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Sunlight Exposure: How it Benefits & Harms You

Whether you’re spending long hours basking in the sun or avoiding it like the plague, the sun has the power to both heal and harm you. Learn more about the power of the sun and harness the abundant benefits that will change your life for the better.

 

Sunlight & Melanin Production in the Skin

When our skin is exposed to sunlight, our body jumpstarts the production of vitamin D. The outer layer of the skin or the epidermis, contains melanin, the pigment that’s responsible for the colour of our skin, hair and eyes. Melanin is created by cells known as melanocytes, which act as a natural sunscreen that blocks out the harmful effects of UV rays. People with darker skin produce more melanin in their skin, therefore they have relatively more protection from sun damage than light-skinned people who have less pigment in their skin.

 

The Benefits of Sunlight for the Skin

Natural sunlight directly impacts the production of vitamin D in the skin, which is essential for building bone strength. However, if your skin is exposed to sunlight that is filtered through glass, especially if you’re working in an office space or sitting in your car, you won’t be able to reap the benefits of natural light. So ensure that you set aside enough time to head out at least once day. The body also regulates the amount of vitamin D produced, generating just enough to cover your needs.  

Vitamin D also plays a key role in preventing a multitude of diseases and illnesses, including osteoporosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer and depression. This could be why our parents always tell us to step outside and get some fresh air, when they find us cooped up in our rooms playing video games or binging on Netflix. People living in countries that receive limited sunlight in winter sometimes suffer from Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Much like its name, this condition seems to put a select few into a depressive state of mind, when they don’t have enough sunlight for a period of time.

Lack of sunlight is a direct correlation to decreased levels of serotonin, a mood enhancer. This is why it’s important to get enough natural sunlight in a day; it will give you a much-needed energy and mood boost. Other benefits of sunlight also include relieving stress and improving sleep — your brain’s melatonin production is influenced by sunlight.

 

Harmful Effects of Sunlight

Although natural light provides numerous benefits, there is such a thing as too much sunlight. Long periods of exposure without adequate protection can sometimes lead to irreversible damage to your cells.  Sunburn is a common sign of sun damage when you have been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light for prolonged periods of time without enough protection. Beneath the surface, UV light has the potential to change your DNA, contributing to effects such as premature aging.

Worse still, long-term exposure might cause skin cancer. Of course, genetic disposition also plays a significant role in determining the likelihood of a person getting skin cancer. In addition, how much time it takes for someone to get a sunburn largely depends on the individual’s skin type, the intensity of the sunlight on the skin and the amount of time exposed to the sun’s rays.

Heat stroke is another harmful effect of the sun. In a nutshell, heat stroke is caused when the body’s temperature spikes to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or 41 degrees Celsius, within the span of 10 to 15 minutes. The heat-related illness is serious enough to be life-threatening, hence it’s essential to get immediate medical attention and treatment before the chances of fatality increase. A less serious affliction of sun damage on the skin is heat rash. It’s a skin rash that arises when sweat ducts, instead of releasing perspiration, traps it under the skin. It’s common to encounter heat rash in hot, humid environments. The best way to treat heat rash or ease the discomfort of having one is to apply cooling powder on the affected area.

Wrinkles and premature aging have also been traced back to long periods of sun exposure. Collagen and elastic tissue can be damaged by UV light, causing them to alter or lose their original shape. So age isn’t the only factor that leads to skin sagging. Besides skin damage, UV rays can also cause serious damage to your eyes. If you spend too much time exposed to UV light without protecting your eyes, your retina might be at the receiving end of some major damage. Cloudy bumps, unclear vision and in some cases, even cataracts can develop due to UV damage.

 

Shielding Yourself from the Sun’s Harmful Effects

Make sure that you apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading out, and then reapply after you have been in the sun for 2 hours. Follow this rule if you have been swimming or sweating, as well. Don’t forget to grab a pair of sunglasses or a hat to get additional protection from direct sunlight.

 

Final Reminder

Enjoy the sun, but make sure that you take pre-emptive measures to protect yourself from the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to UV rays and sunlight.

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