13 Ways the Sun Affects Your Body: The Good & The Bad

The sun can sometimes get a bad rap for only having negative effects on our health, when in fact, it has many positive effects for our overall health. Like many other things, sunshine should be enjoyed in moderation to avoid things like a nasty sunburn or heat rash. <!–split–>

The Good                                                                                                                                                               Enhances Your Mood:  The great thing about sunlight is that it is a free mood enhancer. When the body receives sunlight, the amount of serotonin created in the body increases. Serotonin is the body’s “happy” hormone, as it is essential to mood regulation.  Because of the increase of serotonin, we feel happier!

Treats Seasonal Affective Disorder:  In certain people, the lack of sunlight can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition is actually a form of depression. SAD generally begins in the fall and continues through the winter. It is possible for Seasonal Affective Disorder to continue through the spring and summer, but it is very rare. Symptoms include feeling depressed, changes in mood, social problems, overeating, lethargy and oversleeping.

Stress Reliever:  Stress is something we all experience, and it is caused by a variety of factors such as family, work and health.  One of the ways that stress can be relieved is through exposure to the sunlight. Serotonin, the “happy” hormone, is triggered by sunlight. Serotonin levels in the brain are higher during the summer, when the days of the year are at their longest.

Improves Sleep:  It may be hard to believe, but sunlight affects our sleeping patterns. Our circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle based on light and darkness and influences our sleep-wake cycles. Our brains receive information from the incoming light which helps the brain turn on or turn off our internal clocks. If it’s darker, the brain makes more melatonin, a hormone that makes a person feel drowsy. Likewise, if it’s light out, the brain produces less melatonin.

Vitamin D:  Sunlight’s best known benefit is how it boosts the body’s supply of vitamin D. Most deficiencies of vitamin D can be attributed to the lack of sun exposure. Vitamin D also triggers the absorption of calcium in the bones. However, it is not necessary to tan or get a sunburn in order to receive the proper amount of vitamin D that your body needs.

The Bad

Cataracts:  A cataract is clouding in the eye’s lens that will obscure a person’s vision. Cataracts can form in people who have had prolonged exposure to sunlight. The majority of UV light from the sun enters the eye through its lens. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can irritate or potentially burn the lens of the eye. You can prevent cataracts by wearing sunglasses while outside. A hat that has a brim can also prevent the ultraviolet light from entering the lens of the eye.

Heat Stroke or Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion is a mild form of heat illness that develops after several days of exposure to high temperatures and lack of replacement fluids. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses too much water and cannot cool itself. Symptoms include:  heavy sweating, fatigue, dizziness, weak pulse, headache.  If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke is much more dangerous and can be life threatening because the body’s temperature can rise above 104 degrees in a matter of minutes. Symptoms of heat stroke include flushed skin, rapid pulse and dizziness. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention because if it is left untreated, the heart, muscles, kidneys and even the brain can be damaged.

Sun Burns:  Sunburn is widely recognized as one of the most common negative side effects of too much sun exposure. The symptoms of sunburn do not usually appear until about 4 hours after the sun exposure and they worsen around 24-36 hours after exposure.  Symptoms of sunburn include:  tender skin, headaches, fever, blisters, nausea.  Severe burns, a fever, severe pain or blisters that are filled with fluid as a result from sunburn require immediate attention from a medical professional.

Heat Rash:  A heat rash is a skin rash that occurs when sweat ducts trap perspiration under the skin. Heat rash often takes place during hot, humid weather and takes the form of blisters or red bumps. Adults may develop heat rash in skin folds or where clothing is tight to the skin. In infants, heat rash is normally found on the chest, neck or shoulders.  Heat rash can be treated by staying in a cool environment to prevent sweating and by keeping the affected area of skin dry. Loosening tight clothing can also help relieve the symptoms of heat rash.

Skin Cancer:  Skin cancer is the most prevalent of cancers with 3.5 million cases diagnosed each year. Skin cancer can develop from excessive exposure to the sun, severe sunburns, family history, older age, and other causes. Fortunately, it is unlikely you will develop skin cancer if you avoid long exposure to sunlight, apply sunscreen, and wear protective clothing and sunglasses while spending time outside.

Melanoma:  According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma will account for 73 percent of cases of invasive skin cancers in 2015. Melanoma is one of the most frequently found cancer among 20-35 year-olds and can occur on any part of the skin, including areas that are not exposed to the sun. This form of cancer is more likely to spread to other areas of the body that can be more difficult to treat. This results in melanoma causing the most skin cancer deaths. However, if detected in its early stages, melanoma has a greater chance of being cured.

Wrinkles:  Most wrinkles are due to aging skin, but high UV exposure can cause wrinkles to form by breaking down collagen and fibers in the skin. However, there are many remedies for wrinkles, including refraining from tanning and using moisturizer daily.

Ages Skin:  Skin will naturally age, but sunlight causes the aging process to accelerate. This is known as photo-aging. UV rays damage collagen and increase the production of elastin in the skin. When the elastin attempts to rebuild collagen, the skin is often rebuilt incorrectly, resulting in decreased strength and elasticity of the skin. The skin can also be rebuilt in the form of dark or discolored spots or with a leathery texture.

Tanning Beds Are NOT Better:   A common misconception is that tanning beds are a good source of vitamin D. However, you can get enough vitamin D from food and sun. In the United States, over 419,000 skin cancer cases are attributed to indoor tanning. Furthermore, a study completed in 2012 found a connection between indoor tanning and melanoma and a separate study from 2010 found that the risk of melanoma increased the more time a person spends inside a tanning booth.

Protect Yourself   

Much of the damage to our skin caused by the sun can be prevented. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. It’s important to apply sunscreen before going outside, and if you plan to stay outside for more than two hours, sunscreen should be re-applied. Another way to protect yourself is to cover up with sunglasses, proper clothing and a hat. If you’re going to be outside for an extended period of time, find a place with shade to protect yourself from the UV rays.

Your Parish Nurse, Kara