Springtime naturally draws us outside, and after a winter of being covered up, the warm air and bright sunlight makes us want to shed our layers. To protect our skin, some of us can enjoy activities in the shade, but many of our favorite pastimes like sports, gardening, and even just lounging are done in the sun. For those of us going out in the open, we have many years of warning about the risks to our skin that are associated with spending too much time in the sun without adequate protection. There can be rewards when we responsibly soak up just enough.
Exposing our skin to sunlight activates vitamin D production naturally in our bodies, which contributes to calcium regulation in the bloodstream. Good calcium and mineral metabolism (absorbing enough, getting rid of the excess, and preventing buildup) is essential for bone health, as well as collagen production. Collagen is important for skin elasticity and firmness, as well as muscle and joint health. Thinking about our full-body system can help us see how maintaining our skin helps us stay fit and able to enjoy the recreational activities that draw us out in the first place.
Sunlight also engages our immune system, which sends out white blood cells (most of which are produced in the bones) to protect from the UV rays and repair any damage that might occur. In some cases, this can ease skin disorders like acne, psoriasis, and eczema. Even though there may be these potential benefits, vitamin D supplementation is usually recommended to be consumed orally to avoid the risks associated with sun damage.
The amount of sun needed for our bodies to produce benefits will differ by individual, but the general consensus is that for any amount of time in the sun, our skin should be protected. UV rays will pass through clouds, and usually, the low amount of sunlight needed to produce vitamin D won’t be blocked by sunscreen. Risk factors for sun damage will also vary by individual, but only slightly. Fair skin without a lot of melanin (pigment) is at higher risk for sun damage, but all skin types are vulnerable to damage from excessive UV exposure. Frequent or severe sunburns increase the risk for mild issues like wrinkles and age spots, as well as serious long-term health problems like skin cancer.
Even though sunshine has its benefits, it is very dangerous for our skin. Talking with your dermatologist will help you know how to best spend time in the sun, especially if you have existing conditions. Sometimes sun exposure can negatively interact with medications like antibiotics and antidepressants. Limiting exposure time, using sunscreen, and covering up as appropriate are ways we can protect ourselves from sun damage for long-term skin health while still enjoying the sunny outdoors. Schedule a consultation with Southeast Dermatology Specialists to learn more about your body’s unique needs and how we can help!