More Than Vitamin D: 6 Benefits of Sun Exposure You Might Not Know About
News flash: Science says what you’ve been taught about sun exposure is probably wrong. For several decades, you’ve likely been encouraged to avoid the sun or slather yourself with sunscreen from head to toe to prevent sunburns, skin cancer, and premature aging (think sunspots and wrinkles). But emerging research suggests that by steering clear of the sun altogether, you’re actually missing out on the crucial health benefits of sunlight and sun exposure.
Let’s take a closer look at why you should make time to bask in the rays of the sun:
Benefits of Sun Exposure
1. It boosts your immune system.
If you’re fighting infections from bacteria or viruses, spending some time in the sun is a no-cost way to boost your immune system. Sunlight provides vital energy to T-cells, a type of white blood cell (WBC) that can kill unhealthy cells infected with various pathogens. T-cells also have the ability to defend against some types of cancer cells, and they play a role in your overall immune health. Together, both vitamin D and T-cells can boost your immune system.
2. It reduces blood pressure.
If you’ve ever relaxed on a sandy beach or walked through a sun-drenched park, you’ve probably experienced the stress-reducing properties of basking in the sunlight and absorption of negative ions. But as it turns out, unwinding in the sun’s glow doesn’t just provide a mental break from stress; it has physical benefits, too. As the sunlight penetrates your skin, it triggers the release of nitric oxide, a molecule that lowers blood pressure. By keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range, you lessen your chances of heart attacks or strokes.
3. It improves your vitamin D levels.
Although you can increase your vitamin D levels through supplementation, the most effective way to raise your levels is through exposure to natural sunlight, which happens when the rays from the sun come in contact with your skin. The combination of the sun’s UV light and your skin’s cholesterol generates the production of vitamin D. Optimizing your levels of this vitamin can reduce your risk of certain diseases, including:
- Psychiatric illnesses
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
4. It boosts your mood.
Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in your brain — your body’s feel-good neurotransmitter. As you increase your exposure to the sun, your levels of the neurotransmitter rise. In general, you’re apt to experience a decrease in depression symptoms, greater feelings of happiness, and an improvement in your sense of well-being. If your mood could use a lift, take time to soak up the sun
5. It supports weight loss.
If weight loss is one of your goals, carving time out of your hectic day to catch some rays may help you hit your target. One study showed that frequent exposure to sunlight early in the morning correlated with a lower body mass index (BMI) and could help regulate body weight. Although researchers aren’t certain why sun exposure promotes weight loss, preliminary ideas suggest the sunlight’s ability to balance hormones and assist with sleep-wake cycles may hold the key. The study reported that 20-30 minutes of daily sun exposure between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, specifically, may be enough to help you shed unwanted pounds. Why morning sunlight? It’s comprised of higher levels of blue light, which has the greatest capacity to influence your circadian rhythm.
6. It can help you sleep better.
The pineal gland, a small endocrine gland located deep within the center of the brain, produces melatonin, the body's sleep-promoting hormone and an antioxidant, in response to darkness. The more you're exposed to sunlight during the day, the more efficient you'll be at producing melatonin at nighttime, and you'll have a better chance of falling asleep. In essence, you're training your body to recognize the hours you should be awake and the hours you should be getting some serious shut-eye, thus improving your circadian rhythms.
Sun Exposure Safety
The trick to receiving positive benefits from the sun sans sunscreen is to soak up adequate, but moderate, levels of the sun while avoiding sunburns. The amount of time a person chooses to remain in the sun will likely vary from one person to another. Although 20 minutes throughout the day is a good guide to shoot for, lighter skin tones may need less time in the sun than darker ones for safe sun exposure. One app Therasage loves to use, dminder, applies the factors: skin tone, age, weight, amount of skin exposed to track Vitamin D levels, help prevent sunburns, and alerts you to the optimal time of day to be in the sun.
Since your face and hands are frequently exposed to the sun, you may want to consider applying an all-natural sunscreen for added protection. Additionally, sun exposure can be contraindicated when taking certain medications, like antibiotics, antidepressants, and diuretics. If you’re concerned about the medications you’re taking check with your health professional about individualized instructions to enjoy sun-saturated days safely.
Can’t get outside? Our full spectrum infrared saunas offer many of the same benefits as spending time in the sun, including enhancing Vitamin D levels, natural production of nitric oxide, better sleep, weight loss, increased circulation, enhanced immune function, and much more. To learn more about our saunas as well as the other products we feature, please visit our portable sauna page.
One of our favorite all natural sunscreen recipes was created by Wellness Mama. If you love the recipe, head on over to the Wellness Mama website to view more great ideas!
Natural Homemade Sunscreen Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup almond or olive oil (can infuse with herbs first if desired)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (natural SPF 4)
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- 2 Tablespoons Zinc Oxide (This is a non-nano version that won’t be absorbed into the skin. Be careful not to inhale the powder). This makes a natural SPF of 20+ or more can be added.)
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Red Raspberry Seed Oil
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Carrot Seed Oil
- Optional: up to 1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil
- Optional: 2 tablespoons Shea Butter (natural SPF 4-5)
- Optional: Essential Oils, Vanilla Extract or other natural extracts to suit your preference
How to Make Natural Sunscreen:
- Combine ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives, or other foods.
- Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat.
- Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.
- As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, add the zinc oxide, stir in well and pour into whatever jar or tin you will use for storage. Small mason jars (pint size) are great for this. It will not pump well in a lotion pump!
- Stir a few times as it cools to make sure zinc oxide is incorporated.
- Use as you would regular sunscreen. Best if used within six months.
- This sunscreen is somewhat, but not completely, waterproof and will need to be reapplied after sweating or swimming
- Make sure not to inhale the Zinc Oxide- use a mask if necessary!
- This recipe has an SPF of about 20, though adding more Zinc Oxide will increase the SPF
- Add more beeswax to make thicker sunscreen, less to make smooth sunscreen
- I recommend coconut or vanilla extract or lavender essential oils for fragrance
- Store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge
- I prefer to store in a small canning jar and apply like a body butter. It will be thicker, especially if you use coconut oil in the recipe.
- Remove the Zinc Oxide and this makes an excellent lotion recipe!
- Hoel DG, Berwick M, de Gruijl FR, Holick MF. The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermato Endocrinology. 2016 Jan-Dec; 8(1): e1248325. doi: 10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325
- 2. Mead NM. Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008 Apr; 116(4): A160–A167. doi: 1289/ehp.116-a160
- Reid KJ, Santostasi G, Baron KG, Wilson J, Kang J, Zee PC. Timing and Intensity of Light Correlate with Body Weight in Adults. PLoSOne. 2014 April 2. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092251
- Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 2013 Jul-Aug; 10(7-8): 20–24.
- Wang H, Chen W, Li D. Vitamin D and Chronic Diseases. Aging and Disease. 2017 May; 8(3): 346–353. doi: 10.14336/AD.2016.1021
- Melody Besner