Sun Exposure: Risks and Benefits

To a greater or lesser extent, most people are subjected to sunlight, along with its positive and negative effects. However, as the warmer weather approaches – or as these people prepare for an exotic tropical holiday – sun exposure becomes a concern.

The ideal of tanned, bronzed skin has been embedded in the Western culture for decades, leading people – both men and women – to go to extremes in order to darken their complexion. In the last few years, however, a growing concern with skin cancer as well as early aging has prompted a renewed interest in skin care and sun protection.

It is important to note though, that sun exposure isn’t all bad, as it isn’t all good. In fact, while sunbathing obsessively will likely result in overexposure to UVB rays, which are the agents mainly responsible for DNA altering and skin damage, some exposure is recommended, as sunlight also has its benefits.sunbathe

Before we talk about the benefits of sun exposure, it is important to stress the risks. Exposing yourself to the sun also means exposing your skin and organs like the eyes to ultraviolet radiation, both UVA and UVB. Thankfully, most of the sun rays are made up of UVA rays, which are less harmful, but they also have a percentage of UVB radiation of about 8%. Since this kind of radiation is in fact stronger, being exposed to it for longer periods of time can become a real risk.

Radiation like this can alter the DNA of your skin, thus changing it on a cellular level. On a cosmetic and surface level, it can result in freckles, discoloration and, the most obvious and painful, sunburn. But while sunburn eventually goes away – on the surface level, at least – the alterations to the DNA remain and worsen over time. That is how skin cancer develops, as altered, harmful skin cells grow and cause tumors, which can lead to the disease.

Skin cancer is one of the most frequent in the world. While 95% of cases are less serious and highly curable, the remaining 5% is still a troubling statistic. You could think that sunbeds, which are very popular in countries like the UK and US, are to blame, but while exposure might be more direct, it is done for shorter periods, and the percentage of UVB rays in sunbed lights is also kept to a maximum of 8%, thus perfectly mimicking sunlight.

What sunbeds may lack, however, is melanin and vitamin D, both of which are needed and are provided by sunlight. Vitamin D has a lot of health benefits, including boosting your immune system and helping both prevent and fight several common and serious diseases. You can get it from your diet and supplements, but the sun is a good source of this kind of vitamin.

The solution is thus to enjoy the sun by taking walks, spending a day at the park or going to the beach, but ensure to use protection such as a hat, clothing and a sunscreen which is adequate for your skin type and proven to be effective against both UVA and, most importantly, UVB rays, which are often overlooked by the cosmetic industry.