Many people have the custom to wish others “a good summer” right after Pesach. Summer brings to mind outdoor activities, such as swimming and playing outside. And of course, these pleasurable activities take place under the sun. We have all heard that too much sun is harmful to your skin, but did you know that the right balance of sunlight can have lots of mood-lifting benefits?
Sunlight and nighttime darkness cause different hormones to release in your body. Sunlight is thought to trigger the release of serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel calm and focused, and boosts your mood. Nighttime darkness triggers melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.
You may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), now known as depression with seasonal pattern. This is a form of depression that happens in the winter, with limited sun exposure, which drops your natural serotonin levels. The symptoms include sleepiness and lethargy, weight gain, and low motivation. When sunlight enters through the eye, it goes to special cells located in the retina, and serotonin is released. If you are indoors a lot, or spend your winters in a cold climate with shorter days, you may experience this drop in serotonin and have this type of depression. One of the treatments is light therapy (phototherapy), which uses a special ultraviolet (UV) light that mimics natural sunlight. Sunlight can also help people with other forms of depression, pregnancy-related depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, panic disorder, and anxiety-related disorders.
The sun gives off different types of radiation. The ultraviolet B (UVB) absorbed by the skin causes one to create vitamin D. Thirty minutes of sun exposure without any sunscreen gives the average Caucasian (white) person about 50,000 international units (IU). Vitamin D gathers in the cells of the intestines and aids calcium and phosphorus absorption. This helps to control the flow of calcium in and out of the bones. Without enough vitamin D, bones cannot form properly. This deficiency is called rickets, a disease found in children, which causes the skeleton to be deformed, including the characteristic bowed legs. Low vitamin D levels are linked to bone-wasting diseases, like osteoporosis and osteomalacia, which are painful and can be found in both men and women.
Excess sunlight does contribute to skin cancer, but there are ways to enjoy the sun and receive its benefits. There is research proving that people who live in places with little sunlight may be more likely to be diagnosed with other cancers, including colon, ovarian, Hodgkin’s, and prostate cancer.
Sun or light exposure can help with some skin conditions including:
· Some types of acne
Sun or light therapy can help, but please consult your dermatologist about your specific skin concerns.
Sunlight and Moderation
Too much radiation from the sun can lead to skin damage, and even more frightening, skin cancer. There is no exact measurement of how long one should stay in the sun to gain the benefits of sunlight. Excess sun exposure depends on the type of skin someone has and how direct the sun’s rays are. The lighter your skin tone, the more likely you are to burn if you go outside when the sun’s rays are more direct, between 10 AM and 4 PM. The World Health Organization states that getting at least 5 to 15 minutes of sunlight on your hands, arms, and face 2 to 3 times a week is enough to obtain the vitamin D boost from the sun. Please note that the sun must penetrate the skin. This means that for this short time, having your skin protected will not give you the vitamin D production. If you plan to stay outside in the sun for more than 15 minutes, make sure to protect your skin! Below are tips of how to apply sunscreen:
Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Make sure it gives broad spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Some people have a sensitivity to chemical sunscreens, which can cause them to break out into a rash. Please use a physical sunscreen, such as zinc oxide, in these cases.
Do not be skimpy when applying sunscreen. Ensure you have good coverage. Use about a plastic-shot-glass-worth of sunscreen for your face and exposed body. Make sure to put sunscreen on your neck, ears, legs, and the tops of your feet when you are wearing sandals. If your back will be exposed, get someone to help you put sunscreen there as well. Sunscreen also takes about 15 minutes to work. The best way to get sufficient sunlight for vitamin D production is to put on sunscreen just before leaving the house. While the sunscreen is settling on the skin, sunlight can still get through, and you will receive the vitamin D you need. By the time the 15 minutes are up, you are now protected and have already gotten your D! If you go swimming or sweat heavily, remember to apply sunscreen every 2 hours.
Enjoy the sun this summer responsibly!