The sunny season we know as summer is quickly approaching. This season will be filled with outdoor activities such as picnics and trips to the beach. More time outdoors means more sun exposure, which is great for getting your vitamin D levels up. However, too much sun can be dangerous for your skin. As we shift our concerns from spring allergies to fun days in the sun, we’ve written this article to break down how not getting enough sun might affect you opposed to getting too much sun and how to find the right balance.

Why is sunlight important?

Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D which is essential for bone and teeth health, insulin regulation, healthy cardiovascular & lung function and immune, brain and nervous system support. Sunlight also triggers the release of a hormone called serotonin, which is a mood boosting hormone known for making people more relaxed, focused and productive.

What happens if I get too much sunlight?

Getting enough sunlight is important, but sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad. This applies to sunlight as well. Too much sunlight can destroy our melanin, which is our skin’s protective layer. This extra exposure can:

  • damage skin cells
  • cause skin irritation
  • cause skin cancer in some cases.

While most people that stay in the sun too long experience skin redness, tightening, itching, blisters and peeling aka sunburn, excessive sun exposure can have other effects including early aging, eye injuries and lowered immune system function. Let’s be clear, we’re not saying spending an extra 15 minutes in the sun will give you skin cancer, but if you spend hours everyday in the sun without any sort of protection, your risk of skin disease and cancer are significantly increased.

So how do I find the right balance?

There’s really no hard and fast rule to determine how much sunlight a person should get. However, during the summer it’s quite likely that you might end up spending the entire day outdoors, i.e, in the sun. The best way to approach this season is to ensure you have the tools to protect yourself from overexposure.

  • Use sunscreen. Always wear sunscreen… we can’t stress this enough. Use a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or more, especially  between the hours of 10:00am and 4:00pm. Apply about 15 – 20 minutes before you go outside and try to avoid these brands. Look for sunscreen brands that say “broad spectrum” or have the UVA logo. Also keep in mind that all sunscreens will lose effectiveness in water, even those “water resistant” ones and you should reapply every 2 – 3 hours.

  • Wear appropriate clothing. Wearing light layers of clothing can help protect you from direct exposure to the sun. Long pants offer more protection than shorts and natural fibers like cotton are the coolest. Even though light clothing doesn’t absorb heat as much as dark clothing, dark clothing offers better protection. If you’re going to the beach or to the pool, try to wear long-sleeved swimming shirts as water isn’t a defense against the sun and you can still experience exposure while swimming. For added protection, umbrellas, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses can also protect you from the harsh effects of sun exposure.
  • Try to stay in shaded areas. This one of the easiest ways to control your sun exposure that doesn’t require too much effort. If you’re on a picnic, try to stay close to large, shady tree. If you’re headed to the beach, opt to stay under a large umbrella. If you’re going for a long drive, roll up the windows and put on the AC. Glass will block UV rays better than if your windows are down and sunlight pours in directly.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Both of these are dangerous for your skin and can cause cancer. Melanin cause our skin to naturally darken as a reaction to UV exposure, so if you’re looking to get a tan, spending some time outdoors might be the healthiest way to get. Usually 2 – 3 hours is as much tanning time as our skin can take so avoid spending more time than this in direct sunlight without protection/sunscreen.

There’s nothing wrong with spending a little time outdoors and soaking up the sun, but it’s important to remember that too much sun can be dangerous. Take the simple precautions we’ve highlighted above and enjoy your summers outdoors with the people you love. At Walker’s Drug Store we have a wide variety of products to help you control your sun exposure. For over a century we have been helping residents of Charlotte with all their pharmaceutical needs. We provide advice, a range of sunscreen products and have some great sales available. To speak to one of our pharmacists, contact us or pop in and see us.