Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. And it’s true. The sun REALLY does make you happy… almost instantly. But unfortunately, due to an increase in the number of people obsessing over anti-aging and sunscreen, people are avoiding the sun more than ever before. I get why people react to how harmful the sun can be, but it’s become overboard. Using sunscreen is vital to avoid skin cancer and sunburn, but if all that matters to most people is anti-aging to keep up with the ingrained beauty standards at the cost of not getting proper sunlight, certain aspects of life will suffer.
Sunlight is vital to your mental health — as I started this newsletter, sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy. Your brain releases endorphins when your skin is exposed to sunlight for a certain period. The top layer of the skin produces beta-endorphin, a hormone released into the bloodstream. When beta-endorphin reaches the brain, it makes people happy; Reciprocally, lack of sunlight can cause gloominess.
Sunlight also triggers the brain to release serotonin (happiness hormone) and dopamine (feel-good hormone) neurotransmitters. Serotonin boosts the mood and makes you calm. A lack of sunshine is one reason depression rates are higher in winter when people do not get as much sunlight as in summer.
As for wrinkles, people should stop being excessively terrified of wrinkles as they’re a normal part of aging. I would much rather be 90 years old and have kick-ass memories of having a sun-drenched time at the beach every summer, frolicking in the surf and feeling amazing, or hiking in the mountains and watching the sun come up than feeling self-righteous because my face is 19% less wrinkly than my cohort at the nursing home. In other words, avoiding the sun to avoid wrinkles and, in turn, not having fun is a problem.
A friend of mine was battling depression and anxiety. His doctor told him that he had these challenges because of high stress and a lack of Vitamin D. He was prescribed vitamins but also was told to get out into the sun for an hour daily. The sun didn’t magically cure his mental health (healing is never linear), but he did notice a notable difference. He makes a point to get out into the sun for an hour 3xs a week.
People have known about the sun’s benefits for ages, but more recently, the harms have only been known from studies and data. We certainly have the advantage of modern knowledge. That being said, we shouldn’t shun any and everything sun-related. We should acknowledge its positives as well as the negatives. We must take a balanced approach and be mindful of certain times of day, the location, the length of exposure, and genetics. All of these factors make an impact. We need to be mindful and err on the side of caution, but don’t let it control us.
Sunlight is critical to overall health: Vitamin D, circadian rhythm (regulates sleep & hormones and lowers stress as a result), mitochondrial health, and skin health (UV radiation can treat psoriasis, acne, jaundice, eczema, and most fungi/bacteria). Specifically, Vitamin D is a research-supported mood booster and can help soothe some symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A lack of sun exposure, which means a lack of Vitamin D, has been linked to chronic diseases, including cancers. The sun provides the body with Vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium and magnesium. It directly contributes to bone health, helping to avoid rickets and osteoporosis (which can affect men as well as women). The bottom line is damage to your health caused by Vitamin D deficiency and other issues dramatically outweighs possible photodamage done to sunscreen-covered skin during light to moderate sun exposure.
Use sunscreen while going out, as you don’t need raw skin to benefit from sun. Evidence is overwhelming about the multiple benefits of sun protection. And use sunscreen on your face at all times — before heading out the door in the morning. Your facial skin is fragile. Further, controlled studies have shown that regular use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent, melanoma by 50 percent, and premature skin aging by 24 percent.
Again, as I have said, we need balance. Sun is beneficial in moderation. We will all age, so a few lines are insignificant compared to the benefits of sunshine. Of course, you shouldn’t be out tanning for hours—and sun exposure to the point of burning increases many health risks. The sun’s benefit on health is like a bell-shaped curve. You want to get enough for proper health but not too much, which risks health and premature aging.
Take all of this information as you will. I’d rather be cautious and enjoy the sun with some sunscreen than fear the light of day like a vampire. 10 -15 minutes daily with SPF on your face (ideally in the morning and evening) is optimal. And let that sunshine boost your mood, provide numerous health benefits, and instantly make you happier. You will feel better! But if you’re still questioning if natural sunlight can make you happier, look at a cat in the sunshine. It is undeniable proof — trust me.