As we reach the warmer months, thoughts often turn to summer holidays and bronzed skin. Whilst there are some health benefits to a small amount of sun exposure, there are also important health warnings that come with it. In this blog, we look at the benefits, risks, and ways to help protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Health benefits from sun exposure
- A good source of vitamin D – the sunshine helps us to produce vitamin D which is important for controlling the amount of calcium and phosphate in our bodies which keeps our bones and teeth healthy. Vitamin D can be found in a variety of foods, but the best way to absorb it is still to get outdoors and have some sun exposure, just remember to wear sunscreen!
- It enhances our mood – most of us are a lot cheerier when the sun is shining, and there is a scientific reason for this! A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience found a positive correlation between serotonin levels, which act as a mood stabiliser, and increased exposure to the sunlight, no matter what the season.
- It could lower blood pressure – research conducted by Edinburgh University found in a study of volunteers, their blood pressure dropped significantly after exposure to UV rays versus no exposure to the rays.
Health risks from sun exposure
- Sunburn/ageing of the skin – this is ultimately skin damage from overexposure to the suns UV rays. Whilst the symptoms of sunburn are generally short-lived, skin that is repeatedly burnt by the sun can lead to long-term problems, such as premature ageing of the skin and skin cancer.1 The best way to prevent sunburn is to wear sunscreen with an adequate sun protection factor (SPF); the higher the SPF, the more your skin will be protected. To read more about the health benefits of wearing sunscreen, check out our blog. Other ways to help prevent sunburn include wearing light clothing to cover your skin from the harmful rays, and staying out of the sun when it is at its most powerful – between 11am and 3pm.
- Eye damage – if your eyes are exposed to UV rays without protection for a prolonged period of time, it can lead to issues such as cataracts. Cataracts are a form of eye damage that causes the loss of transparency in the lens, giving you cloudy vision. The World Health Organisation estimate that around 12 to 15 million people annually lose their sight to cataracts globally, 20% of which may be caused or enhanced by sun exposure.2 Sun damage at any time of the year can lead to a burning sensation on the eye known as ‘snow blindness’, the effects usually wear off in a couple of days, but problems can reoccur. You should invest in a good pair of sunglasses to help prevent problems like this occurring – look for sunglasses that carry the CE mark and the British Standard BS EN 1836:2005, which ensures they offer protection from ultraviolet light.
- Skin cancer – there are 2 types of skin cancer; melanoma and basal cell or squamous cell (non-melanoma) cancers. Non-melanoma cancers are the most common, however they are also easy to treat and cure – melanoma skin cancer is more serious and the outlook for a patient is not as positive.3 The most common cause of skin cancers is overexposure to UV rays, so the same about preventing sunburn applies here – ensure you wear a sunscreen with a high SPF when out in the suns rays.
These facts are not here to scare you but to help you see the effects of the sun differently. Summer is a great time of year and getting out in the sunshine and getting active is one of the best ways to improve your mood, just remember to wear sunscreen and try to avoid the strong midday rays.
If you are worried about skin cancer and think you might have a cancerous mole or growth, it is important to see your GP as soon as possible.
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1 NHS http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sunburn/Pages/Introduction.aspx
2 World Health Orgnisation http://www.who.int/uv/health/en/
3 Cancer Research UK http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/melanoma/treatment/melanoma-statistics-and-outlook