The sun generally gets a bad reputation this time of year. We are told that the sun is dangerous, and that the best protection is sunscreen or complete avoidance. I wanted to write an article to give a different perspective, and get us thinking about sunlight in a different way.
Just to be clear from the start about a few things:
I definitely think that getting a sunburn is a bad thing. We should all take measures to avoid burning.
I believe that getting adequate daily sunlight during the spring, summer and fall seasons is essential for physical and emotional health.
There are good, healthy ways to interact with the sun that do not involve the use of (conventional) sunscreen.
If you're going to make the switch from conventional sunscreen to natural methods (including all natural sunscreen products) you will have to change your usual interaction with the sun until you are clear on how your skin responds, how much sun it can tolerate, how long it takes you to build up a base-tan, etc. You'll have to be more in touch with your body (always a good thing, in my books!)
Let’s start with a brief discussion about why conventional sunscreen may not be the best way to avoid getting a sunburn, and some of the other reasons it might be a good idea to reconsider using it.
Anything that contains synthetic chemicals of any kind, in any amount should be treated with a high degree of caution. If you wouldn’t eat it or feed it to your kids, it’s probably a good idea to research it thoroughly before considering using it. This is especially important when we are talking about using something on our skin, and when there is heat involved. Your skin will absorb E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G you put on it. Heat will open your pores and increase absorption.
Most sunscreens only block UV-B rays. On one hand, this is great because it does prevent sunburn—on the other, when the skin starts to redden (not necessarily burn), it is our body’s early warning system indicating that we’ve had enough sun that day. In essence, sunscreen allows you to get more sun than what your body actually needs by disabling it’s early warning system. Over time this means that we get more UV exposure than what’s actually beneficial.
UV-B rays cause sunburn, but interestingly, they are also the rays that are needed for us to be able to properly absorb vitamin D. Most people in Canada are vitamin D deficient and there is more and more research coming out about just how essential this vitamin (it's really a hormone, if we want to be technical) is for good health. Consider for example, that people who are deficient in Vitamin D are more likely to develop cancer, heart disease and numerous autoimmune diseases. We also know that vitamin D has an important role to play in gene expression—namely, ensuring that disease-promoting genes are turned off.
Can't I just take a vitamin D supplement? The answer to this is yes and no. Unfortunately, not all vitamin D is created equal. When we get vitamin D from sun exposure, it becomes sulfated and water-soluble. Vitamin D from supplements is unsulfated and fat soluble, which is still beneficial, but it does not move as freely through the blood stream. Our body is FULL of vitamin D receptors (literally packed!) and we must get this vitamin to as many receptors in as many parts of the body as possible for maximum benefit. Vitamin D from the sun is more effective at helping us do that.
So how can we have healthy sun exposure and not get burned?
Know your skin and be sensible. If you’re fair-skinned, your sun requirements will be very different from someone with a darker complexion. The darker your skin, the more sun you can tolerate. *If you’re not sure how to get started with this, there is an app called Dminder that can give you an idea.
Start early in the season and start gradually. As soon as the sun comes out in the spring, spend a few minutes outside getting your skin used to the rays. This will help you develop a base-tan and be able to tolerate more sun as the summer months progress without getting a burn.
Start by tanning things like feet and hands rather than your face, which tends to be more sensitive.
Avoid the sun around solar noon (this is when the sun is directly overhead) and for several hours after if you tend to burn easily.
Use shade. Sunlight that is filtered through shade is still very beneficial, but will help you prevent burning.
Cover up. Wearing light long-sleeved shirts and pants can help you avoid getting burned without using toxic sunscreens
If you do still want to use a sunscreen, or if you know you’ll be out all day, consider using all-natural sun products (and please read the labels carefully because a ton of stuff is marketed as "natural" and is not even remotely natural). The one that I use is Everybody Loves the Sunshine with Zinc by Living Libations.
There are also several things you can do to ensure that the skin is healthy and not as prone to burning:
Stay hydrated. Spring or filtered water ideally. When our skin cells are hydrated, they are better able to handle a whole host of stresses.
Avoid alcohol if you are going to be in the sun. Read: day-drinking on the dock at the cottage is fun, but probably not a great idea.
Consume good, healthy fats and oils regularly (coconut, fish, avocado olive, grass-fed butter and meat, etc).
Avoid polyunsaturated fatty acids (canola, most vegetable oils, fried foods).
Consume anti-oxidant rich foods. In the summer time berries are in season and these are a great source of strong antioxidants!
Take good care of your skin- don’t use chemical-laden products. Moisturize with pure oils. This really goes a long way.
If you want to get really serious about your sun-therapy, consider this:
Our eyes also need vitamin D. When we wear sunglasses all the time, it prevents some absorption. Obviously, use your discretion as sometimes sunglasses are essential, but if you can get some sun exposure without sunglasses, you will really up your game!
Once you’ve been in the sun, it takes at least 24 hours for your body to fully integrate and receive that nutrition. It is best not to shower right away after being in the sun. If you do want to take a dip or wash off, just avoid using harsh soaps and shampoos. If you use all natural products, you don’t have to worry about this.
Morning sun tends to be more beneficial than afternoon sun.
Happy sun time!