The sun is a particularly tricky thing. We need it to survive, keep us healthy and make us happy, but too much of it can cause serious issues. Although it’s amazingly beneficial to our minds, physicality and mood, too much can lead to severe diseases and disastrous results, so staying safe beneath UV rays is essential. For example, 9 out of 10 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be avoided if people kept themselves safe in the sun[i]. With that in mind, here are ten benefits and dangers of being out in the sun and how you can protect yourself.
Benefits of Sunlight
Besides giving you a ‘healthy’ tan (more on that later), the sun has many benefits to us. Some of them include:
Improves Mental Health
A measured exposure to sunlight has been shown to have multiple benefits to our mental health. Because it increases the production of serotonin in our minds, the right amount of UV exposure makes us more content in general. Conversely, lower serotonin levels and a lack of sunlight leave people at a higher risk of seasonal depression.
Being out in the sun for as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress levels significantly. This is because the UV rays are absorbed by molecules called chromophores. Chromophores are found in the layers of our skin. This absorption stimulates our epidermal cells to create beta-endorphins, which reduce stress and pain and boost pleasure.
Provides You with Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for the body because it helps maintain healthy muscles, bones and teeth. The body produces Vitamin D from sunlight shone directly on the skin, hitting the cholesterol in the skin cells. This provides the right energy for Vitamin D photosynthesis to begin. UV rays can’t get through glass, so going out in the sun is essential, but only for the time it takes for Vitamin D production to occur. Never stay out long enough unprotected for your sun to start to burn.
Although too much sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, sunlight exposure in moderation can help prevent other types of cancer. This is because of the release of Vitamin D, which reduces the risk of severe breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers.
Builds Strong Bones
Another benefit aided by Vitamin D is the strengthening of the bones that protect our organs from injury. The calcium that Vitamin D activates to synthesize helps it contribute to healthier bones, which is appropriately distributed with the help of that handy vitamin.
Boosts The Immune System
Vitamin D is also crucial for the immune system. It decreases the number of inflammatory cytokines and increases the number of anti-inflammatory cytokines, small proteins that control the cells in our blood and immune system. An excess of inflammatory cytokines can lead to diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer and arthritis, and we need more anti-inflammatory cytokines to fight this.
Heals Skin Conditions
Exposure to UV radiation can help to reduce the inflammation of our skin. This reduces the symptoms of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and becomes easier to deal with. This is not true with all skin conditions, though. Ensure that you use the proper protection for flare-ups that get easily irritated when you are outside.
Kills Harmful Bacteria
Artificial UV rays have been used as a natural disinfectant for decades. This due to the speed at which they reduce the spread of bacteria and destroy their protein coatings. Recent research is coming to light that shows the sun has a similar effect. It’s believed that, even through windows, the sun can lessen the number of bacteria in space, improve the quality of air and promote substantial healing against viruses.
Improves Your Sleep
Since exposure to sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, it can help improve your sleep cycle and quality of sleep. The circadian rhythm is responsible for our body’s natural processes throughout the day, including when we are ready to sleep. Our exposure to light and darkness triggers this cycle, and sun exposure can help to reinforce this routine and create a regular sleeping schedule that leads to a more productive day.
Lowers Blood Pressure
There’s ongoing research that suggests the nitric oxide in the top layers of our skin reacts to the sunlight, causing our blood vessels to widen and allow the oxide into the bloodstream. Nitric oxide is an important molecule that helps blood flow, and poor circulation due to lack of correct production can heighten the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Because it widens the blood vessels and relaxes the muscles, this leads to lower blood pressure and lessens the chance of cardiac issues in the future.
Dangers of the Sun
Now we’ve explored a handful of the benefits of sunlight, it’s time for the bad news. Being in the sun for extended periods is incredibly bad for us, and the side effects are often severe. Here are some reasons why you need to protect your body from the sun:
Causes Skin Damage
Sunburn and that healthy tan we mentioned earlier are both signs of skin damage. Just because a tan is desirable does not make it good. It still has the same adverse effects on the skin as sunburn, and as little as fifteen minutes of unprotected skin exposure can cause severe damage. And don’t even get us started on sunbeds. Although this damage may not seem like much at the time, each tan or burn significantly heightens your risk of skin cancer in the future.
Dehydrates The Body
In hot weather, the body needs constant hydration. When the temperatures start to climb, the body tries to cool itself down by releasing water. This comes in the form of sweat. If more water is leaving the body’s cells than is being put back in via regular water drinking, it can cause dehydration. This can lead to heat injury, seizures, kidney problems and fainting spells.
Causes Heat Stroke
In the wake of dehydration can emerge heat stroke. Once the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high and cannot cool itself, the body will start overheating. This often results in heatstroke, a condition that sets in when the body’s temperature reaches over 40°c and can’t stand the temperature. Symptoms of heat stroke include dry skin, vertigo, confusion, headaches, thirst, nausea, hyperventilation and muscle cramps, and it can be life-threatening.
Although UV rays clean up the bacteria that causes acne and can make the issue better, excessive exposure can turn these spots into dark scars and cause even more breakouts. This is because too many UV rays will irritate the skin, increasing inflammation and redness of acne. On top of this, acne medication can react negatively to the sun, causing it to burn faster.
Causes Early Aging
Spending too much time in the sun can start signs of ageing earlier. Things like age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin can appear much sooner than in a regular ageing cycle. This is because the UV light penetrates the cells in the outer layer of our skin that contain melanin. Melanin is a natural pigment that protects the skin from the sun’s UV rays, but it can burn with prolonged exposure. The burning of melanin reduces the skin’s elasticity and allows signs of ageing to show early.
Can Lead To Cancer
Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is most often caused by extended sun exposure. When the skin gets burnt in the sun, the damage caused affects the skin’s DNA. Even after the physical effects are gone, the damage continues to attack the rest of your body. Too much exposure can heighten the risk of permanent genetic mutations, leading to skin cancer later in life.
Causes Eye Injuries
UV rays can seriously affect the vision and damage the eyes because they can penetrate and burn the cornea. The cornea is the outer barrier of the eyes that fights germs, dirt and other particles to protect the eyes. The weakening of the cornea can lead to issues like cataracts, photokeratitis and macular degeneration.
Damages Immune System
Yes, we said sunlight is beneficial for the immune system, but only in small doses. It’s suggested that too much UV exposure can suppress the immune system and cause immunological changes in the body. This results in the aggravation of current ailments and an increased risk of getting others.
A Culprit of Rosacea
Rosacea it is a skin condition that causes bumps, redness, visible veins and pus-filled spots on the face. It is caused by the damage of blood vessels under the surface of the skin by the sun, which dilates the vessels and stretches them out. Although rosacea is treatable, it is likely to continue popping up if the behaviour in the sun isn’t improved.
Causes Sun Poisoning
The next step up from sunburn, sun poisoning, is a much more severe reaction. For sun poisoning, the UV rays have damaged the skin much more heavily than a sun burn. It can cause blistering, inflamed skin, pain, swelling, headaches, fever, nausea, dizziness and dehydration. These symptoms can last from a couple of days to a few weeks and require immediate medical attention to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
How To Protect Yourself In The Sun
Although going out in the sun may be the last thing you want to do now, you shouldn’t panic. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun, while still enjoying the warmth.
- Always Wear Sun Cream – Even during winter and gloomy days, wear sun cream and reapply regularly.
- Lessen Sun Exposure – Stay out of the sun between 10 AM – 3 PM, when the UV rays are at their strongest
- Wear Protective Clothing – Cover as much skin as possible and wear a sun hat for ultimate protection
- Wear The Right Sunglasses – Sunglasses with lenses that filter UV light will protect your eyes
Unfortunately, when it comes to the sun, it seems that you can have too much of a good thing. Although sun exposure provides many benefits, too many UV rays can be detrimental to the same parts of the body. However, as long as you are careful and take the proper preventative steps, you should be able to reap all of the benefits of the sun without encountering any of the disasters.
To help protect your essential fruit and vegetables from the dangers that the sun can bring to them, why not invest in some fruit netting to keep the pests at bay in the warm weather?
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK