For all our fears surrounding the dangers of sun exposure, a little time in the sun is necessary for our health. Author Stephanie Tourles offers some expert natural care tips for getting your daily dose without doing damage to your skin.
We’ve become a sun-phobic society. Yet most living things — plants, animals, and people — need at least a little sunshine in order to survive and thrive. Certainly, overexposure to the sun is the single most damaging event for your skin. It’s not just sunburns but suntans (and the associated skin dehydration) that damage all three skin layers — those that are visible as well as the invisible and underlying supportive layers. That damage is cumulative over a lifetime.
Yet sunshine feels good on your skin and can even provide important health benefits. Approximately 30 to 45 minutes of daily unprotected exposure to sunlight helps your body absorb calcium by causing your skin to produce that part of the vitamin D complex that strengthens bones. Sun exposure helps reduce stress and blood pressure, balance hormone levels, increase the body’s production of feel-good serotonin, and aid in healing eczema, acne, psoriasis, and poison plant rashes. Many health professionals have observed a rise in the occurrence of osteoporosis, spontaneous fractures of the small bones of the feet, vitamin D deficiencies, skin diseases, mood imbalances, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) around the globe because our lives are increasingly sedentary and spent indoors, with long car commutes between work and home. Getting adequate sun exposure can diminish the incidence of these conditions.
To avoid skin damage, try to get your daily dose of sunshine early in the morning (before 10 a.m.) or late in the day (after 4 p.m.). If you live in a northern climate where sunshine is sometimes limited in the winter and temperatures can be quite cold, try to expose your face and hands for at least 15 minutes daily.
Brief periods of unprotected sun exposure may be beneficial, but if you do intend to spend a longer period of time in the sun, it’s important to use what I like to call “common sun sense”:
- Don’t stay in the sun for hours on end with no protection of any kind or without reapplying sunscreen regularly.
- Avoid exposure during the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Apply a natural, nontoxic sunscreen prior to exposure and wear protective clothing.
These strategies, best begun in your early teens (though it’s never too late to begin to start), can help to prevent premature aging, uneven skin tone and blotching, and the kind of sun exposure that has been linked to skin cancer.
A Word on Natural Sunscreen and Using Self-Tanners
While wearing sunscreen is important, the synthetic chemicals in most commercial products have the potential to be irritating, especially for folks who exercise outdoors, or those who typically sweat a lot or have sensitive skin. Sunscreen can sting if it drips into your eyes or nose and can cause skin rashes when its chemical base mixes with sweat.
Natural sunscreens, such as those containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, provide a physical sun-reflective barrier (as opposed to a chemically absorbed one), offer a relatively high sun protection factor (SPF), and greatly reduce or eliminate irritation. Natural oil blends containing jojoba or sesame oil as their base are beneficial skin emollients and conditioners that also contribute a low level of natural protection from the sun’s damaging rays.
As for tanning, if you must have a deep sun-kissed hue, try a good-quality natural self-tanning lotion or cream. Follow the directions to the letter, make sure you exfoliate prior to application, and take the time to apply an even layer. The results are quite realistic if the self-tanner is applied correctly.
In addition to common sun sense, it’s important to keep your skin hydrated and lubricated at all times — inside and out — to help maintain its elasticity, softness, and comfort for years to come. Drink plenty of water and eat ample servings of healthful fatty foods such as avocados, raw nuts and seeds, cold-water fish, and good quality olive oil. Don’t forget to apply your favorite natural moisturizer from head to toe prior to and after sun exposure. Look for moisturizers (or make your own using the recipes in my book, Pure Skin Care) that contain nourishing, hydrating ingredients (such as aloe vera gel; green or calendula tea; cucumber extract; herbal hydrosols such as lavender, calendula, chamomile, or lemon balm; marshmallow or comfrey root extracts; vegetable glycerin; honey, and goat’s milk) as well as lubricating ingredients (such as shea, cocoa, and mango butters, and oils such as sesame, jojoba, almond, grapeseed, sunflower, and olive).
So enjoy your time in the sun, but don’t forget to take the time to nourish and protect your skin naturally — not just before, during and after sun exposure — but always, to prolong the health, youthful appearance, and luminosity of your skin for a lifetime of glowing radiance!