stress reducer. No wonder tropical vacation destinations are so popular!

Finally, research has shown that too little sun can result in a number of cancers. In one Swedish study, women who avoided sun exposure were twice as likely to die prematurely, compared with the highest sun exposure group.

Sunbathing tips

  • Take breaks in the shade-- every 15 minutes or so.
  • Build up exposure gradually-- allow yourself 10 minutes in the sun at a time if it has been a while since you have had full exposure.
  • Be sure to eat a diet high in antioxidants & healthy fats. Food such as tomatoes, fish, chocolate, green tea & leafy greens can help fight the free radicals produced by the skin when exposed to the sun.
  • Don’t excessively shower before or after sun exposure to avoid removing protective oils from the skin’s surface.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • If you use sunscreen, skip the chemical formulas in most commercial brands. These can often be more harmful than sun exposure itself. Instead, opt for a mineral-based sunscreen instead. Please note that using any sunscreen will hinder vitamin D absorption and the health benefits associated with it.

Despite public service campaigns that have focused on the dangers of sun exposure, today’s science tells us that sensible sun exposure is essential for physical and emotional health. Happy sensible sunning!

About the Contributor

Carollyn is a wellness enthusiast living in the Chicago burbs with her husband and two children.
She loves inspiring families to find their own healthy journey through holistic modalities.
She loves kombucha, travel, and questioning the status quo.
You can find her on IG: @carollyn.mushro