Sun is one of the things we all look forward to about summer. It is associated with time outdoors, warm weather and lots of get-togethers with family and friends. Our relationship with the sun is a bit of a “love-hate” one. There are benefits as well as dangers related to sun exposure. Read on for five effects the sun has on us, both good and bad.
1. The Sun Elevates Our Mood.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a temporal version of depression. Studies have shown that when there is less sunshine through the shorter days of winter or in climates that generally have less sun, there are higher rates of depression. People generally accept the sun as something good and happy, while cloudy rainy days are “dreary” and “sad.”
2. The Sun Makes Our Skin Age Faster.
The sun’s rays penetrate into our skin, damaging the collagen and elastin fibers. This makes the skin more lax and less resilient, which in turn leads to more fine lines and wrinkles. There are a number of photos that show the effect sun has had on people who drive for a living, exposing only one side of their face to daily sun. The difference between the sun exposed and the “un-exposed” sides is impressive. Sun also causes age spots by increasing the amount of melanin in areas of high exposure (especially the hands and face).
3. The Sun Gives You a Beautiful Tan.
Everyone yearns for the summer glow of a good tan. It has long been accepted as a sign of health and beauty, while pale skin is often associated with sickness or infirmness. The tanned color in the skin is a result of melanin production by melanocytes. UV radiation from the sun’s rays stimulates both the production of melanin and also the migration of melanin to the superficial layers of the skin, resulting in a tan. The melanin also gives some protection to the skin from the sun’s damaging rays by both scattering the rays and also absorbing them so that fewer rays get through to the deeper layers of the skin. Multiple studies have shown that people with darker skin (ie more melanin) have a lower incidence of skin cancers and also that there is a lower penetration of the UV rays to the deeper skin1. But while it does help prevent a sun burn, a “base tan” alone isn’t enough to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays and sunscreen should be used to help prevent cancer causing damage.
4. The Sun is the Leading Contributing Factor in Skin Cancer.
UV light from the sun is a form of radiation. This radiation induces changes in the DNA in the skin cells, which can lead to uncontrolled growth and cancers. People with fair skin are at the highest risk for skin cancer, as they have less melanin to reflect and absorb the harmful radiation. Also people who have had repeated, blistering sunburns and those with a family history of melanoma are at higher risk for skin cancers.
5. Sunlight is Necessary for Your Body to Produce Vitamin D.
Most people know that Vitamin D is a nutrient that is important in bone strength and remodeling, however it also affects the immune system and regulates inflammation. Vitamin D is available through the diet, but is also produced when the sun’s rays interact with compounds found in the skin. People with very little sun exposure need to have a good source of vitamin D in their diets.
So even though there are some dangerous effects of sunlight, there are significant benefits as well. We should be cautious in our exposure, but not to the point that we prevent any of the sun’s rays from reaching our skin. The use of sunscreen, particularly if you are going to have prolonged exposure, is a good idea. It’s also a good daily practice to use sunscreen on those areas where we really want to minimize the signs of aging, like the face, hands and chest.