We've been lucky enough to have some lovely sunshine recently here in Ireland and it feels like everyone has been outside soaking it up! Sunshine feels so good on our skin and getting out in the sun (also know as phototherapy) has numerous benefits to our health and wellbeing.
Of the four original elements which have held special significance throughout history - water, fire, air and earth - the fire element has always been linked to sunshine and our energy levels. Getting enough of this natural element in our lives, as with all essential elements, helps to regulate our vital functions and change the health of our cells and mitochondrial function for the better.
However, our modern tendencies to spend most of our time in the comfortable indoors, and to over-protect ourselves from sun exposure, means that many of us simply aren't getting enough natural light to support optimal vitality, especially when we live in the Northern Hemisphere and don't get enough dietary sources of Vitamin D from eggs and oily fish. It could be argued that we have inadvertently created a lifestyle where we have reduced our tolerance to sunlight and become more susceptible to burns in the process.
3 Awesome Benefits Of Sunshine
1. Vitamin D
As everyone knows by now getting enough light and sun is essential for creation of Vitamin D. A frightening number of people are Vitamin D deficient when it's a key vitamin absolutely essential for immune function, for maintaining a healthy microbiome, and for stimulating calcium-binding proteins to maintain bone health. Research is now beginning to reveal more and more benefits to this crucial Vitamin and the role it plays in our overall health and wellbeing (if you haven't already looked into the role of this Vitamin and Covid-19, it's worth researching this now).
While it's certainly true that too much sun exposure may increase the risk of skin cancer, those risks can be mitigated with a sensible sun approach, and it's important to note that the natural sunlight that helps us create Vitamin D in our bodies can simultaneously help to protect our skin from cellular damage.
Functional Medicine guru Doctor Mark Hyman has said that "interestingly, the one vitamin the sun helps supply can actually protect against skin cancer. Optimal vitamin D levels can reduce the risk of Melanoma and help protect against other cancers".
2. Regulating Circadian Rhythms
Getting adequate sunshine and natural light during the day also helps to regulate our sleep cycles, so getting up and outside in the morning after waking can directly help to regulate our circadian rhythm and help us to feel energised and awake. That morning light primes our body clock to prepare for sleep approximately 14-16 hours after exposure, helping you get into a natural sleep/wake cycle. Getting outside in natural light towards the end of the day, as it begins to dim, also helps to prepare our body to wind down and sleep, so if you can get outside to watch the sunset or take a few breaths in the evening as the light fades.
If you're having trouble sleeping, simply getting enough natural light during the day (especially first thing in the morning), and reducing the amount of light you are exposed to in the evening (by using low soft light or salt lamps, and avoiding as much blue light as possible from screens and LED lights) can dramatically help to regulate your sleep cycle and encourage significantly better sleep. And the best part is it's free. Want to know more about regulating your Circadian Rhythm naturally? Check out this awesome podcast with Dr. Andrew Huberman.
3. Feeling Energised and Happy
Getting enough natural light is essential to our happiness and feelings of vitality. It's no secret that getting out into nature is good for our health, helps to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as making us feel more connected to nature and ourselves.
Getting outside in the full spectrum natural sunlight, especially with family and friends will help us to connect with the other essential elements too - earth, air and water - and can reduce stress and boost our energy levels, as well as modulating our immune and hormonal systems. We are optimised by being in nature, which is why so many of us choose holiday spots surrounded by natural beauty, whether that's at the beach or in the mountains. Taking a holiday is almost synonymous with getting outdoors. Even during summer weekends, it feels most satisfying to have a picnic or a BBQ with friends, go for a hike or hit the beach and watch your children splash in the sea (even better if you get in for a dip yourself). These are the things that help to aid spiritual, emotional and physical healing and make us feel grounded and happy.
Here in Ireland we have almost 6 months of long nights and little sun, so when the sun is shining it's great to be able to get out and make the most of this natural energy resource and it's health-supporting benefits.
So now that know how good the sun can be, what's the best way to soak up the benefits while mitigating potential harm? When we think about sun protection we often think only in terms of applying topical creams and sprays, but there is so much more to staying healthy while enjoying the benefits of the sun. Here we share our top 5 tips on enjoying the sunshine responsibly.
5 Ways To Enjoy The Sun Safely
1. Eat Your Antioxidants
Before you even go out in the strong summer sun, consider upping your intake of antioxidant rich foods. Antioxidants are compounds that help to neutralise free radicals, the unstable molecules that can cause damage to your cells (say from UVA and UVB exposure). Getting lots of antioxidants in our food, for example Vitamin A, C, D & E along with selenium, magnesium and zinc, can help to limit damage cause by radiation as well as help to prevent premature aging and give a certain level of internal protection.
Great sources of antioxidants are colourful plant foods, such as berries, beetroot, kale, red cabbage, spinach etc. Try to eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables each day, preferably organic and whole food varieties.
2. Plan Your Time
Too much sunlight can cause oxidative stress and put you at risk from certain cancers, so it's important to consider the length of time you are spending in the sun's direct rays. For instance, no one would advocate staying inside all winter and then spend 6 hours at the beach in a bikini as soon as the sun comes out. No doubt that approach is going to end in tears (and probably lobster red skin!). A better strategy would be to bask in the sun's rays for a few minutes at a time, without sun protection, to give your skin a chance to absorb natural Vitamin D and build up a certain tolerance to it over time.
If you plan to be in the garden, or at the beach, for longer periods of time, especially when you have fair skin that burns easily, or you're bringing young children, then that's when you need to have your sun protection strategies in place.
Spending time outdoors in the early morning when the sun is lower can also help you absorb the benefits of light and natural Vitamin D before UV radiation reaches its peak around Midday.
3. Wear Protective Clothing
Be proactive and aware about protecting yourself from the sun. Wearing a hat, a t-shirt or any other type of clothing can help to easily protect our skin from over-exposure to the sun's rays, without the need to apply a sun cream (which the EWG suggests we do only as a last resort). Sunglasses will help protect your eyes from UV radiation. You can also seek shade under a canopy, umbrella or a tree to minimise your exposure in an easy, natural way.
This tip is especially relevant for protecting babies and young children from too much UV exposure.
4. Avoid Overexposure
Getting a little time in the sun without sun protection is crucial to Vitamin D production in the body. Dr. Mark Hyman states that "the sun exposure that makes our skin a bit red (called 1 minimum erythemal dose) produces the equivalent of 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in our bodies". The trick is to find the right amount of exposure for you and then ensure that you are not getting over exposed. A lot of it is common sense! You definitely want to avoid red, sore, blistered or peeling skin, which is the type of exposure that means you have had too much sun and it raises your risk of sun damage and cancer.
Depending on your skin tone, genetics, melanin levels and your geographic location, you may be able to take 15-20 minutes at a time unprotected in the sun, or you may be able to spend a little longer. Your ideal sun exposure time is going to be bio-individual to you, just like nutrition, sleep and all the other factors that affect your health and wellbeing. It's essential that you get to know your own body and your own individual requirements when it comes to sun exposure.
Again, Dr. Hyman has recommended "the best way to make vitamin D involves full-body sun exposure for about 15 to 20 minutes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, without sunscreen (although I would recommend sunscreen on your face)".
5. Use Sun Creams When You Need To
It's almost inevitable that are going to be times when you require sun cream protection, especially for the delicate face and neck. When it comes to sun creams, you need to seek out the right one to suit your needs and to ensure that the one you choose is safe for you and for the environment around you.
There's a strong link between environmental health and human health, and the toxins that negatively impact the environment usually have a negative effect on our own health too. Our health is one and the same, intimately connected. When choosing sun creams it's essential to choose ones that are "reef safe" and have clean ingredients, ideally non-nano mineral based sun creams to avoid unnecessary chemicals and toxins entering our bodies and also our water systems when we swim or shower.
Sun protection containing mineral ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc are thought to be the safest, and it's best to avoid Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octinoxate, Octisalate and Octocrylene.
Chemical sunscreens usually take longer to become effective (up to 30 minutes after application), while mineral sun creams are effective from application. Chemical sunscreens they are more likely to trigger skin rashes and allergic reactions, while mineral ones are generally well tolerated. Finally, chemical sunscreens can be absorbed into the bloodstream, potentially causing endocrine disruption and are also toxic to coral and marine life.
The EWG has a good annual guide to choosing a safe sun cream for you and your family, outlining everything from potentially harmful chemical ingredients to SPF values and how to decipher marketing claims around sun creams.
Our Favourite Mineral SPFs
On The Clean Beauty Edit we choose sun creams that are non-toxic, with mineral ingredients that are reef safe. Here are a few of our favourites for daily face, neck and décolletage protection, with a range of organic tinted options, and our picks for those days we're headed to the beach and need more coverage.
Want to see more mineral sun protection options? Shop our Sun Care Collection.
This blog post from Rob Herring on Natural Sunburn Resistance is a fascinating read and offers a different perspective on sun safety.
We would also recommend checking out the EWGs Guide to Safe Sun and Sun Protection.
This article is solely based on the writer's opinion and is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any health or medical questions please consult a qualified practitioner.