The GoodWhile most essential vitamins must be obtained though our diet, Vitamin D can actually be produced by our bodies when exposed to the suns UVB rays. Depending on skin pigmentation, 30 minutes spent in the sun in a bathing suit will result in the body producing between 10,000 and 50,000 IU of vitamin D. Lighter skinned individuals will be on the higher end of the scale as lighter skin is more effective at synthesizing the vitamin than skin with darker pigmentation. Vitamin D enhances calcium and phosphorus absorption, controlling the flow of calcium into and out of bones to regulate bone-calcium metabolism, making vitamin d critical for bone formation and continued bone health. It also assists with the regulating the immune system and recent research has indicated that it may be related to deterring cancer, minimizing the frequency and severity of asthma, minimizing the likelihood of multiple sclerosis, maintaining healthy brain activity and regulating body weight. Another benefit of sun exposure is relief from SAD or seasonal affective disorder which is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout the year display depressive symptoms in certain seasons of the year. Regular exposure to sunlight, also called light therapy, has been a reliable treatment for SAD in its classic winter-time form. The Bad Now that we've covered the benefits of limited sun exposure let's look at the negative side effects of excessive exposure. Most folks don't realize that even a nice golden tan is actually the result of sun damage to the epidermis, which leads us to the first effect of sun exposure, accelerated aging. The cumulative effects of tans and burns result in accelerated aging in the form of early wrinkling and age spots or actinic keratoses. Actinic keratoses is a rough scaly patch that develops on your skin due to prolonged sun exposure. These spots are usually found on the face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp or neck. These spots generally grow slowly over time but should be monitored as they are frequently considered precancerous. An image of melanoma The most adverse effects of prolonged sun exposure is skin cancer, which is the most prevalent cancer in the US. 95% of all skin cancers are either Basal cell or squamous cell cancers and are highly curable when treated early. The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is much more serious. Melanoma is made up of cells called melanocytes, which are abnormal skin pigment cells. If left untreated Melanoma can spread to other organs which is why it accounts for 75% of all skin cancer deaths. A final effect of excessive sun exposure is the adverse affect it can have on the immune system. While normal or slightly elevated sun exposure may adversely affect the skins ability to resist viral attacks excessive sun exposure has been associated with systemic (whole body) immunosuppression. What Now? So what is to be done? How do we get sufficient Vitamin D while not looking twice our age and developing cancer? Here are a few tips that should help.
- Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 and apply it 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every few hours.
- Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm when the UV exposure is most intense
- Wear tightly woven clothing and a wide brimmed hat
- Wear sunglasses that provide full UV protection
- 80% of a person's lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. Start these practices with your child at an early age.