The dog days of summer are here, and the UV rays from the sun are getting stronger. Let’s face it. Being in the sun makes you happier, strengthens your immune system, and reduces stress. Yet, too much of a good thing can be harmful if you don’t protect yourself from the sun.
One of my favorite ways to cool down in the summer is to go swimming with my daughter, Elle. Soaking up the sun is a great way to increase your body’s vitamin D supply. However, it only takes 15 minutes in the sun to damage your skin.
Too much time in the hot summer sun can lead to sunburn, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. You can avoid these conditions by taking the proper precautions. I will tell you how to protect yourself from the sun, what ingredients to avoid in sunscreen, and how to support your skin from the inside out. First, we need to talk about the sun and your skin.
The Sun and Your Skin
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ve heard me say the skin is your body’s largest organ. Your skin has a lot of different functions. It acts as a barrier to protect your body from toxins, bacteria, pathogens, and sun rays. It prevents loss of moisture and helps regulate body temperature.1
Your skin is the first thing people notice and says a lot about your health. As we get older, our skin’s appearance changes. Sometimes a change in the appearance of your skin can indicate something has gone array. I don’t want you to worry over the slightest imperfection. Factors such as stress, exposure to toxins, hormonal balances, and too much sun exposure can cause damage to your skin.
Your skin has three layers, and each layer has a specific job.
- The epidermis (top layer): Protects against bacteria and germs, makes new skin and provides skin its color.
- The dermis (the middle layer): Grows hair, makes oil, supplies blood to the epidermis, produces sweat to remove toxins, and helps regulate body temperature.
- The hypodermis (the bottom or fatty layer): Connects skin to muscles and bones to provide cushion and contains fat to help regulate body temperature.
Sunlight contains three types of ultraviolet (UV) rays: Ultraviolet C (UVC), Ultraviolet B (UVB), and Ultraviolet A (UVA).2
UVC rays are the most dangerous. However, they have the shortest wavelength and don’t make it through the ozone layer. UVA and UVB rays are a different story and can penetrate through the top two layers of the skin. Let’s talk about these two types of sun rays.
UVB rays have a shorter wavelength than UVA rays, and they only reach the epidermis layer of your skin. These rays are what cause sunburns and damaged skin cells and increase your risk of skin cancer. The intensity of UVB rays varies geographically and may be more or less intense depending on the season and time of day.
UVA rays have the longest wavelength and do not get absorbed by the ozone layer. These types of rays give you a sun tan because they penetrate deep into the dermis layer of your skin, where melanin is produced. Melanin provides pigmentation to your skin, eyes, and hair and is what absorbs UV rays in your skin. UVA rays cause premature aging, suppress the immune system, and increase your risk of skin cancer.
What to Know About the UV Index
UV rays are the most powerful between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The UV index indicates how intense UV rays are and is part of your daily weather forecast. The higher the UV index, the more limited your time in the sun should be. Here’s a quick guide to how long you should stay in the sun based on the UV index.
- A UV index of 0-2: 30 minutes to 2 hours is considered safe.
- Index of 3-6: 20 to 90 minutes
- Index of 7-9: Only 7 to 9 minutes if you have a lighter skin pigmentation; if you have a darker complexion you are are safe for up to 40 minutes. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat with a UV index of 7 to 9, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
- Index of 10 or higher: If you have a lighter skin pigmentation, your time in the sun should not exceed 6 minutes. If your skin pigmentation is darker, no more than 30 minutes of exposure is safe. Sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat should be worn.
I know this can sound scary, but you shouldn’t worry. The sun can benefit your health with the right amount of protection, such as sunscreen and clothing. I’ll tell you about the proper sunscreen and how to protect yourself from the sun in just a minute. First, let’s talk about the benefits of the sun!
Benefits of the Sun Exposure
You’ve probably heard a lot about the dangers of sun exposure. While too much sun exposure can harm your skin, the right balance can have a lot of benefits to your health! Here are some of the benefits of sun exposure.
Improves Your Mood
Sunlight and darkness trigger the release of hormones in your brain. Sunlight triggers your brain to release serotonin, one of four happiness hormones, along with oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused.
At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make another hormone called melatonin. This hormone is responsible for helping you sleep, and darkness triggers the release of melatonin, which gets created from all the serotonin your body gets from sunlight.3
One of the leading causes of seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is the overproduction of melatonin. Remember, your body produces melatonin from serotonin in response to darkness. Since the sun stimulates the brain to make serotonin, it improves your mood and helps you feel calmer and alert. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside daily, especially when the sun is shining, has increased serotonin levels.4
Supports Your Immune System
Sunlight helps your body synthesize vitamin D, which works hand-in-hand with your body to modulate immune activity. Think of vitamin D as a light switch in your body, turning on or off genes and processes your body needs for a healthy immune system.
Active vitamin D goes to different areas of your body, including your bones, intestines, colon, brain, and immune cells, which all have Vitamin D receptors. The active vitamin D binds with these receptors and promotes vitamin D-responsive genes, essentially turning them on to facilitate a healthy immune system response.
According to the World Health Organization, people should get between 10 and 15 minutes of sun exposure 2 to 3 times a week.5 However, a little more than that won’t hurt. Moderation is essential as too much can be dangerous.
The Dangers of Sun Exposure
I’m sure you have had sunburn before after spending a day in the sun. Too much sun exposure allows these dangerous UV rays to reach the inner layers of your skin, which you probably know as sunburn. Besides being extremely painful, sunburns damage your skin cells and cause them to die.
As I mentioned earlier, the epidermis contains a pigment known as melanin, which protects your skin and creates vitamin D. This defense causes your skin to get darker, also known as a sun tan.
While sun tans look nice, they aren’t as good for you as you think. Skin cells with too much melanin can begin clumping with too much sun exposure, which causes freckles, moles, and skin tags.6 Other dangers include early aging, weakened immune system, eye damage, and skin cancer.
Sunscreen is one way to protect yourself from the sun, yet you must be careful choosing a sunscreen. Here’s how to choose the right sunscreen.
How to Choose a Sunscreen
Like many body products, popular sunscreens contain an alarming number of toxins. Every year The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their Guide to Sunscreens, which includes a list of which chemicals to look out for and their top picks for the safest brands and products. To make safe and educated buying decisions this season, check sunscreen labels for the most common and concerning ingredients below.
- Retinyl Palmitate
When looking for sunscreen, it should have an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and the number represents the amount of protection against UV rays.
SPF extends your natural protection into the deeper layers of your skin. For example, an SPF of 15 provides 15 times more security to your skin. An SPF of 50 is 50 times more protection, and so on. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that will block both UVA and UVB rays, which can penetrate past the epidermis. You must reapply sunscreen every two hours or right after swimming or sweating.
For optimal protection, choose a product that contains vitamin C. Studies show vitamin C and sunscreen may ideally maximize protection against phototoxic damage.7 This is because vitamin C contains antioxidants that neutralize the sun’s free radicals to help shield your skin from premature aging and damage.
The best way to protect yourself from the sun is to support your skin from the inside out and provide it with the proper nutrients. I will tell you about my No. 1 tool to support your skin.
Support Your Skin from the Inside Out
We all want soft, elastic skin. In functional medicine, we believe that healing starts from the inside out, which means you must regenerate your skin’s extracellular matrix. Your extracellular matrix contains structural proteins (collagen, elastin, & keratin) and moisture-locking compounds such as hyaluronic acid.
While there are proven benefits of biotin and vitamins A, C, and E for your skin, it also needs proteins such as collagen and elastin, along with other amino acids such as omega-3s and L-proline. Hyaluronic acid, which is found in your skin naturally, keeps your skin soft and moist.
That’s why I formulated Radiance, packed with seven targeted micronutrients that act as superfoods to support your extracellular matrix. This supplement contains nourishing vitamins, botanicals, and amino acids specially formulated to bolster the structural proteins responsible for youthful, plumper-looking skin.
It contains 300mcg of biotin, 2.5mg of niacin,15 milligrams of pantothenic acid, optimal amounts of L-proline, and a proprietary blend of essential nutrients, including hyaluronic acid, to support healthy-looking hair, skin, and nails.
Radiance works from the inside out to moisturize, protect yourself from the sun, and nourish your skin with crucial micronutrients. Something you won’t find in most skin supplement formulas is L-Proline. I included it because it supports and stimulates the production of alpha keratin and collagen – key building blocks of youthful-looking skin.
It’s essential to protect yourself from the sun. However, the real support comes from the inside out. Radiance give your skin’s extracellular matrix the support it needs to help protect it from sun damage and provide it with optimal support for a youthful appearance.
- How does skin work?. InformedHealth.org . 2019.
- UV Rays & How the Sun Can Damage Your Skin. Gregory C. Mitro, MD. SERO. 2021.
- What Does Melatonin Do, and How Does It Work?. Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD, et al. 2022.
- Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology?. Randy A. Sansone, MD and Lori A. Sansone, MD. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 2013.
- UV Radiation. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. 2022.
- Effects of Sun Exposure. familydoctor.org. 2021.
- Benefits of adding vitamin C to your skin care routine. Kaylee Dusang. Baylor College of Medicine. 2019.