Th​​e Power of Sun: Why you should go for a daily dose of sunlight

Date: 08/05/2022

The sun-phobia these days is real. Stay out of the sun, always cover up! Yet, while this fear has a ton of basis in fact – there are certainly enough links out there between melanoma and sun exposure to warrant the worry – staying entirely away from the sun can have its own negative effects on our mood, sleeps cycles, skin health, and much more. 

Because I am such a big believer in the power of sunlight as a medicine, I want to take a strong stance against full sun avoidance. We must protect our skin, yes, but we must also balance the risks of sun exposure with the rewards. And if the research I’ve discovered while reading is correct, the overall benefits of daily sunlight far outweigh the potential risks of malignancies due to UV rays. 

To combat today’s penchant for sun-phobia then, I want to focus on the benefits of daily sunlight exposure for our bodies and minds. There are 101 reasons why we as humans, who are accustomed to the natural light rhythms of the sun, should practice ‘safe sunning’ in ways that don’t entirely depend on the chemical compounds of sunscreen. 

It’s not that I don’t believe in sunscreen of course – I’ve written a whole article discussing which options are best for my health and skin-conscious readers out there. It is simply that I want to encourage reduced barriers between our skin and the sun at every possible opportunity! 

As always then, enjoy the article below as I share with you all the reasons why I think you should think of sunlight as a medicine, and how healthy sunlight exposure has been proven to provide disease-preventing benefits to those who have always sunned safely. 

I’ll try to answer the questions that come to mind when I think about the benefits of sunlight, but if you are curious to learn more don’t hesitate to reach out through Instagram…I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Different Kinds of Light: Sunlight vs. Electric Light

Before we start thinking about the benefits of sunlight specifically, I want to quickly reinforce the small difference between sunlight or natural light, and electric light. According to popular research in the area, over the last 200 years the way we are exposed to light has changed drastically thanks to the introduction of electric lights. In fact, some studies infer that this change in exposure (reduced natural light and increased artificial light) to a more intermittent schedule of sunning is a primary cause of skin cancer, as opposed to sun exposure alone. 

This difference is therefore significant since there are a ton of light therapies out there which focus on electric light exposure—albeit these are usually targeted for those who do not have a ton of sun access. And while I would never denounce the proven success of electric light therapies, and even though daylight can be mimicked by electric lighting, I agree with this article which says, “it has not been demonstrated that all the diverse holistic positive outcomes associated with daylight can be reproduced artificially”.

Knowing the importance of electric light advancements then – it is certainly only with the invention of the light bulb that therapies were created to harness UV light to accomplish modern medicinal feats in dermatology, immunology, or neonatology – I nevertheless want to focus in this article on the specific benefits of natural UV light from the sun. 

Indeed, natural light or sun therapies were applied as traditional medicinal treatments in Hindu, Chinese, and Egyptian cultures as early as the 15th century B.C. Imagine, then, that we’re simply going back in time to the natural source of these therapies for the remainder of this discussion—to encourage a love of (and gratitude for) the sunlight we have access to, as opposed to purely electric forms of light therapy that nevertheless find their own benefits when sun access is limited.

The Power of Sun: How sunlight positively impacts our bodies and minds

Why do I love the sunlight so much? Because sunshine doesn’t just help our bodies, it helps our minds as well. We can use the sunshine to fill up our souls with light and brightness. We can close our eyelids and allow the warmth of it to wash over us. As I’ve learned, sunshine and sunlight exposure can improve our moods, our health, our immune systems, and even our eye-sight! 

I mean, I recently learned from one study that regular exposure to UV rays can (perhaps paradoxically) lead to an almost complete disappearance of DNA damage in the layers of skin where skin cancer initiates. 

With so much power to absorb, it’s no wonder I’ve become such an avid believer in the healing power of the sun’s energy—especially since a lot can happen if you don’t get enough sunlight every day!

Not sure you’re quite a sun-believer yet? Here are four more great reasons to share your gratitude daily with the power of the sun:

  1. The sun motivates vitamin D production and disease prevention
  2. The sun improves our mental health
  3. The sun helps us sleep better
  4. The sun helps improve our vision

The sun motivates vitamin D production and disease prevention

Did you know that around 90% of all the vitamin D we create each day requires sunlight as its main ingredient?

That’s right! Although we can get a lot of vitamin D from supplements and natural foods, the largest portion of usable vitamin D in our bodies is created thanks to sunlight action. 

In particular, healthy sunlight exposure to UV rays supports the production and metabolization of vitamin D3, which itself is an incredible compound supporting bone health, and the prevention of deficiencies commonly associated with the risk of deadly cancers, MS, heart diseases, and diabetes. 

The disease prevention attributes of sunlight exposure are therefore directly linked to vitamin D deficiency—itself a source of illness among children and adults alike. Not only does vitamin D deficiency cause painful osteoporosis and increased risk of osteomalacia, it has also been connected to several independent diseases including “various types of bone cancer, bone diseases, autoimmune diseases, and hypertension”. 

As a result, the capacity to supplement vitamin D intake and metabolization through daily sunlight exposure has almost endless benefits. Add to that recent associations between sunlight and the formation of important hormones like melatonin, serotonin, endorphin, and nitric oxide, and you begin to truly see the power of the sun when it comes to sustaining healthy vitamin levels and preventing diseases caused by a lack of vitamin D. 

There is, for example, growing evidence that regular exposure and not intermittent exposure –  which can actually have negative effects – to natural sunlight confers a lower risk of skin cancer for European populations. Moreover, melanoma incidence rates have been associated with low total outdoor sun exposure in early adulthood! 

The sun improves our mental health and mood

Yet another benefit to natural light exposure is improvements to mental health and mood. Think of how you feel on a bright day compared to a dark one—or the way it feels to bask in the sunlight on a day off with no worries in the world. The sun can bring us a healthy joy for life and light that is more than skin deep! 

Indeed, sun exposure (particularly when paired with exercise) positively affects serotonin production in the brain. The amount of serotonin produced was correlated with the amount of luminosity as well. Since serotonin is a known ‘upper’ for humans, the relationship between serotonin production and sunlight exposure is of particular importance when it comes to prevalent seasonal disorders, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), whereby shorter, darker days produce feelings of sadness and loss of energy. 

Interestingly, two important paths to preventing or reducing the effects of SAD are natural light therapy and vitamin D, in addition to counseling and antidepressant medication (where necessary). Morning walks for outdoor light exposure have, for example, been known to improve cortisol levels more so than artificial light therapies per the treatment of seasonal disorders!  

Aside from seasonal destabilizations, the sun’s light can have a direct impact on IL-6 levels, an agent that has been ‘implicated in the pathology of depression’ in clinical and community samples. Human subjects have therefore been able to reduce depressive symptoms to a significant degree, simply with increased exposure to direct sunlight. 

The sun helps us sleep better

This is no fad diet trick: daily natural sunlight exposure is positively correlated with sleep-phase regulation. For example, this study talks about the positive relationship between sleep and sun. Based on their results, sun exposure groups in their study “showed positive sleep-related hormonal responses, sleep habits, [and] quality of sleep, indicating that sun exposure or exercise with sun exposure may improve the physical status and quality of life”. 

The sleep-regulating capacity of the sun is (like the other reasons in this list) largely due to hormone regulation: in this case, melatonin. Again, the study above highlights the known relationship between sun and sleep, as well as the relationship between sun exposure and melatonin production. Here, “changes in melatonin secretion” have continued to “improve quality of sleep” across replicated trials.

Translation? The more sun we get during the day, the better we as humans sleep during the night! 

The sun supports eye health

Eye health is just one of the many reasons I felt it was important to differentiate between artificial light and natural light earlier on. And while some eye conditions (like myopia) have been attributed to screen exposure and exposure to unnatural light specifically, newer studies out there have noted how indoor behaviors for screen-watching folk can keep people inside…and out of the sun

Strong correlations were found between current eyesight and…lifetime exposure to sunlight, above all UVB radiation (which is responsible for burning). Those who had gotten the most sun, particularly between the ages of 14 and 19, were about 25 percent less likely to have developed myopia by middle age. Exposure to sunlight up to the age of 30 also conferred a protective benefit. This relationship held true even when the researchers controlled for education as a marker primarily of time spent reading and gazing at screens.” 

In other words, the lack of direct sunlight may be causing vision impairments in the human eye!  

The importance of this topic is especially relevant when we consider sunglasses and protective eyewear. Your eyes can burn just as easily as your skin, and prolonged sun exposure without safe sunning practice is not something you want to toy with if you like your vision. 

The challenge is balancing eye safety with direct sun exposure. You’ll find a ton of advocates out there for going completely sunglasses free–but in my cursory research I have found no direct benefits on not using sunglasses to protect your eyes, particularly in high sun, or high reflective environments. 

What I did find, however, are theories that wearing sunglasses early in the day may interfere with normal photoreceptor activity, thereby disrupting circadian clocks that factor into sleep, appetite, and other behaviors. As a result, researchers suggest going without sunglasses until about 9 to 10 a.m.

Even though the benefits of direct sun exposure where our skin, eyes, body, and mental health are concerned are significant, we still have to be wary of getting too much of a good thing. So while I know it’s important to keep the conversation going about the benefits of good sun health, and the advantages of daily sunlight exposure to natural light, it’s also critical that I speak out about general sun safety, and the risks of overexposure

The Risks of Sun Exposure: Why you should always practice sun safety

While I do speak to some of the risks of prolonged sun exposure in a recent article on sunscreen and SPF, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Just because the sun is good for us in moderation, doesn’t mean we should throw caution to the wind. 

So, before I let you in on the best ways to safely enjoy the benefits of natural sunlight, I’ll quickly summarize three of the major risks of long-term sun exposure to humans, plus share with you a chart from this article that explores the risks, implications, and effects of overexposure to sunlight: 

  • Sunlight is hard on your skin, and through photoaging (a combination of age and sun), UVA rays penetrate deeply to damage skin cell membranes and the DNA inside. 
  • Sunlight exposure has been positively associated with unfavorable skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, varicose veins, dry skin, wrinkles, and even oral lesions–meaning that less exposure to sun would have preventative benefits in these areas. 
  • Most dermatologists agree that sun exposure is directly correlated to DNA damage, free radical generation from UV rays, and immune system suppression in humans…all dangerous pre-cursors to skin cancer. 

How to practice sun safety in every season

With the risks of overexposure so great, there are a few things you can do to practice good sun-safety, while still reducing the barriers between you and the loving sunshine you’re after. 

This is not to say that I don’t recommend sunglasses and sunscreen. I always say to wear a hat, long sleeves, and to find a good shaded spot if you plan to be out for a while. I also know just how important it is to buy the right sunglasses–since there are a ton of cheap brands out there that do not provide adequate sun protection for your eyes, and from what I hear, can even make sun damage worse. 

The idea then, is to find ways that you can enjoy sun moments to their fullest, without risking a sun ‘overdose’ (no one wants heat stroke!). To help, here are my top five tips to practicing sun safety, while still getting the full benefits of the most natural sunlight possible. 

5 tips to safely enjoying the sun

  • Never sun-bathe during peak sun hours. Head out in the early morning or just before sunset for golden hour. Not only are these the most beautiful times of day, but by going out early or late, we also avoid harmful and hot sunshine that can cause sunburns before we realize.
  • Find a natural spot away from windows, buildings, or other reflective objects. This is no time for second-hand sun! Go as far away as possible from reflective buildings or objects, and try your best to surround yourself with nature. Go outside wherever possible…it’s likely you’ll be able to find a cool spot quickly if the sun becomes too bright. 
  • Enjoy a cloudy day. A lot of the sun’s wonderful rays still get through major cloud cover, but not as much as usual. This is a great sign for those who are heat or light sensitive, since going out on a cloudy day means extra time in the sun’s protection. You get to soak up all the hormone and vitamin producing benefits, without getting blinded by the light! 
  • Don’t over-indulge Sometimes, when we have a great morning basking in direct sunlight, we get lulled into a false sense of security about how long we can be in the sun before it becomes dangerous. If you start to question whether you should put on a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, or a long shirt, then it’s probably time to get yourself into shade-mode! You don’t want to pay for all your hard work with a bad burn that lasts.
  • Winter sun is important too! Don’t forget that winter sun still helps you metabolize and process vitamin D, so practicing your sun-loving behavior every month of the year is a must. If it’s too cold to step out without sleeves, lifting your face to the sky can still do the trick! 

Hint: Wondering how long you should stay in the sun? This article on sensible sun exposure advises five to ten minutes of exposure on arms and legs, hands, and face two to three times a week. This was enough to improve vitamin D sufficiency in study participants! 

Light and Gratitude: Sun-loving moments for your mental health

I could talk a lot more about my love for the sun (and I just might in future articles!), but for now, I want to leave you with the encouragement to go out and not just find the sun, but to appreciate it…and yourself! 

That’s right: I’m talking about sun meditations and sun gratitude practice. These are the non-scientific (but just as biological) aspects of our sun-basking that we can incorporate daily that fill us with a sense of alignment, and even enlightenment! Now that you know all the true and real benefits of letting yourself experience the wonder of the sun without blocks, you’ll be able to practice sun-loving and self-loving without worrying too much about the risks. 

But what is sun meditation? How do you do it? 

I love this question because there are so many ways to meditate, and most of the time I encourage people to follow their instincts. However, if I was to put to words the way that I take time to enjoy my sun moments – if I am alone and not out with my dog, husband, or friends – I do the following: 

  • Make myself comfortable in a patch of sun. I am usually settled on a step, bench, or grassy area outside and away from the house. 
  • Set my timer for about 10 minutes.
  • I close my eyes and lift my head, letting the heat and warmth wash over my face. I watch the colors change on the back of my eyelids. 
  • I take a big breath, and stretch, settling back into myself. I become highly aware of the sounds around me, of the birds and leaves and distant city. 
  • I concentrate on the sun’s effects on me, blocking out the rest of my day: the worries, the plans, the to-dos. I allow my mind to turn soft, to blank canvas. 
  • I sit there in focus until the timer goes off. My alarm is a gentle sound, so it does not disturb me. I can take my time opening my eyes without rushing to turn it off. 
  • I observe the effect of opening my eyes to a sun-filled world. I watch how the gold makes everything brilliant, how the heat makes the colors of my garden shine more brightly than I can sometimes believe. 
  • Then I get up, brush myself off, and thank the sun one more time before welcoming my day back to me until the next sun appreciation moment. 

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 

It really is a peaceful practice that can be done almost anywhere, anytime–outside of peak sun hours. Sometimes I’ll do it in the moments between clouds parting, or when the sun comes out behind a curtain of trees, or rises over the mountains. Whatever the method, I always greet the sun with my body fully, and absorb as much of the sun’s power as I can! 

Now, I want to know about how you appreciate the sun, and what it feels like when you sit in silence with it. What sorts of healing have you experienced by going outside and allowing yourself to enjoy natural sunlight? Have you ever gone on a screen strike or avoided artificial light? How was the experience? Do you think sunlight can be a medicine?

There is so much fascinating subject material to discuss when it comes to the benefits of sunlight in every part of our lives, and as always, I would be eager to hear what you have to say on the subject. Send me a message anytime, or share articles that you’ve seen about the benefits of direct sunlight. I am always curious to learn more! 

Can’t wait to talk soon. Until then, I wish you all the sunshine you and your body deserve. 

All my love,