For many years, we have been told that sunscreen is an essential product to use if you are spending any amount of time in the sun, because the sun exposure might increase your risk of cancer. But, additional research has shown that avoiding the sun might actually increase your risk of cancer. If you want to protect your health and avoid cancer, then a reasonable amount of sun exposure is actually beneficial.
Why Sunlight is BeneficialWhen you spend time in the sun, it replenishes the Vitamin D supply within the body, which can have an impact on many other aspects of overall health. Many people are suffering from Vitamin D deficiencies, mainly because they don't spend enough time, without sunscreen, in direct sunlight. To help you understand the importance of Vitamin D for health, you need to understand that Vitamin D helps with the regulation of over 1,000 genes within the body. Some of these genes affect your immune system and metabolic functions, which can have a direct impact on the development of disease and illness.
Types of Cancer Affected By UV ExposureUV exposure occurs when you spend time in the sun, and it has been found that malignant melanoma might be associated with too much sun exposure for people who eat a diet low in antioxidants. Even though high UV exposure is linked with malignant melanoma, it has also been found that sun exposure might actually increase the survival rates of people who have early-stage melanoma. The truth is that most melanoma growths occur on the areas of the body with the least exposure to the sun. At the same time, it is possible that other cancers might have a higher risk of development if you don't get enough sun exposure. For example, people at higher latitudes are more likely to be diagnosed with breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, and colon cancers.
How Much Sun Do You Need?Just because sun exposure might be beneficial to reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, doesn't mean that you should spend all your time in the sun without protection. It is important to avoid sunburn, and at the same time ensure that your skin is directly exposed to the sun each day. In the beginning, start with 5 minutes of sun exposure at a time, and gradually you can increase the amount of time that you are spending in the sun. When the skin begins to turn pink it is time to get out of the sun. Many experts suggest a middle ground approach for sun exposure, and the recommendations vary among health professionals. The best approach is short, repeated exposure to the sun instead of risking sunburn and increased damage from long sun exposure. Here are some tips for getting the right amount of sun exposure:
- Sun exposure needs to be on exposed skin to receive the benefits. Covered skin doesn't do any good, so be aware of your clothing when you are outside.
- African Americans may need up to 10 times more exposure depending on the darkness of their skin.
- If using sunscreen, beware as most are full of chemicals. Look for one that blocks UVA. Vitamin D is made from UVB so we don’t want to completely block UVB. Ensure your sunscreen is chemical free.
- The best defense is a good, healthy diet rich in antioxidants from whole fruits and vegetables. You are much less likely to burn when you are following a healthy diet, because the body has what it needs to protect itself when fed properly.
- Supplementation is important especially in winter months, northern climates and in generally overcast locations like Seattle. Consider adding a high quality Vitamin D3 supplement if you don't spend much time in direct sunlight. You should strive to maintain blood levels of vitamin D at 50 to 80 ng/ml