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Here Comes the Sun: Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure

Here Comes the Sun: Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure

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The sun.... that ball of fire in the sky around which our galaxy revolves.  It warms our planet, nourishes its vegetation, determines our seasons, signals the beginning and end of each day, and even influences our moods.  Humanity's love of and dependence on the sun has been evident in the reflections of sages, mystics, and poets throughout history, and it remains clear in modern-day songs such as "House of the Rising Sun," "Black Hole Sun,"  "Here Comes the Sun," "A Raisin in the Sun," and "Walking on the Sun." 

However, despite our love affair with the sun, risks of overexposure to its rays are causing many to trade sunbathing for indoor hibernation.  While avoiding UV damage is essential to our health, we do need to get some sun in order to gain vital nutrients.  Are there ways to minimize the risks of UV exposure and still have fun in the sun?

Good Day Sunshine - Benefits of Sun Exposure

The skin and the sun's rays work together to produce vitamin D in the body.  When the sun's UV rays come into contact with the skin, DNA molecules quickly convert more than 99.9 percent of the rays' energy into harmless heat.  Meanwhile, UV rays stimulate the skin's production of vitamin D, which is essential for immune response, mood stability, and bone health.  In fact, inadequate doses of vitamin D have been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), osteomalacia (a softening of the bones because of defective bone mineralization), and, intriguingly, increased premature cancer mortality.  A study by the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo, Norway found that higher vitamin D intake has a protective effect against some cancers.  The study also found that vitamin D improves a cancer patient's prognosis; people who get more sun exposure are more likely to develop skin cancer but are less likely to die from other cancers.

A Raisin in the Sun - When Sun Exposure Becomes Risky

Despite its benefits, UV exposure is risky.  Too much sunbathing can cause the skin to age prematurely and develop fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots.  Worse, over the course of 30 or 40 years of overexposure to UV, the skin cells can respond by mutating into cancerous cells or by combining with surrounding cells to form free radicals.  These effects are becoming increasingly apparent; according to a report by the AARP, between 40 and 50 percent of Americans who live to the age of 65 will have skin cancer at least once.

Skin Care for Fun in the Sun

The bottom line is that, while precautions must be taken, getting a little sun is essential to good health.  To avoid sun damage without foregoing your sun-loving ways, soak up the sun in 15-minute doses and avoid exposure when UV rays are most intense (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).  Be sure to wear clothing that covers the skin, a wide-brimmed hat, and plenty of sun block (SPF 15 or higher).  And, most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

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