Healthy, responsible sun exposure is just as important as nutrition, exercise, and clean water when it comes to optimal well-being and vibrant health - I consider it an essential nutrient!
The key to healthy sun exposure is avoiding sun burns. With proper nutrition, natural skin care, and gradually increasing sun exposure at the beginning of summer you'll set yourself up for healthy glowing skin all summer!
We have evolved with the sun, so it doesn't make sense to avoid it like the plague, or to put extremely harmful chemicals on our skin in the form of sunscreens. People can be prone to skin cancer not from sun exposure, but because they are lacking nutrients - especially vitamin D and antioxidants - as well as inadequate nutrition, getting too many sun burns, and a less than optimal immune system functioning.
Tips for Healthy Sun Exposure:
1. Eat your fruits and veggies! Especially those with orange and red pigments. These pigments are powerful antioxidants and help your body produce more melanin - the pigment responsible for our skin colour. Melanin is produced from the oxidation of the amino acid tyrosine, so loading up antioxidants mitigates any negative effects of the tyrosine oxidation.
2. Natural Skin Care. If you wouldn't eat it, don't put it on your skin! Our skin is our largest organ –– we absorb what we put on our skin. The chemicals in conventional sunscreen are some of the most toxic ingredients we can come in contact with, but people have such fear of the sun that they don't think twice about covering their bodies in sunscreen (regardless of the ingredients). Moisturizers are not much better - best to choose organic and natural sunscreens or a natural sun block with zinc oxide.
To find out which sunscreens and skin care products are the safest please visit the EWG's website Skin Deep.
3. Gradual Sun Exposure. If you have quite fair skin it is best to gradually build up a tolerance to the sun in early summer. You are less likely to burn if you gradually expose yourself to the sun. Best times to begin are early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is not as strong. For prolonged periods of sun exposure it is a good idea to use natural sunscreens, seek shade, or cover up.
4. Sufficient Vitamin D! If you live somewhere that is not sunny all year round it is a good idea to take a vegan vitamin D3 supplement during the cloudy winter months. In the summer months we can get enough from healthy sun exposure, so if you find you are not outside that often you may want to continue with supplementation all year round. The darker your skin the more sun exposure you will need to make enough vitamin D. Vitamin D has many functions in the body, including immune system health. A healthy, strong immune system is essential for keeping cancer cells under control - destroying them before they become an issue.
5. Avoid sunburns. A healthy diet and responsible sun exposure will help prevent burns. A burn is your bodies way of telling you it was not able to produce enough melanin to protect from the UV rays. Eat more antioxidants, and use natural sunscreen if you are prone to burning.
What about wrinkles?! Again, I believe that if we are healthy and nourished from the inside out, our skin is more able to handle sun exposure without getting premature wrinkles. It is more important to stay hydrated, reduce chemical exposure, and eat a diet rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, and raw, plant-based foods.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.