Good Medicine Everyday: Sun / by emily penn

Ahh, sunshine! We love it, but we’ve been made to fear it. We’re told to slather ourselves with SPF 100 and cover up - otherwise we’ll get skin cancer. While it’s true that multiple sunburns and excessive unprotected exposure can damage our skin, we really benefit from the healing powers of the sun.

This might go against everything you’ve been told, but - regular, unprotected sun exposure is actually good for your health. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D (1) for a few reasons: 1. We obtain very little vitamin D from our diet, because it’s not naturally found in that many foods. 2. Most of us spend our days indoors, and we don’t get outside nearly enough and 3. When we do, many of us use sunscreen that blocks the beneficial UVB rays.

We need vitamin D for healthy bones, a strong immune system, mood regulation, cardiovascular protection (2), and even weight regulation! Rickets is the classic example of extreme vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D supplements are widely available, but our bodies have historically received vitamin D through sun exposure.

Experts recommend 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure per day (3). This gives you all the benefits of the sun while minimizing the risk of any skin damage. To make the sun work even more for you, try getting exposure first thing in the morning. This helps to set your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock that sets sleep and wake cycles) for the day. Beyond 30 minutes and when the sun is especially strong, it’s best to wear sunglasses, a hat and other protective clothing, and use a mineral-based sunscreen.

Something else that should not be overlooked is that we feel GOOD in the sun. Have you ever noticed that most people, when stepping into the sun, will look up towards the sky and close their eyes and take a deep breath? What else these days makes people stop and DO that? Sun makes people food good and happy. It’s a lifeforce. And I don’t think that should be overlooked.

The sun is good medicine. Even better? It’s free. In areas where sun is scarce during certain parts of the year, a vitamin D supplement can significantly improve well-being. You could also invest in a sun lamp if that’s something you’re into. Living in the Pacific Northwest, I find that a vitamin D supplement in addition to going outside regularly significantly helps my mood during the gloomy part of the year.