Suns out, guns out (Part 2)

Part two of how to build a more beneficial relationship with the sun.

The HOW

In the previous article we discussed why getting larger doses of sunlight is critical to flourishing health and how it directly benefits many aspects of our everyday lives and experiences of well-being, including:

  • Improving sleep quality and quantity;
  • Increasing daytime wakefulness;
  • Improving immune function (including prevention and healing of autoimmune disease);
  • Up regulating cardiovascular health;
  • Balancing emotional well-being;
  • Promoting skin health and vibrancy;
  • Improving gut health and intestinal permeability;
  • Strengthening bones and teeth;
  • Improving thyroid function;
  • Increasing muscle tone;
  • Is necessary for normal cell division;
  • Relaxes nerves;
  • Supports eye health;
  • Regulates and balances hormones;
  • Reduces risk of cancer; and
  • Increases longevity!

“Vitamin D is designed to course through the body and facilitate various body functions. It repairs organs, boosts immune function, lowers insulin levels, reduces blood pressure, boosts neuromuscular functioning, and interacts with more than 2,000 genes…(along with vitamin K2) is essential for proper adsorption of calcium and other minerals into bones and teeth. It promotes efficient neuromuscular functioning and plays a role in anti-inflammatory processes.” Nadine Artemis (2017) Renegrade Beauty: Reveal and Revive Your Natural Radiance.

Cool, but how much sunlight is enough?

Well the answer is ‘it depends’ but for perspective think about the relationship our ancient ancestors would have had with the sun and how much of their lives where outside. This framing gives us an idea about how much sun we evolved to get and how our ancient biology is no longer being supported by our lives the way it once was. Even those with heritage from parts of the world with less direct sun would have generally experienced greater exposure then we currently do (generally speaking).

Now with our increasingly indoor lives and sun ‘protection’ practices, we get only a fraction of the regular sunlight we used to get. Our biology is mismatched to our current lifestyles, we simply need more outdoor time to fully activate that biology. Time to rethink our approach perhaps!

If the thought of getting out in the sun without protection has you running for the darkest corner of your house clutching your aloe vera, fear not, there is a way for you too…keep reading!

What is next…

So how do we go about getting more light in our lives and find a balance that is right for each of our individual bodies?

  1. Learn YOUR skin’s needs
  • It IS important not to get burnt so you need to work out what the edges of your sun tolerance are currently and start gently from there. This might mean for some starting with getting only your lower legs and forearms out in the sun for five minutes a day. We will need to start where we are at. This is about building not burning.
  • Getting smaller doses of sun more often is a good approach. Build up slowly and watch how your skin reacts. Be mindful and learn about your skin. You are your own science experiment. It’s your skin after all, learn how it works.
  • Know that much of our ‘sun-damaged’ skin actually comes from within! Rancid vegetable oils, inflammatory foods, processed foods, emotional stress, gut destroying pesticides on our foods etc. all wreak havoc on our bodies, our guts and our skin.
  • A useful rough guide to start with is to get enough sunlight to create a light pinkness in skin tone (this roughly creates around 20,000 IU of vitamin D in your system). Of course if you know ‘light pink’ means ‘burn’ later on then pare it back.
  • Get some help to learn about your skin in relationship to the sun, in your location, at different times of the day and year. I used the D Minder app to learn about the sun and UV ratings in my location, over the course of each day, season and weather type. The app then references this information against my skin type to give me vitamin D estimates as well as warning of likely time of burning. Useful stuff. Once you have some lived experience with this though you won’t need the app. You will have your body wisdom and knowledge of the season and sun to draw on. This knowledge is even more useful.
  1. Build a base tan
  • Gradually building a healthy base tan (yes I said healthy) for your skin type will increase your melanin, increasing your natural sun protection and decreasing your need for sticky sunscreen (and perfect for reducing burn risk in summer)! That will look different for everyone.
  • Spring is the perfect time to start gently.
  • I haven’t worn sunscreen for over two years now and I very rarely burn and not at all in the last two years. Why, because my skin starts tanning in winter, builds during spring and by the time summer hits I’m primed with my own built in sun protection.
  • Please note however that I am conscious around my sun exposure and when I have that feeling in my skin that says ‘I’m on the edge’ I seek out shade and cover up with clothes.
  1. Skin type and age factors: The lighter your skin tone the less exposure to sun is required to get vitamin D (good news my light skinned friends). Another factor to know is that aging decreases our ability to produce vitamin D via sunlight. For example a 70-year old has a 70% reduced ability to produce vitamin D compared to her 20-year old.
  1. Get unfiltered sunlight on your skin:
  • No windows, no sunscreen, no sunglasses, just you and the sun (wear a hat if you want to shade your eyes).
  • UVA (a longer light wave) is not well filtered by sunscreen or glass and in isolation it has greater photo damaging effects. UVB (a shorter light wave) on the other hand is what is filtered out by most sunscreens and glass and is the critical ingredient for the creation of vitamin D. You need to get both to get the right balance.
  • Note also UVA is highest in morning and evening sun so for vitamin D creation the morning to solar noon is most effective and least photo damaging. Of course middle of the day summer in Australia is pretty intense so work out what you need around this.
  • Sunglasses will block development of vitamin D by stopping the retina from signally the body to release the needed messages for vitamin D synthetisation. Wear a hat instead, it builds more resilient vision and supports the body to harmonise with the sun. Our eyes actually need sunlight too.
  1. Cover up, don’t smother up: Use clothes and shade to moderate your sun exposure, rather than relying on sunscreen. Use natural sunscreens (or make your own) only when necessary for your skin (not as a default choice). More often than not we don’t need as much sunscreen as we are putting on (often it can be a fear reflex rather than a conscious decision). Seriously rethink the need for sunscreen use in winter and early spring. When choosing a natural sunscreen look for one with zinc oxide as the active blocking ingredient and make sure it is uncoated, non-nanoparticles zinc oxide as this blocks and reflects the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them. Read labels.
  1. Eat your sunscreen
  • As mentioned what we ingest can determine how our skin interacts with the sun and well-nourished skin responds better to sunlight. Foods rich in colour and with thin skins (such as strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and blueberries) have natural sun protective compounds which they will share with you when you eat them. Plants rich in chlorophyll (such as spinach, kale or seaweed) can actually amplify the benefits of our sun time and better protect our skin.
  • Organic food is the best option here as any pesticide on your food may mitigate the positive benefits and reduce the nutrient availability.
  • Avoid vegetable oils not only because they are inflammatory but also because they can oxidise on the skin with sunlight exposure and cause weird pigmentation issues, age spots, increased likelihood of burns and increase photo aging effects.
  1. Heal and seal the skin: Use beneficial botanicals and essential oils to improve the quality of your skin and support your skin while it is in the sun. They aren’t like SPF 30 but oils such as virgin coconut, jojoba, olive and seabuckhorn can gently extend our time in the sun. Raspberry seed oil is a really good choice as it absorbs both UVB and UBC rays and scatters UVA (it is reported as being a effective as an SPF 20). Aloe Vera and jojoba mixed with peppermint and lavender have a cooling effect and promote healing if you do get a bit red.
  1. Suns out, tums out
  • When you are ready to, get your full torso in the sun, as it is both a larger surface for absorption and areas such as the torso have greater vit D creation potential when compared to hands, feet, face, arms and legs.
  • I actually recommend building up to complete all over sun time (it doesn’t have to be for long). It is a great health practice but also a beautiful way to start accepting and loving your whole body. Check out the hashtag #nakedsuntime for some inspiration.
  1. Skip the shower: After you have had a good sun soak don’t undo it all by having a shower. The chemicals in our water (chlorine and fluoride) will wash away the hormones and neurochemicals that are beginning to synthesised vitamin D under your skin (a river or the ocean are fine though). Leave it for as long as possible to get the most benefit (24 hours is optimum).
  1. Stock up: Winter is coming…ok not for a while but we can actually store additional vitamin D in our liver for the darker months (and the myriad of cold and flus it brings which are minimised by a stronger, sunlight infused, immune system stocked up on vit D). So get into it now while it is warm and experience the benefits when there is less sun available.

So let’s get outside a bit more, get our skin out a little more, maybe frolick a little and enjoy the experience of health that comes from this!

See you out there!

Amber

Further resources (additional resources listed in part one of this article)