2 Benefits and Dangers of Sun Exposure
Youngsun Kim

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Sunlight: A Double-Edged Sword


Sunlight: you know it must have benefits, but somewhere in the back of your mind the echoes of your mother’s voice remain, her warnings against sun exposure causing you to rethink your day at the beach. Where do we draw the line between the benefits of the sun and the harmful effects it might have on our bodies? In today’s post I talk about both the benefits and adverse effects of the sun, and I also give you some useful tips on how to harness the healthful qualities of sunshine in order to be a healthier, happier you!

It’s no wonder that the sun has been one of the most talked about health topics of the last century: not only does it enable life on our planet and give us light, it also has an array of health benefits. Yet there is, of course, a darker side to the sun; we now see more people than ever dying of skin cancer or other related complications. Where, then, is the balance, and how can we harness the benefits without the dangers? It might help if we knew exactly what these were:

Benefits of Responsible Sun Exposure:

  • 1. Vitamin D! It’s no surprise that Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, as the most effective, naturally sourced way of getting some of this vital vitamin is simply by spending some time in the outdoors. Vitamin D regulates over 1000 genes in the human body: these genes effect tissues and mental functions. Increasing vitamin D is an unmissable step on your journey to health. In fact, studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to an array of diseases, not least of which include bone diseases, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular complications, and even diabetes.
  • 2. Mental Health. Not only does vitamin D increase gene regulation and tissue function, it also increases happiness. Yes, that’s right! Research has shown that responsible exposure to the sun plays a vital role in mental health; vitamin D increases serotonin levels in the brain, thereby acting in the same way that many anti-depressants do. Countless patients have experienced the benefits of sunshine in their fights against depression.

Dangers of Irresponsible Sun Exposure:

  • 1. Cancer This is the big bad wolf when it comes to the sun. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, prolonged, irresponsible sun exposure has been linked to skin cancer. And this is no joke: thousands of people are diagnosed with skin cancer yearly, and while most of these cases prove to be Caucasian people, skin cancer is certainly not restricted to fairer skinned races. 1 in 5 people have skin cancer in the U.S alone: please don’t let this be you.
  • 2. Sun Burn. Not only is being burnt linked directly to an increased chance of skin cancer in later life, it also wreaks havoc on the health of your skin in other ways. Once burnt, the skin loses elasticity and tightness, thus causing it to droop and age prematurely. Most people who spend too much time in the sun tend to grow old much sooner than they ought.

Bottom line? We need the sun, but we certainly need to be exposed to it responsibly. Being informed about the health risks AND the benefits will give you the best possible chance to harness the power of the sun in a safe, regulated manner.

So, how can you truly reap the benefits without risking your health? Take a look at the following tips for some answers.

Tips for Healthy Sun Exposure

Know Your Skin
Knowing your skin type is vital when considering exposure to the sun: darker skin can be exposed for longer periods without the risk of sun burn, while lighter skin tends to burn quickly. The thing is, though, darker skin produces vitamin D a lot slower. Keep this in mind when you face the sun.

Family History
If anyone in your family has been diagnosed with skin cancer you automatically have to be more careful when you consider sun exposure. As with any cancer, the presence of family history places you at a greater risk: please make sure you know your family history, and please take this into account when you head outside.

Exposure Time
Regulate the time you spend in the sun: try not to spend longer than 20 minutes in the sun at a time, and try not to go outside during the hottest time of day, that is, usually between 12pm and 3pm. Furthermore, gradual exposure is key to accessing the benefits of the sun. Start slowly and increase the amount of time you’re exposed to the sun on a daily basis: slow and steady wins the race. In this way, you’ll avoid sun burn and decrease the chances of skin cancer significantly.


Sunscreen is absolutely vital if you plan on doing outdoor activities or increasing your exposure to the sun. Not only does it stave off sunburn, it also decreases your chances of skin cancer. Please be aware, though, that some sunscreens are potentially linked to various health risks: try to avoid the “spray” ones, as inhalation could lead to health problems. Furthermore, make sure your application of sunscreen is regular and within the advised guidelines: apply 30 minutes before exposure and, as a general rule, re-apply every two hours.

UV Rays
Some days will offer different UV ray exposure; make sure you check the UV ray intensity before you head out. And please be aware that, even if it’s overcast, UV rays may still be present – never assume, always check. Moreover, UV rays increase their intensity the higher you go above sea level: on the coast they will be much lower than on mountain or at an elevated position near the equator.

Are you Sweating?
If you sweat profusely your sunscreen is probably not going to be as effective. Apply more sunscreen in accordance with how much you sweat. Also, make sure it is a water-resistant brand.

Extra Tips

Protect fragile skin: allow a very gradual exposure to your face, neck, and chest areas as the skin here is fragile. Hats are absolutely VITAL.

Do not use a tanning bed: this unnatural sunshine increases your chance of skin cancer ten-fold.

Sunshine in the early morning is best: without the use of sunglasses, exposing yourself to early morning sunshine ensures that your body produces melatonin, thereby helping you sleep better at night.

Supplement: If you are unable to be in the sun, why not try taking a vitamin D supplement? Though not quite the same, it will help keep your vitamin D levels on track until you can be outside once again.

Don’t scrub after exposure: scrubbing your skin directly after being exposed to the sun may result in the loss of vitamin D: this vitamin is stored in the skin for some time after exposure. For optimal results, wait at least 45 minutes before washing your hands, showering, or bathing.

So there you have it: the truth about sun exposure. While there are risks to prolonged, irresponsible exposure to the sun, there is also an array of benefits related to responsible exposure. While sunshine does seem to be a double-edged sword, I suggest you try harnessing the potential health benefits of the sun in order to improve your overall quality of life. Remember, always ensure that you take the necessary steps for responsible sun exposure: your skin, mind, and body will thank you in the long term!

Dr. Youngsun Kim
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