Staying safe in the sun whilst maximising its benefits
Summer sun brings some great health benefits but it also comes with some risks, for example with regards to skin cancer. It’s important to get the balance right when it comes to summer sun exposure. Overexposure can come with health risks and so can under-exposure, which leads to low vitamin D. Increasing your levels of this amazing sunshine nutrient is one of the biggest advantages of the summer. In this blog we break down the benefits of summer sunshine, we take a closer look at vitamin D, and discuss how you can stay safe in the sun whilst maximising its benefits.
Let’s have a look at some of the wonderful health benefits of summer and sunshine!
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D, also called 25-hydroxyvitanim D, is a fat-soluble vitamin present in very small amounts in various foods and made in our bodies when our skin is exposed to the sun. The body can only make vitamin D with the assistance of food, but mostly sunlight. It’s much more than a vitamin though, vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone.
When exposed to UVB sunshine rays a chemical compound in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol is converted into vitamin D3, the more active form. There are many studies looking into the role of vitamin D in health, particularly with regards to immunity and cancer, and we are learning more every day about this fascinating nutrient. It’s been shown to exert anti-inflammatory effects in the body as well as immune-regulation and protective effects.
There is also promising research on the link between vitamin D and conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases, multiple sclerosis, depression, Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Low levels of vitamin D can result in various symptoms such as low energy, fatigue, sluggish thyroid, muscle weakness, weight gain and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, mushrooms and cheese. However, the most potent source is sunshine!
Vitamin D supplementation comes in two forms; vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and it’s important to only use products in the D3 (active) form. Junius always recommends testing your vitamin D levels before supplementing, in case you need more or less than you might think
Increasing your levels safely from the sun?
In the UK, the winter and spring months do not provide sunshine strong enough for vitamin D production, plus we are more likely to be covered up during these months and only exposing your face to the sun is likely not enough skin exposure for any decent levels of vitamin D to be made. The best time of year to make good levels of vitamin D from the sun is when it’s high in the sky, which in the UK, is the summer months.
You cannot get UVB rays through glass, clothes or sunscreen, so allowing some time exposed to the sun is important if you want to obtain good levels of vitamin D from the sunshine.
According to The British Skin Foundation, Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer. In fact, UV exposure is the main preventable cause of skin cancer. They also say that experiencing severe sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, so it's very important to protect yourself from the sun.
So how can you read the vitamin D benefits whilst staying safe in the sun?
Know your time limit
Be aware that paler skin will synthesise vitamin D quicker than darker skin tones. Researchers at the University of Manchester looked at the relationships between sunlight exposure and vitamin D synthesis in the body. They found that for lighter skin types, 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine exposure between April and September may provide sufficient year-round vitamin D whilst also minimising the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. For darker skin types, they recommend 25 to 40 minutes maximum. After this you should seek shade, cover up and apply sunblock.
What you expose matters
The more skin you expose the more vitamin D your body will make. For example, exposing your back, tummy and upper thighs allows the body to produce more vitamin D than just the hands and face. Just remember to do this safely as per the tip above.
Never see pink
Never allow your skin to turn pink as this suggests skin damage. You might assume the longer you spend in the sun the more vitamin D you will make but you MUST strike a balance between allowing your skin to absorb enough UVB rays to make vitamin D WITHOUT causing damage to your skin and potentially increasing your risk for skin cancer. Refer back to the first tip for recommended time frames of exposure.
Know the UV index
Check the UV index each day, e.g., on the Met Office website, which tells us how strong the sun's UV rays are and when we might be at risk of burning. The higher the value, the greater the risk of sunburn and the less time it takes to damage your skin.
When you’re out in the heat and sunshine always ensure you’re staying well hydrated as when the heat index is high, physical activity, sweating and drinking alcohol increase your risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Sip water consistently throughout the day and keep an eye of the colour of your urine, which should remain a pale straw colour rather than dark yellow, which suggests dehydration.
Serotonin, the good mood chemical
Serotonin is an important brain chemical (neurotransmitter) for health, particularly for mood support, sleep and our ability to relax. 80-90% of your serotonin is made in your gut, which makes a healthy gut crucial if we want to ensure we are making good levels of this brain chemical.
Research also shows that sunshine helps to boost serotonin levels! Too little sun exposure can result in low levels of serotonin, which is associated with an increased risk for depression, low mood and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) during darker months. Make the most of the sunnier months and try to spend as much time as you can outdoors (safe-guarding your skin as per the above) and reap the benefits of this happiness chemical!
Boost your antioxidants
UV radiation causes the production of free radicals and damage occurs to the cells in the body when the critical balance between free radical production (a normal by-product of many bodily processes) and antioxidant molecules is disturbed, in favour of more free radicals. Antioxidants fight free radical damage therefore it’s important to be making an effort to increase your intake of antioxidants in your diet.
Colourful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, which is why all our juices and shots are packed full of different colours of plants and why we encourage you to eat and drink the rainbow every day! The deep and bright colours of plants come from the phytonutrients that are protective to the plants themselves and generously plants transfer this protection over to us when we eat them! So, it’s really important to eat plants from all the different colour categories; reds, oranges, yellows, purples, greens, whites and browns.
Summer is all about fun, the outdoors, energy and connection whether on holiday abroad, in the UK or both. Now that you are armed with more knowledge and insight into the benefits of the sun and how to enjoy it safely, we invite you to go forth and make the most of every day of it! What are your favourite tips from this blog? We love hearing from you so feel free to drop us an email or DM us over Instagram.