Updated: Jul 14, 2021
When I wrote this in May, we were having a wet season and wondering when summer was arriving. It felt like wishful thinking to be writing about sun bathing. But then, don’t they say “it all starts with a wish”?
I grew up with the phrase “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, along with advice about sunburn and heat stroke. However, if you live in an area of the world where most of the year is hidden from sunshine, and particularly if you are dark-skinned, the advice is different.
Skin experts recommend 10 minutes, not at the beginning or end of the day, but when the sun is high in the sky. For health reasons and for boosting your vitamin D, this is the best time of day because you get an intense and short burst of sunshine. If you are very fair, or have redhead genes, reduce the time so as not to burn. Darker skins need a lot more than 10 minutes to make the same amount of vitamin D as fairer skin and if you are older, your ability to manufacture this hormone goes down. Exposing your skin to sunlight means your skin must be bare, so no sunblock.
The psychological benefits of exposure to sunlight are invigorating and uplifting. Sunlight stimulates production of serotonin which makes us feel good and, at the same time, suppresses melatonin so we feel less tired. Vitamin D from the sun help us absorb calcium and prevent osteoporosis (porous bones). If we just depended on eating calcium-rich foods, this is not insurance enough against this disease. Vitamin D absorbs the calcium from the food and stores it in the bones. Without this vitamin, calcium may end up depositing itself in areas other than the bones, which is not good news. And there’s more. Vitamin D helps to fight infections and stop the spread of cancer cells. Professor William Grant, a former NASA scientist estimates that in the UK, where we get 1,600 deaths a year from melanoma due to excessive sun exposure, we probably get around 25,000 deaths due to insufficient sun exposure. Evidence from researchers shows an increased link between vitamin D from sunlight and the reduction in cancer risk. People who live in areas where there is more sun have reduced risk of breast and prostate cancer. For more information on the correlation between vitamin D and cancer, see www.sunarc.org.
In addition, researchers at Aberdeen University reveal that lack of vitamin D from sunlight contributes to obesity. Vitamin D controls the hormone leptin which signals to the brain when you are full. They found that those who were obese had lower levels of vitamin D. In fact, they produced a tenth less vitamin D than those of average weight.
Being a skin therapist I’m always warning everyone that sun exposure leads to premature ageing. Your face is just a small part of you so expose your arms and legs instead. More surface area, more vitamin D.
Happy safe sun exposure!