Safe Sun: Vitamin D
Summer makes us all happy. Longer days, more time outdoors, family vacations; summer has its own way of arousing nostalgia and bringing out our childhood tendencies. While the fear of premature aging and skin cancer may keep some of us indoors or lathered in sunscreen, it's important to understand and be able to embrace the dog days of summer and these beautiful, golden rays. Sunlight provides us with increased serotonin (joy), increased melatonin (rest) and, most notably, the essential and all-around beneficial Vitamin D (health).
Interestingly, Vitamin D is a hormone and not actually a vitamin. The body receives roughly 90 to 95% of its Vitamin D from casual sunlight exposure by utilizing Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) to start the complex conversion process of a cholesterol derivative in the skin into a usable form of Vitamin D. This fat-soluble hormone is essential for growing and maintaining bone health and supporting a strong immune system that helps protect us against disease and even cancer.
Why we need it
Vitamin D provides a host of benefits. The best-known function of active vitamin D is to help regulate blood levels of calcium and phosphorous, even if calcium levels from dietary intake are not sufficient. Because our bodies use cholesterol to make Vitamin D, our cholesterol levels are lower during sunnier months. Adequate vitamin-D levels have also been linked to a reduced risk of developing breast, colon, and prostrate cancers.
Consequently, the Vitamin D Council warns that NOT getting enough Vitamin D has been linked to conditions such as cancer, asthma, type-I and type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
Play it safe, Naturally
Practicing a natural lifestyle gives our bodies an advantage to handle the sun's potentially harmful rays. Below are a few things to always be included.
Antioxidants are critical to combat the negative effects of UV-rays. Although not a coincidence, foods high in antioxidants - berries and green leafy veggies - are most prevalent during sunnier months. Nature has an awesome way of providing us what we need for each season.
One promising study also shows that supplementing with Astaxanthin may reduce the negative effects of UVA-induced photoaging, and provide an internal sunscreen, of sorts, for our skin.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Protecting our skin from the inside - out. The more that omega-3 fatty acids are consumed, the greater the body is protected from sunburn. Like studies with Astaxanthin, researchers have found that increasing omega-3's via fish oil supplementation can reduce UVB-induced sensitivity from the sun. Read the study, here.
We will cover sunscreen in more detail later, but it's important to note that natural sunscreens may just be a better option overall. The most beneficial sun protectants contain a naturally occurring mineral in the form of Zinc Oxide. It is the best performing ingredient for blocking both UVA and UVB rays, making it a great broad spectrum option. Unlike chemical sunscreens that absorb into the bloodstream and increase system toxicity, non-nano zinc oxide forms a physical barrier on the skin to reflect the sun's rays.
Keep in mind that sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 and above prevent vitamin-D synthesis. It's best to apply a sunscreen after enough time has elapsed to provide sufficient vitamin-D synthesis. For most people, exposing the hands, face, and arms on a clear summer day for fifteen minutes a few times a week should do. Those with darker skin, and some of Asian decent, require longer sunlight exposure because melanin, a skin pigment, acts as a natural sunscreen.
Safe sun tips
While we would all love nothing more to play outside all day, pre-mature aging and skin cancer from sunburns and over-exposure to UVR is still a major concern. Being smart about the our time in the sun is critical for beautiful skin and overall health.
1. Plan around the sun
Gradual adaption to the season is important. While laying on your back, basking in the hot sun for 30 minutes may help you reach the “sun-kissed” skin tone, gradual exposure will lessen the likelihood of severe burns. One is better to work in a semi-shaded garden for several hours than laying out at high sun for 30 minutes straight.
The sun is strongest from around 10am to 3pm. UV radiation peaks at midday. About 65% of the total UVR reaches the earth between 10 AM and 2 PM. Keep this in mind when planning outdoor activities. The sun is safest when it's lower.
2. Keep the clothes on
Shirts, shorts and pants provide the some of the best protection from UV rays without the need for sunscreen.
Fabrics that provide better protection include:
- Specially manufactured fabrics for sun protection
- Blue or black denim jeans
- Merino wool garments
- 100% polyester
- Shiny polyester blends
- Satin-finish silk of any weight
- Tightly woven fabrics
- Unbleached cotton
Fabrics that provide poor protection include:
- Polyester crepe
- Bleached cotton
- Knits, especially loosely woven
- Undyed, white denim jeans
- Threadbare, worn fabric
List provided by DermNet New Zealand, here.
Make every day a derby day, because why not! Hats and sunglasses aren’t just a fashion accessory. Good shades protect your eyes from UV radiation that may cause cataracts. As far as hats go, the bigger the brim the better. Adding these to our daily attire is a favorite of ours. It's fun AND functional.
4. Dont get burned
NEVER overdo the sun - red, sore, blistered or peeling skin from overexposure raises the risk for skin cancer. Plus, it's not a good look. DO find shade when needed. Picnic under a tree, read beneath an umbrella or take a canopy to the beach. These are safe and sun-smart options to plan for that also make for a great photo op. Just saying.
What are some of your favorite ways to practice safe sun? Share some helpful hints in the comments below!