Summertime Sunshine: Good vs. Bad

Sun Protection

Summertime is here! Now that the warm weather’s arrived, you’re probably ready to head to the beach, go to the pool and have some fun in the sun. But it’s important to prevent overexposure to harmful sunlight while also maximizing the beneficial aspects that can enhance mood, energy and sleep. Dr. Charles Eisenbeis, an oncologist with UNC REX Cancer Care, shares the pros and cons of sun exposure.

Health Benefits of Sunshine

sunblock_sunglassesWhile too much sun can be harmful to your skin, a moderate amount of sun exposure can provide numerous mental and physical health benefits. Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D, which is also known as the “sunshine vitamin.”

“In general, vitamins are compounds that are not produced in the body and need to be obtained mostly from food sources,” says Dr. Eisenbeis. “Vitamin D is different in that the body is able produce vitamin D on its own after skin is exposed to sunlight,” Dr. Eisenbeis continues.

Vitamin D enhances the absorption of other key minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, and zinc. These minerals promote healthy functions of the body including:

  • Bone health – Vitamin D regulates calcium in the body, which helps maintain and grow strong, healthy bones.
  • Sleep and mood – Vitamin D helps with the production of melatonin, a hormone that’s known for regulating the sleep cycle. Melatonin can lead to more energy during the day and better sleep at night. Melatonin also helps to decrease inflammation and improve your immune system.
  • Immune function – Vitamin D works at the level of the cellular lining of the intestines to help with the absorption of minerals when we eat food. When vitamin D is absorbed, it helps to reduce inflammation and pain.

“In the past ten years we’ve received a lot of information from research on how deficiencies of vitamins are related to higher risks of some diseases such as prostate cancer and breast cancer,” said Dr. Eisenbeis.

Health Risks of Sunlight

Sunburn and Skin Aging
The amount of exposure to the sun over a lifetime can cause damage to the skin and to the DNA, which can lead to dangerous forms of skin cancer. Sun damage can also occur within the collagen of the skin, which can lead to premature aging such as sun spots and wrinkles.

Skin Cancer
Skin cancers are linked to sun exposure and are caused by damaged DNA within the skin itself. Many skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are troublesome in terms of causing cosmetic issues for patients. People who’ve been out in the sun their entire lives tend to have many of reoccurring skin cancers that need to be treated surgically. Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are three types of skin cancer that are largely attributed to excess sun exposure (UV radiation).

Best Practices Under the Sun

Most sun damage stems from our childhood and adolescent years. The best way to avoiding sunburns and excess sun exposure in our children and teens is to encourage best practices for skin protection.

  • Pay attention to time of day and length of sun exposure – Some people may need to have a small amount of sun exposure in order to receive the health benefits of vitamin D. You can obtain enough benefits of vitamin D with about 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure, two to three times a week and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Apply and re-apply – Dr. Eisenbeis recommends using sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 to 50 and reapplying sunscreen every two hours.
  • Cover key areas – Wearing sunglasses will help protect your eyes from harmful effects of radiation. Skin cancers tend to form behind the neck and ears. Be sure to apply sunscreen in those key areas and wear a hat to provide extra shielding from the sun.


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