Summer Sun: Exposure Pros and Cons
The late, great Ella Fitzgerald said it best in song: "Summertime and the living is easy." Summer is for relaxing in the sun, taking things easy, and tossing your worries aside. But all that fun in the sun could be exacting a toll.
Is soaking up the sun's rays good for us? Are we taking a risk when we spend the day at the beach? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of basking in the rays of the summer sun.
The Technical Side of Sunlight
There's more to sunlight than meets the eye. Our exposure to the sun's rays is highest in the summer, specifically between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. Sunlight contains an invisible form of radiation called ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are three forms of this invisible radiation: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC.) These UV rays can penetrate the structure of skin cells and damage them.
The sun isn't the only source of UV radiation. Sunlamps and tanning booths give off this radiation, too. When we expose ourselves to excessive ultraviolet radiation, we risk damage to our skin that can cause early aging and lead to skin cancer.
Sun Benefits vs. Sun Damage
Every year, studies are done on the benefits and dangers of exposure to sunlight. UVB exposure causes the skin to produce vitamin D, which plays a big role in keeping our bones healthy. But, too much brings on unhealthy problems.
How much sunlight is acceptable to your body depends on a few specific conditions, such as skin tone. Skin tones are generally divided into six categories, with each having a different level of safe sunlight exposure.
Skin Type I
- Very light skin, frequently with a high number of freckles
- The person usually has strawberry blonde or reddish hair
- Eyes are commonly blue or gray
- Exposure to UV radiation can result in sunburn within ten minutes
- Skin does not tan
Skin Type II
- Light skin with scattered freckles
- The person usually has blonde or brown hair
- May have any eye color
- Exposure to UV radiation can result in sunburn within twenty minutes
- Skin rarely tans and only tans moderately, if at all
Skin Type III
- Light to light brown skin; freckles are rare
- The person usually has dark blond or brown hair
- May have brown or gray eyes
- Exposure to UV radiation leads to sunburn within thirty minutes
- Skin tans easily
Skin Type IV
- Olive-colored skin or light brown
- No freckles
- Dark brown hair and brown eyes
- Exposure to UV radiation leads to sunburn within fifty minutes
- Skin quickly tans to a deep color
Skin Type V
- Skin is dark brown
- Dark brown or black hair
- Eyes are dark brown
- UV radiation leads to sunburn with more than sixty minutes of exposure
- Skin doesn't become darker
Skin Type VI
- Skin is dark brown or black
- Black hair
- Dark brown eyes
- Exposure to UV radiation leads to sunburn after more than sixty minutes
- Skin doesn't become darker
Sun Exposure Pros and Cons
This doesn't mean there's nothing good to be gained by playing in the summer sun. UV light can be harmful, but it has a good side, as well. Let's look at some pros and cons.
- The cycle of sunlight and darkness triggers the release of hormones. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in your brain. This hormone boosts moods and works to keep us calm and focused. At night, darkness triggers the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.
- Exposure of the skin to UVB creates vitamin D, which is necessary for healthy bones. Low vitamin D levels are linked to rickets, osteoporosis, and osteomalacia.
- A moderate amount of sunlight may have preventive benefits against some forms of cancer, such as colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- Light therapy may help treat certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, jaundice, eczema, and acne.
- Serotonin levels drop without exposure to the sun. Low levels of this hormone put a person at higher risk for major depression with seasonal patterns.
- Excess exposure to sunlight may contribute to skin cancer
- Excessive UV radiation causes premature aging in the skin, cause it to become thick, leathery, and wrinkled. About 90% of visible changes in the skin seen with aging are caused by exposure to the sun.
- Development of actinic keratosis. These skin growths appear on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, forearms, and neck. They appear as reddish, raised, rough-textured growths and are usually pre-cancerous.
- Excessive sun exposure can damage the eyes. Cataracts can develop, causing a loss of transparency in the lens of the eye. Left untreated, blindness can result.
Have Fun While Avoiding Sun Damage
Everything isn't doom and gloom when it comes to fun in the sun. There are many easy-to-follow tips and tricks that let you avoid damage from the sun while still enjoying an active outdoor life.
- Shade your face, neck, and ears with a wide-brim hat. Sun visors and baseball caps afford inadequate protection.
- Make certain your sunglasses block UV radiation to protect your eyes and the skin around them.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, and sunscreen! Use products with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. Apply to uncovered skin at least 30 minutes before going outside, reapplying every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- Wear dark fabrics that are tightly woven. Choose long sleeves, long skirts, and long pants. Pick fabrics that are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF.)
- If long sleeves, etc., aren't practical, wear a beach cover-up or a t-shirt. Make sure the t-shirt is dry; it provides more UV protection than a wet one.
"Summertime, and the Living Is Easy"
Yes, Ella Fitzgerald had it right. Living in the summertime can be easy and fun, even with the risks faced by excessive sun exposure. All it takes to overcome the damper on summer's escapades that UV radiation poses is a bit of education, a little preparation, and a few changes in behavior. All are minor inconveniences that are a small price to pay when the surf is up!