As summertime approaches and the days grow longer and warmer, you’re probably spending more time out in the sun. Sun exposure provides a plethora of benefits, including better sleep and a brighter mood. Most importantly, it also gives you a healthy dose of vitamin D.
Vitamin D, also called the “sunshine vitamin,” helps build stronger bones and decreases the risk of diabetes, heart attacks, and cancer. Plus, it improves function of the neurological, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
Despite these benefits, excessive time in the sun has a distinct downside. So, here are my tips for getting a healthy dose of daily sunshine.
- Stick to the 15 minute rule. Vitamin D production requires about 15 minutes of unprotected midday sun exposure, although people with darker skin likely need more. After that, I recommend wearing a hat and other protective clothing.
- Avoid prolonged time in the sun between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, when the summer sun is strongest. One easy rule of thumb is that your risk of sunburn is highest when your shadow is shorter than your height.
- When you do plan to be in the sun for longer periods of time, sunscreen is appropriate. Go with those made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Unlike sunscreens containing chemicals that are absorbed into the body (and may disrupt hormone activity), these natural minerals stay on the skin’s surface and simply reflect and scatter light.
- Eat more carotenoid-rich foods. Carotenoids accumulate in the skin and act as “internal sunscreens.” In fact, beta-carotene (from orange or yellow produce and in supplements) has been used for years to reduce sunburn in photosensitive patients, and more recent studies reveal that lycopene (abundant in tomatoes and watermelon) and astaxanthin (found in salmon and krill oil) also counteract UV-induced free radicals in the skin and the eyes.
- Watch the types of fat you eat. Omega-6 fatty acids, the kind found in most vegetable oils, are easily oxidized in the skin, while omega-3s in fish, squid, and krill oil reduce UV-induced inflammation.
- Take vitamin A, which can reduce the risk of melanoma by 40 percent. Eating foods rich in vitamin A won’t do the trick. To get these cancer-protective benefits you need to take a multivitamin that includes vitamin A. Because supplement labels are required to lump beta-carotene and vitamin A together, look for retinyl palmitate or retinyl acetate, the most common forms of retinol. Just make sure to not exceed a daily dose of 10,000 IU (3,000 mcg) of vitamin A. (You can take considerably more beta-carotene.)
- Finally, stay hydrated while in the sun. Drink filtered water or a tall glass of iced tea, which contains antioxidants that can further reduce your risk of skin cancer. (The common belief that tea contributes to dehydration is a myth.)
Now it's your turn: How do you protect yourself from the damaging effects of the sun?