Sunshine like so many things in life is all about the right amount. Getting sunlight on our bodies has been demonized lately as being purely bad, and only good for getting skin cancer. Yes, true, not good to get a sunburn as that can be painful and definitely increase your risk of skin cancer. Also, too much sun can damage skin and cause “age spots” and make skin leathery over time.
However, we would not be made to live in a world where the sun shines half the day if we did not need some sunshine. Full spectrum sunlight is good for us and a little bit of of exposure on our skin is healthy. That is how we make vitamin D. 15 minutes of sun exposure even just on our face and arms can be enough to make this vitamin which is crucial to our health. More sun than that can be damaging as above.
Vitamin D is actually a multi purpose hormone that is critical to keep our bones healthy, and for our immune system to function properly. It is extremely difficult to get healthy amounts of vitamin D from diet (takes a whole lot of fish oil) and low vitamin D levels are associated with many health issues including osteoporosis, auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis and also cancer.
For the latest on the best and safest sunscreens to use if you are outside for work, gardening or sport, check out the latest information from the Environmental Working Group on their web page.
Of note the FDA only recognizes 2 sunscreen ingredients to be both effective and safe, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Other non-mineral, chemical sun sunscreens can be problematic. For example oxybenzone can act as an endocrine (hormone) disruptor possibly acting like estrogen or a cause of lower testosterone levels. Such chemicals have been banned by the state of Hawaii as they can damage coral reefs and concerns have been raised about them by some health organizations. Again, check out the website above for useful information.
Another note: too much ultra-violet (UV) light in sunshine can also be damaging to the lenses in our eyes and make cataracts grow faster. If you are out in the sun for long periods of time I recommend good sun glasses with UV protection and polarized lenses to protect your eyes, cut glare and make it easier to see clearly.
Enjoy the sun in small doses!
For Your Health,
Mark L. Hoch, MD