We’ve all heard that the sun is dangerous and we need to protect our skin and eyes from this evil force of nature. Is this the whole story? Is there another view? Like most of us, a good part of my life was spent wearing my cool shades and using sunscreen to protect my skin from skin cancer. More recently, I’ve adopted the opposite viewpoint that the more sun I can get, the better I’ll feel. I go out of my way to go outside first thing in the morning without my prescription glasses, so that both my eyes and skin can absorb as much healing sun rays as possible. I proceed to then get as much sunshine as my daily schedule will allow. Sunbathing with coconut oil is a favorite past time, along with long walks outdoors in the heat of the day.
The Latest Research on the Sun
Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D., MD, has done tremendous research on the benefits and importance of the sun and vitamin D for general health. Dr Holick has authored the Vitamin D Solution book and he is the Director of the Bone Health Care Clinic and the Director of Heliotherapy, Light and Skin Research at Boston University Medical Center. His work is largely responsible for today’s awareness of vitamin D’s importance to health.
One can supplement with vitamin D3 capsules and many vitamin D deficient Americans do this. For supplementation 1-5,000 mg daily is recommended. However, the best source for this vitamin is direct sunlight on one’s skin. One can’t overdose on vitamin D created by sunlight because the body simply discontinues creating it when there is enough. Sunlight activates vitamin D by converting it to the form vitamin D sulfate.
The amount of sunlight individuals need varies. Those with darker skin require more time in the sun, while those with fair skin require less. Ten to twenty minutes is the average time recommended as a minimum. The important guideline is to avoid sun burning, which does pose a health hazard.
Why Sunlight in our Eyes is Important
Research emphasizes the importance of daily sunlight in one’s eyes to stimulate mitochondria production, as well as help regulate circadian rhythms. Mitochondria are critical for every health function and more mitochondria are associated with longevity. Circadian rhythms influence our sleep cycle and support a healthy sleep pattern. One integrative cardiologist suggests that in the winter months, one obtain a minimum of 5 minutes of daily morning exposure of sunlight to their eyes.
Integrative cardiologist Jack Wolfson discusses the importance of sunlight in our eyes for production of melatonin, which is essential for both physical and mental health.
Dave Asprey in his book Your Brain on Light, Air, and Cold describes how in the last thirty years we have attempted to avoid ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B light for the first time, blocking these from our eyes with UV filtering windows, windshields and sunglasses, and from our skin with sunscreen. He discusses how older generations didn’t wear sunglasses or sunscreen and have better mitochondria and less skin cancer.
Another benefit of direct sunlight to one’s eyes is to vision health. Research from several studies has concluded that children exposed to more sunlight during the day decrease their chances of developing nearsightedness. David Allamby, an ophthalmologist and Director of Focus Clinic in London warns that lack of sunlight increases childrens’ risk of developing myopia, more commonly known as nearsightedness. Myopia can, in turn, lead to retinal detachment or glaucoma. The Office for National Statistics revealed that children only spend 16 minutes outside daily. Longer outdoor play time is recommended for children.
Dr. Christopher Starr, an ophthalmologist from Weil Cornell Medical College, recommends children spend one to three extra hours outdoors. Starr explains that sunlight stimulates dopamine release and a lack of dopamine cause elongation of the eye, resulting in nearsightedness.
Integrative physician Al Sears shares details of several studies done in many countries, documenting the importance of sunlight exposure to eyes to prevent nearsightedness. Sears also shares his observation that traditional cultures who spent all day outdoors needed perfect vision in order to survive, and hunt for their food. The widespread problem of vision issues is a modern one and tremendous research documents that lack of sunlight to eyes is partly responsible.
Of course, staring directly at the sun is not recommended, but looking into the sky for 2 minutes is one biohack that Dave Osprey does to enhance his health. It is important to remove eyeglasses, so that sunrays will not be blocked.
Healing Benefits of Sun
For hundreds of years, especially before antibiotics, sunlight was used to hasten the healing of wounds. Sunlight therapy, called heliotherapy has been used since the time of Ramses in Egypt. Sunlight has been used to treat cancer, skin disorders, depression, hypertension, tuberculosis, asthma, immune disorders, paralysis and other diseases.
Sunlight is best known for its creation of usable vitamin D, but it also creates cholesterol sulfate which is essential for production of sex hormones. Sunlight exposure increases testosterone which influences muscle tone and body composition. Sunlight creates nitric oxide, a powerful molecule that widens blood vessels. Nitric oxide prevents heart attacks and enhances athletic performance. It also lowers blood pressure and inflammation.
Sunlight creates endorphins and dopamine, responsible for mood and hormone regulation. These hormones in turn can reduce pain and inhibit cancer growth.
Sun and Cancer
Dermatologists have blamed too much sun exposure on skin as a primary cause for skin cancer. In truth sun exposure is extremely beneficial to health and sun has been used therapeutically for healing for many years.
Too little sun is now being blamed by integrative physicians for rising cancer rates of all kinds. Melanoma which is the deadliest of skin cancers generally occur on skin that is never exposed to sun. Vitamin D deficiency which correlates with too little sun exposure is connected with increased cancer rates of all kinds.
How Much is Enough or Too Much?
As previously stated, 10-20 minutes of sunlight is recommended as a general rule, but darker skinned individuals will need more sun exposure. Avoiding sun burns is advisable.
When thinking about our ancestors, it makes sense to spend as much time as possible outdoors. We were made to live with nature, not inside with unnatural sources of light. Why would we need special glassware and skin products to protect our eyes and skin from something as natural as the sun? People had skin color perfectly suited to maximize their proximity to the sun. Those living close to the equator had darker skin pigmentation to naturally protect skin from intense sun rays, while those living far from the equator had lighter skin which would help maximize their minimal sunlight exposure.
Best Sun Protection if Needed
The best sun protection, if needed after long exposure times or on a vacation in a warmer climate closer to the equator, are hats, light clothing and shade. If skin protection is needed in the form of sunscreen, it is vital to find a brand that is safe and without toxic chemicals most common brands contain. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for safe sunscreens, with independent safety ratings.
The sun is our friend and not to be feared. Sun therapy has been used for centuries to treat many health conditions. Sun exposure to skin and eyes are beneficial to health, creating vitamin D, melatonin, hormones, neurotransmitters and mitochondria. Sun will benefit both your physical and mental health. On those long sunny days of summer, embrace the sun and enjoy time spent outside. Ditch your sunglasses and sunscreen.
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