Sunbathing has many health benefits. So what does sunlight do for the body?’
Sunlight is essential for Vitamin D production (hello strong bones and teeth), sun baths also boost immunity, brain and heart function, mood and eyesight.
After a long, wet and grey winter… there’s nothing like sunbathing to feel perky and energetic. Libido gets a boost too.
Why skin needs sunlight to stay healthy.
But there is a lot of debate about sun exposure for those of us living in temperate climates.
Beauty practitioners are taught to avoid any scrap of sunshine for fear of sun damage and premature ageing. Even passengers on flights are told they need to drown in sunblock…
Many chemical based sunblocks use components harmful to the body eg Benzophenone 2 lowers thyroid function, Octyl-methoxycinnamate increases facial aging, Oxybenzone disrupts hormones…ugh who want’s all that pore clogging gook when you can use mineral-based sunblock?
What with sunshine being blamed as the main cause of hyper pigmentation, lines and wrinkles as well as the Darth Maul enemy of our collagen and elastin, it’s easy to see how fear mongers have you lathering on chemical-based UV protection regardless of where you live, the climate etc.
Certain ancient philosophers and traditions knew that sunlight carried with it the full spectrum of healing light, that our bodies need. The Midle Ages
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine prescribed sunbathing.
Ancient yogis used sunlight to keep the body well with Atapa Snana. Our eyes, for instance need full spectrum lighting to function well. (So wearing sunglasses all the time is not a healthy thing to do.)
The ancient Greeks and Romans, practiced Heliotherapy to “cure weak and flabby muscles”. They considered Apollo the god of medicine, healing, sun and light. Each day, Apollo’s fiery chariot travelled across the sky bestowing life-giving light to our planet. Sun therapy was part of the training programme for Olympic athletes.
During the Middle Ages, the use of light for medical treatment was interrupted, possibly due to medieval morals prohibiting nudity in public.
The Dead Sea is ideal for heliotherapy for psoriasis sufferers. Being 400 m below sea level it has a higher concentration of UVA to UVB. The low humidity, sunny/cloudless days and low rainfall per year make it suitable for 8 months of the year. And while you are there, enjoy a Dead Sea Clay Mask covering your entire body!
Heliotherapy kills bad bacteria; Niels Finsen won a Nobel Prize for discovering how sunlight could disinfect and heal the wounds of soldiers in WWI.
Phototherapy is the modern term for sunlight therapy. It’s prescribed for jaundice, acne, fungal infections, eczema and psoriasis as well as sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s, brain function, heart health and high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Those ancient people had it right!
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that as soon as sunlight touches the skin, a compound called nitric oxide is released into the blood vessels. Nitric oxide is a compound that helps lower blood pressure. D. Richard Weller, Senior Lecturer in Dermatology Edinburgh concluded that the health benefits of sunlight “far outweigh the risk of getting skin cancer.”
Naturopathic treatments are based on the five great elements or panchamahaboothas: air, water, earth, fire and ether, which are the fundamental constituents of every human. The common naturopathy modalities include counseling, diet and fasting therapy, mud therapy, hydrotherapy, heliotherapy, massage therapy, acupressure, acupuncture, magnet therapy, and yoga therapy.
I grew up in sunny South Africa and never wore sunblock. I hated the feel of it on my skin and the way it greased up my pores making my skin feel slimy or sticky. I wore a hat, covered up my burnable areas with a T-shirt and sat in the shade in the hotter times of day. My skin probably did age quicker but my bones felt strong and my mood in the sun great. I got a little bit of sunshine every day, it wasn’t famine before feast. I never had seasonal affective disorder. Not so in the UK… daylight bulbs are in my office now.
However living in the UK where the sun is very limited in appearance and the days are very short makes a huge impact on mood, energy. I now take Vitamin D supplements (when i remember!) And turning 52 this year means thoughts of strong bones and healthy hips. Those grey hairs are a little warning sign to take care!
The sun is the major source of Vitamin D that’s used in making strong bones and a deficiency of it is on the rise. Certain supplements and a healthy diet can help your body cope with the sun. The best source of Vitamin D is via sunlight as it may last twice in the bloodsteam than ingested Vitamin D.
Naturally orientated doctors will advise you to get 10-30 minutes of unfiltered sunlight on your skin every day. Sunbathing is a great way to get your vitamin D. And no need to go totally nude, just exposing your legs and arms is enough.
The human race has evolved in the sunshine (not underground caves). We are designed to work with sunlight. With the internet and Netflix, we’re all indoors way more than our ancestors. Kids live on Fortnite and Snapchat. When I was young we roamed the local neighbourhood on our bicycles or roller skates. We got plenty of sunlight, fresh air and exercise. Mom hung the sheets on the line to airdry. They smelt of sunshine.
The pandemic has meant we’re stuck indoors more. Gone are the trips to sunny destinations. The change to family structures and support systems has increased stress, anxiety and depression. Living in apartments or high rises and lack of open spaces is tough. We’re designed to be in the greenery of nature.
How to tan without burning
Sunbathing is a natural antidote to stress. When we sunbathe, we feel great… Apart from all the health benefits for bones, vision, heart and immunity.
So how do you maximise your sun baths? Here are some tips to help you make the most of the next round of sunshine:
- Sudden exposure to the sun for a long time will cause burning. The trick to do it in small doses.
- You can prepare your skin for extra sunlight exposure before a sunny holiday with vitamin E on the skin. A good tip if you work in an office and never see the sun except on weekends or holidays.
- There are chemical based sun creams (which my skin/pores still can’t stand the feel of) and natural options include titanium and zinc oxide (inorganic minerals) that reflect light away. They stay on the surface of the skin and are not absorbed.
- Argan, sesame, red raspberry, coconut do have inherent levels of SPF but cannot be relied on exclusively to prevent burning.
- A higher level of SPF does NOT provide significantly higher coverage or longer times of protection.
- There are clothes with inbuilt SPF eg swimsuits/rash vests – cover up the arms, back of the neck.
- Wear wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses.
- Stay in the shade when it’s scorching and have limited spells in the sunshine.
- Ease yourself into the light. Get your 10-30 minutes every day.
- Even in winter 10 minutes outdoors on an overcast day will give your body the full spectrum of light it needs. You might still need a lightbox if you suffer from SAD.
- #1 tip- Never ever fall asleep in the sun – this will burn. Promise me you won’t do this.
- Imitate those nations who live in sunny deserts and wear loose cotton clothing that covers the arms and legs. Merino wool also has SPF properties so is useful for travellers who need to dress for multiple weather zones. My favourite merino is Icebreaker from New Zealand.
- Your skin colour determines whether you have any inherent SPF (fair skin has zero) whereas dark skin has a natural SPF of up to 13. Which explains why your Celtic origin person fries within minutes of summer sunshine and it takes longer for Mediterranean or African origin folks to feel frazzled.
- And develop your intuition too to know when you need to be out in the fresh air getting sunlight, notice how your mood is affected, usually for the good.
- Notice how being stuck indoors/underground for too long you get a sense of cabin fever, raging appetite and affected sleep?
- Eat foods rich in lycopene such as (cooked) tomatoes, watermelon, hibiscus, rosehips and red peppers.
- Check your fatty acid balance – you may need supplementation with cod liver oil for the omega 3 and vitamin A content.
- New research shows that rosemary and grapefruit contain compounds that taken internally, offer protection against UV damage. It’s the naringin citrus bioflavonoid and rosemary polyphenols (rosmarinic acid, carnosic acid and carnosol). So even if sunscreen wears off from sweat or rubbing, by consuming supplements you can extend topical sun protection from within. (We’d suggest eating grapefruit and rosemary herb in the Summer!)
What to do for sunburn?
Sunlight is key to our wellbeing and all you need to is exercise some moderation and sensibility to get the benefits from it.
But if you do overdo it (and everybody does at some stage!) here are my go-to natural remedies. Stock up in advance. You can find them at your natural wholefoods stores as well as in large supermarkets.
- lavender essential oil,
- aloe vera gel, and
- homeopathic Cantharis & Belladonna.
You add drops of lavender to the aloe vera gel when you need to cool down hot skin. Add 3 drops of lavender to a Tablespoon of aloe vera gel. The homeopathic tablets you place under your tongue and they are suitable for young children too.
Another trick from my youth was adding a cup of ordinary vinegar (not your pricey Balsamic!) into a lukewarm/tepid bath. Soak in there. Your skin will be soothed. And no you don’t come out smelling like vinegar either. Not sure exactly how it works, but it does, trust me. If you’re on holiday, the local fish and chip shop may have vinegar sachets you can take back to your room.
If you know you’re going to be sun bathing, apply a Vitamin E cream to your skin several weeks before. You can also buy Vitamin E capsules and spread these on your body too. (If you cant find a cream with 10% vitamin E ask me to make you a Bespoke vitamin E cream. ) And for your face, look for products rich in rosehip seed such as this serum
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency NHS
According to the NHS, around 20% of adults and 8 to 24% of children in the UK may have low vitamin D levels.
Symptoms of low vitamin D include:
- Muscle pain
- Proximal muscle weakness
- Rib, hip, pelvis, thigh and foot pain are typical
- Rickets (in children) and osteomalacia in adults
- Depression and low mood
- Diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers
- Tiredness, weakness
- Weight gain
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects a large proportion of the population – and lack of sunlight affects mood and encourages us to overeat.
There are two types of vitamin D supplement available:
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol), usually made from sheep’s wool
- Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol), made from plants
My tip for coping with the seemingly endless Autumn-Winter dark and drabness of the UK is to buy a Light Box.
A Light Box is a gadget that emits up to 10,000 lux , like you would get if you were in sunny Africa or in Provence in mid-Summer.
The white light helps with
- Seasonal Affective Disorder,
- sleep difficulties and
- low mood
How to use your Light Box?
Set it up someplace you will be able to sit at. Maybe on a desk with a book or a journal. The white light is great for artists (watercolours, sketching) as well as dressmakers. You get perfect colours. Most household lightbulbs give that nasty yellow hue that hurts your eyes.
Begin using the light box for 30 minutes a day when the clocks change in October. (You can of course start earlier, but I find the clocks changing as a trigger, a reminder
Use the light box in the morning, its best to do it son after you wake up. If that’s not possible, set it up at your computer and use it in the morning or afternoon. Don’t use it at night as you need your body to start producing melatonin, not serotonin.
I’ve used the Philips Energy Light Original (no longer in production. I LOVED this
The Von Hause mini – bit small, but better than nothing
They are not cheap, but will last you many years of use.
Vitamin D psoriasis
Vitamin D can help many people with psoriasis. Some use a light box, others get outdoors into the sunshine. You can use topical creams and supplements.
Watch what you eat- cut out sugar, fast foods, alcohol and smoking. Eat eggs, fatty fish and cheese.
Switch to gentle natural skincare products made with plant botanicals rather than Vaseline based pharmacy gook that does not nourish your skin.
Botanical extracts that are soothing to psoriasis include, argan, marula, borage, black currant and hemp.
Phototherapy for eczema
Many eczema sufferers have managed to ease or eradicate their condition by changing their diet and using Vitamin supplements in particular vitamin D.
A 69 year old Texan woman suffered from eczema for her whole life until she started taking Vitamin D.
Lutein and quercetin are also important. (See what was written earlier on in the blog post about food sources of these)
Vitamin D cream
You can look for creams that contain
- Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol), usually made from sheep’s wool
- Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol), made from plants
Sun baths and sunscreen
If you enjoy getting natural Vitamin D from sun baths, be sure to use a mineral based sunscreen on those parts of your body that don’t normally see the sunshine.
Why? Chemical-based sunscreens soak into your skin, and can cause allergic reactions. In contrast, mineral based sunscreens sit on top of your skin and reflect the sun’s rays. Mineral-based sunscreens are also kinder to the oceans and reef life.
Can lack of vitamin D cause weight gain?
Yes. Sunlight has a positive effect on more than your bones. Overeating during winter is a common issue. Get yourself a Light Box to boost your mood. Sunlight is good for you and your skin. It improves sleep, mood and recovery from illness.
Here are ways to get more sun into your life:
- Do some exercise outdoors every day, even if it’s just going for a walk.
- Wake up at a regular time and open the curtains as soon as you get up.
- Change where you sit so you’re closer to a window. Even a small distance can have a dramatic effect on light levels.
- Use dimmer light in the evenings. You can even buy colour-changing bulbs so you can benefit from blue-light during the day and warm-coloured light in the evenings.
- Listen to your body and go to bed when you start feeling sleepy.
- Use blackout blinds to block the light from street lamps.
- Cut down on your screen time before bed.
It sounds obvious but just go outside as much as you can.
References : https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(09)00866-3/pdf