Find out how much sunlight you need in order to enjoy the positive health effects and avoid the negative ones.
By now, we are (hopefully) all aware that too much exposure to sun is bad for us, because it can cause skin cancer, skin aging, immune suppression and eye diseases such as cataracts.
However, going too far in the other direction is also bad. Avoiding sunshine causes vitamin D deficiency, and that can lead to diabetes, TB, multiple sclerosis and rickets.
Vitamin D is essential for regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorous, which keep the bones strong. We get small quantities of this vitamin from food such as fatty fish (herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon and tuna), beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. It is also added to dairy products and juices, the so-called “fortified” produce. However, most of our needs for vitamin D, 80 to 90 percent, have to be manufactured by our bodies through exposure to sunlight.
And while vitamin D is available as a supplement, one should be aware that 1) it can be highly toxic in this form, so it is necessary to stick to the recommended dosage; and 2) some studies suggest that taking vitamin D in the form of a supplement just does not do it.
Although point number 2 is not something all experts agree on, the fact remains that sun exposure is an easy, reliable and affordable way for most people to get vitamin D. (Plus, you can’t overdose on vitamin D generated from sunlight.)
So, how does one strike a balance and get enough vitamin D without picking up skin cancer (and too many wrinkles) in the process?
Normally, it is enough to expose your sunscreen-free hands, arms, and legs to sunlight two to three times a week for about one-fourth of the time it would take your skin to develop a mild sunburn. For fair-skinned people, this is about 20 to 25 minutes. The exact time varies with age, skin type, season, time of day, and so on, so some experimentation is recommended.
Of course, there’s no rule against lifting your face in the direction of the sun too, but if you are worried about sun spots, wrinkles and leathery skin (and who isn’t), you might want to apply a sunscreen and keep a hat on at all times.
Our bodies are able to store vitamin D in fatty layers and then release it when sunlight is gone. A week of casual sunlight exposure without sunscreen can make up for a month and a half of no sunlight.
The benefits of sun exposure are meant to be enjoyed in moderation. The basic rule is: do not shun the sun, but don’t fry either!