Sun Exposure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Article by Jared Kauffman.

Summer in Columbia, South Carolina is upon us.  It is no secret that Columbia gets very hot and very sunny in the summer months(and most of spring and fall).  There are many benefits to the sun and heat.  Over the next few weeks I will talk about sunshine, and next month we will talk about heat acclimatization, benefits and dangers of exercising in the heat.

Let’s start with the good:

Getting an adequate amount of sunlight can have many positive health benefits.  Everyone has heard that your body uses sunlight to produce Vitamin D.  In fact, sunlight can also increase hormone precursors, nitric oxide, dopamine and others (more on this from Bulletproof<>).

Recommendations for skin exposure are 10-20 minutes in the middle of the day, with as much exposed skin as possible.

In a similar way, sunlight on your eyes can have positive effects.  Your sleep cycle, or circadian rhythm, is set by the wavelengths of light that your eyes are exposed to.

Having trouble getting to sleep?

Something I’m sure most people have heard is that blue light can affect your sleep by disrupting your production of melatonin.  Most artificial lights and screens are almost entirely blue light, and do not contain the red and other wavelengths that your eyes are looking for.

Think about the sun.  Sunrise and sunset can have a red tint to them, and this, along with a decreasing amount of blue light is the signal for your body to produce melatonin and start to shut down.

What this all means is that you should expose yourself to full spectrum light like sunlight in the middle of the day, and get rid of as much primarily blue light as you can around morning and bedtime.

Next comes the bad: the negative effects of sun exposure and how to prevent them.

There is a correlation between sunburns and skin cancer.  If preventing cancer isn’t enough for you, the sunburn itself is not particularly fun.  The easiest prevention tool is to limit exposure to no more than 20 minutes a day.

If you are going to be outside, there are a couple ways to shield your skin from the harmful rays.

The most effective and the easiest method: clothing.  This is pretty obvious, clothing can protect your skin from the sun, hence the tan lines you get after being outside. However, not all clothing protects to the same degree.  UPF is a measure of protection for clothing, like SPF is for sunscreens. For example, clothing with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the suns rays to pass through to your skin.  UPF is determined by the color, type and weave of the fabric.  Darker, tightly woven fabrics provide the best coverage.  A lightweight, white shirt will not do much at all, with a UPF around 7. To test a piece of clothing, hold it up to the light, if you can see right through, it probably does not have much protection.  There are plenty of outdoor companies that make clothing specifically designed for sunwear (


Understandably, in the summer, most people do not, or can not for heat safety reasons, wear long pants and long sleeves.  So here is some info on how to protect exposed skin with sunscreens.

There are an extraordinary amount of sunscreens on the market, all that make different claims, all with different levels of protection.

Let’s start with SPF. Although many products advertise SPFs as high as 100+, there is only a marginal and insignificant benefit greater than 50.  Moreover, these higher SPFs give consumers a false sense of protection and they end up staying in the sun far too long.  Look for a sunscreen between 30 and 50 SPF.

Now on to ingredients.  The best screens are those that contain minerals that block and reflect that sunlight, rather than absorb or filter the light.  The two most common minerals are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  The two most common ingredients that you should avoid are retinal palmitate(Vitamin A), which has been shown to harm skin, and oxybenzone, which has been shown to disrupt hormones in the body.

Lastly, creams versus sprays.  As convenient as they are, sprays seem to be less effective at achieving full skin coverage, and possibly contain harmful inhalants.  I would go for a cream.  The EWG has an online guide where you can search for your screen and check their rating(, They also have an app called EWGs Healthy Living).

Finally the ugly:  The food I eat can protect me from the damaging effects of the sun???

Did you know that  the things you eat have an effect on your bodies built in sun protection?

There are some foods you can make sure are present in your diet to boost your body’s natural protection.  These are based around antioxidants that will counteract the harmful substances produced by excessive sunlight.  Included in this are omega 3s, resveratrol from blueberries and red grapes, astaxanthin from wild salmon and fish oil, supplemental vitamin E, and Beta carotene from carrots and red bell peppers.

There are also foods that tend to make your bodies system worse.

The  biggest one of these is sugar(yes, sugar will always be in the “Has Harmful Effects” category).

You can read more about this at Bulletproof(




1 Comment

May 29, 2017 · 9:16 am

One response to “Sun Exposure: The good, the bad, and the ugly

  1. Winkie

    Jared……Great article! Thanks so much…….Winkie😉


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