Have you ever wondered what the Sun does to your skin? It is our general concept and very much possible that the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sunlight and the sun’s rays are the damages it may cause. However, did you know that finding the perfect balance of sun exposure can also significantly positively impact your mood and skin? That is why it’s essential to understand the effects of the Sun on the body.
WHAT IS SUNLIGHT? & WHAT ARE SUN RAYS?
Sunlight is a mixture of the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. While a sunray is a ray of sunlight. Sunlight is typically divided into three essential components:
- Visible light,
- Ultraviolet light (UVA, UVB, UVC),
- Infrared radiations (the warmth that we get from the sun)
Even being in the shade, under a beach umbrella or during cloudy weather, our body is still exposed to UV rays. When UV rays hit snow, water, metal etc, they can reflect back on the skin increasing exposure. UV rays can penetrate up to 1 meter under water.
Here is a brief look at the differences between UVA and UVB radiation, how they affect your skin, and what you can do to protect yourself from sun damage.
Ultraviolet Radiation (UVA, UVB, UVC)
Ultraviolet radiation is considered to be a type of electromagnetic energy. It can be obtained naturally through sunlight or artificially through lasers, black lights, and tanning beds. As a natural source, it is emitted primarily by the sun. It is produced by a nuclear event at the sun’s core and is sent to the earth via the sun’s rays. UV rays are categorized into three types based on their wavelength:
- UVA (Longest wavelength). UVA radiation accounts for 95% of all UV rays that reach the earth’s surface. UVA rays penetrate our skin profoundly and can even travel through glass. They induce premature skin aging, apparent as wrinkles, and also are linked to some skin malignancies.
- UVB (Middle wavelength). UVB radiation is only 5% of the sun’s UV rays, but it is pretty strong. In comparison to UVA, UVB can cause significant damage to the skin’s surface layers. They usually have delayed effects, appearing hours after sun exposure.
- UVC (Shortest wavelength). UVC rays have the shortest wavelengths and the highest energy levels. Fortunately, the ozone layer entirely blocks UVC radiation. As a result, these sun rays never reach the earth.
- For comparison, here is a complete table of all the details.
|Skin cells affected||Inner cells of the outermost layer of skin, and dermis||Cells in the top layer of skin||The outer cells of the top layer|
|Short-term effects||Tanning (immediate) sunburn||Tanning (delayed), blistering+ sunburns||Ulcers, red rash, severe burns|
|Long-term effects||Premature Aging, wrinkling, and few cancers||Skin cancers||Skin cancer + premature aging|
|The percentage that reaches the earth||~95%||~5%||0% (filtered out by the atmosphere and ozone)|
Both UVA and UVB directly cause DNA damage and skin cancers. UVA causes the formation of reactive oxygen species which can indirectly cause DNA damage by creating breaks in the tertiary structure. UVB is absorbed by DNA and causes structural damage.
When are these Sun Rays The Strongest?
Numerous environmental conditions might influence when UV rays are at their strongest. Several of these variables include the following:
- THE UV INDEX: The UV Index (UVI) is a metric that indicates the current level of UVB radiation in a given region. The current UV Index value indicates the amount of radiation present and thus the likelihood of developing skin damage. This UV index can also be checked on daily forecast and weather widgets present in every smartphone.
|UV Index (UVI)||UV intensity|
|0 to 2||Low|
|3 to 5||Moderate|
|6 to 7||High|
|8 to 10||Very high|
With more UV index, more skin will be prone to damage.
- TIME OF THE DAY. According to Cancer.org, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m is when the sun is at its peak. In this daily window, the sun’s rays have less distance to cover, making them stronger.
- LATITUDE AND ALTITUDE. UV exposure is highest around the equator, where UV rays travel the shortest distance before hitting the ground.
- SEASON. Spring and summer have the most UV exposure. During these seasons, the sun is higher in the sky, intensifying UV rays. Even in the fall and winter, the sun can harm you but in a lesser amount.
- OZONE. The ozone layer protects against UV radiation. However, pollution has thinned the ozone layer, increasing UV strength.
- CLOUD COVERAGE. Clouds filter sunlight. But it depends on the cloud. Dark, moist clouds block more UV radiation than thin, high clouds.
EFFECTS OF SUNLIGHT ON BODY
Like any other thing, there are benefits and risks of sun exposure. Excessive exposure to sun rays, UV light, can result in sunburn and increased oxidative stress in cells. This can result in skin damage such as inflammation, rapid aging of the skin, and the formation of tumors.
Harmful Effects of Sun Rays
First, we need to look into the risks we are exposed to. Most of these risks are associated with UV radiations, especially UVB.
1. Skin Tanning and Freckles.
The epidermis is the skin’s outermost layer. While the dermis refers to the skin’s innermost layer being home to your nerves and veins. Melanin is a pigment (or color) found in the epidermis cells. It protects our skin from UV rays and serves as a natural sunscreen, and absorbs the sun’s UV rays to fight against sunburn and skin damage. But with more exposure, this can result in a brownish skin tone known as tanning. This is a sign that skin has already started to get damaged and becomes readily available to more UVB exposure. Some skin cells with melanin can form a clump and create freckles and moles.
2. Early Aging / Photoaging.
Here, UVA is the main culprit. As told earlier, UVA penetrates down to the dermis. This dermis contains scaffolding of molecules such as collagen that makes your skin elastic. This scaffolding is damaged due to UVA penetration, hence making skin rigid. This makes your skin more prone to wrinkling and premature aging.
What are other factors responsible for early aging? Readout more here.
Prolonged sun exposure leads to sunburn. It depends upon the UV index of the region. The UVB rays cause so much damage to the skin cells to die, and the upper layer of the skin starts to peel off. Signs and symptoms of Sunburn includes;
- Redness. An increase in blood flow will cause your skin to turn red.
- Skin that is extremely warm to the touch. Goosebumps or chills are other possible reactions.
- Peeling. This is your body’s way of shedding the dead cells.
- Pain upon touch.
- Itchy or tight skin.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about a third of American people get sunburned every year, requiring over 33,000 visits to the ER.
4. Cancer Formation.
The visible lights get reflected from the skin upon the sun exposure, while UVB penetrates and reacts with DNA inside the cells and causes DNA damage. With excessive sun exposure, it can result in skin cancers. Squamous cell and basal cell cancer (two of the most prevalent types of skin cancer) are more likely to occur in sun-exposed areas of the body.
5. Eye Inquiries.
UV radiation can cause irreversible damage to the tissue in your eyes. They have the potential to burn the cornea. Additionally, they can cause blurred vision. Even low doses of UV light can raise your chance of acquiring a cataract or macular degeneration over time. If left untreated, this can result in blindness.
Learn how other things affect your eyes’ health by clicking here.
6. Low Immunity.
White blood cells serve to defend the body. When your skin is burned, white blood cells assist in the formation of new cells. This can jeopardize your immune systems in various aspects.
Beneficial Effects of Sun Rays
Not all sun is harmful; when you expose your skin to a good amount of sun rays, you are likely to see some immediate benefits.
1. Mood Improvement.
Hormones are released in your brain by sunlight and darkness. A hormone called serotonin is considered to be increased by exposure to the sun. This hormone is linked to improved mood, calmness, and concentration. It is believed that melatonin is produced in response to dim lights at night. It aids in sleep. Sunlight is necessary to keep your serotonin levels balanced. Low serotonin levels increase seasonal depression, as proven by researches.
Researchers from Brigham Young University discovered that people have more mental health issues when less exposure to the sun. Days with an abundance of sunshine, as in summers, were linked to higher mental health by this study.
2. Vitamin D.
The skin produces 90 to 95% of our vitamin D when it is exposed to UVB light. The remaining 10% comes from dietary sources. The body utilizes vitamin D for several purposes. It reduces inflammation and regulates cell proliferation. Vitamin D can also be obtained through supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency isn’t common. It only takes 5-15 minutes of exposure a few times a week to see results. Considering the risk and benefits of the sunlight, it is best to protect our skin from exposing to the sunlight rather than justifying tanning to synthesize vitamin D.
A study from 2008 found that when persons wear a bathing suit for 30 minutes, they produce the following levels of vitamin D:
- 50,000 international units (IUs) in most Caucasian people
- 20,000 to 30,000 IUs in tanned people
- 8,000 to 10,000 IUs in dark-skinned people.
Bone health is heavily reliant on the amount of vitamin D we get from the sun. Rickets in children and bone-wasting illnesses like osteoporosis and osteomalacia have been linked to low vitamin D levels.
3. Better Sleep.
Your eyes require light to regulate your body’s clock. Early morning sunlight tends to help people sleep better at night. As a result, the more daylight exposure you have, the more melatonin your body will create at bedtime. This is significant as you age because your eyesight diminishes, and you’re more prone to insomnia.
Read this article to learn about methods to have a better sleep.
4. Better General Health.
While abundant sun rays directly contribute to skin cancer, a modest amount of sunlight has anti-cancer properties (except for skin cancer). It has been reported that many types of cancers are more common among people who live in places with fewer daylight hours than among those who live in areas with more daylight hours. That being said, UVB causes skin cancer is undisputable – excessive exposure to the sunlight is not advised.
Going outside for 30 minutes between 8 a.m. and noon has been associated with a reduction in body weight. The sun rays may decrease fat cells beneath the skin’s surface. Of course, there could be other things at play such as the activities and personality types.
From the finding of a study in Sweden that looked at the life expectancy of many persons exposed to different levels of sun rays. Nearly 30,000 Swedish women were studied over 20 years, and it was discovered that those who spent more time in the sun lived longer, had less heart disease, and died from causes other than cancer at a lower rate than those who spent less time in the sun.
SUNCARE: HOW TO ENJOY SUN SAFELY?
To keep your skin healthy, it’s essential to shield yourself from the sun’s rays, especially if you’re going to be outside for an extended period. You can follow these proven guidelines recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to get the fullest sun rays without the damage they cause.
Plan Your Exposure and Seek The Shade
To reduce your UV radiation exposure, refrain from or minimize sun exposure during the peak time between 10am and 4pm and avoid spending too much time in the sun. These are the hours of the day when UV light is most dangerous. It is advised by Cancer.org that If you’re unclear about the sun’s rays’ power, do the Shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you, you should protect yourself. Use Umbrella if needed.
Wear Sun-Protective Clothing
Clothes can offer some protection from UV sun rays. The best fabrics are those that are tightly woven and dry. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts cover the most skin and are the most protective. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. Many outdoor clothing firms produce garments that offer enhanced UV protection. These sun-protective clothes may have a label listing the UV protection factor (UPF) value on them.
Apply The Sunscreen
Sunscreen is a product you put on your skin to protect it from the sun’s UV rays. When putting it on, pay close attention to your face, ears, neck, arms, and other areas not covered by clothing.
There is a wide range of sunscreen products available on the market, and check out this article on choosing the sunscreen that is protective for the body and is safe for the sea too.
As a general rule of thumb, choose SPF 20 or above with broad-spectrum or full-spectrum protection, zinc and titanium dioxide (non-nano form) are protective and safe for the sea. Apply sunscreen for almost 30 minutes before going into the sun, and re-application is advised within every 2 hours. For water-resistant sunscreen, the reapplication should be within every 40 minutes when in touch of water.
Put on a Hat and Sunglasses
Wide-brimmed hats with a 2-3-inch brim all around are perfect since they shield the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp from the sun’s rays. Shade caps and baseball caps also provide reasonable protection against UV sun rays.
And to protect your eyes and the skin around them, use sunglasses with UV protection. Large-framed and wraparound sunglasses protect your eyes from light from all angles. Many studies have shown that spending long periods in the sun without eye protection increases your risk of acquiring various eye illnesses.
Counteract the Oxidative Damages
Researchers have proven that damage to the skin caused by exposure to sun rays can be combated with the complementary intervention of both topical agents and diet. While through diet, it can take 7~10 weeks to take protective effect, topical treatment can render instant protection.
- Topical vitamin C may protect against UVA ray damage, according to research.
- Selenium is a critical component of cellular anti-oxidant defenses.
- Resveratrol has been shown to reduce UVB-induced damage. It is found in plants like grapes, berries, and peanuts naturally.
- Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is another polyphenol antioxidant that is effective in reducing UV-induced free radical damage.
TO CONSUME: Maintain a regular high antioxidant diet is beneficial to the overall health. The below quick list of food is protective to the sun rays as well:
- Carrots. Beta carotene in the carrots provided natural sun protection after ten weeks of regular supplementation.
- Leafy Greens. They are high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. This helps wrinkles, UV damage, and possibly skin cancer.
- Blueberries. They’re also high in vitamin C, which helps prevent wrinkles.
- Watermelon. Watermelons contain Lycopene that absorbs UVA and UVB light. A 2012 study found that the skin’s turnover rate makes it take weeks to become photoprotective with this antioxidant.
- Green tea. It contains ECGC ( Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate). A study indicated that it reduced UVA skin damage and protected against collagen loss.
Go over this article to identify high antioxidant food list and learn about the effects of antioxidants to your body here.
Avoid The Hazardous Indoor Tanning
Many individuals assume tanning bed UV rays are harmless. This is incorrect. Tanning lights emit UVA and UVB rays, and they can both cause long-term skin damage and contribute to the development of skin cancer. Many pieces of research have suggested the use of tanning beds to an increased risk of melanoma, particularly if it begins before the age of 30. That is why dermatologists and health organizations recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps. One alternative is to use a sunless tanning lotion, sprays, and tinted makeup. They all provide color without posing a hazard to the skin.
The sun can be your body’s best friend as the sun rays yield benefits to our physical well-being. It not only boosts your mood and can be a practical part of treatment for depression and sadness. It is important to enjoy the sun rays in moderation and safely with protective measures to reap the benefits without the skin cancer risks to get the most from the radiating natural resources!