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The Sun & Related Health Benefits

There’s nothing better than hanging out in the goldilocks zone. Not too close to the Sun, and not too far away, but just the right distance to create an inhabitable environment with relatively stable temperatures. This is all thanks to the gigantic ball of constant nuclear fission, burning roughly 600 million tons of hydrogen and helium atoms every second, providing the most important source of energy for all systems on Earth. 

The Earth’s own living molten core must also be thanked, for it gives us a rich source of carbon and other noble gases that are actively released into the atmosphere providing the pressure necessary to create a stable and protective atmosphere. These systems give birth to a planet that is fully alive, blessed with the ability to support a planetary surface composed with enormous amounts of water. A life that we get to experience every morning as the Sun greets us for a new day, bathing us with comfort and warmth.

Why Do WE Love THE SUN?

Archaeological evidence has conclusively shown that hominids have gathered near large bodies of water throughout much of history. Mild temperatures, relatively large amounts of flora and fauna, and rich sources of life below the surface of the water brings abundance that allows for species to grow their populations. 

The delicate marriage between the sun and the earth that's given us these mild coastal environments has led to the evolution and eventual flourishing of the human population. For much of this evolution humans have looked to the sky in wonder, postulating what this great bright being in the sky may be, worshiping it as an all powerful divine deity. Which in reality was pretty spot on. There is nothing more powerful than being able to gift another day by means of a beautiful sunrise.

Although innately tied into humanity’s wellbeing, it was human intellect that eventually became entrenched with the mysteries of the sun. Did it rotate around us or do we rotate around it? In either case it was still clear that there were cyclical and predictable changes in relation to where the sun was in the sky and how intensely it was shining at any particular point of the year.  

As understanding of the sun and it’s cycles grew it became clear to many intellectuals that human life quite literally, and metaphorically revolved around the sun. Humans have a day named after the sun, build their calendars based on solar cycles, and developed the concept of time based on how the sun moved across the sky on any given day. Now the human mind, regardless of its innate and biological relations to the sun, has grown to rely on the dynamic sunlight cast upon the earth as it spins everlong through space. 

But that's not why we love the sun. 

We love the sun because it gives us breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. We love the sun because it kisses our skin with warmth. We love the sun because it gives us a blooming backyard garden. It gives us rainbows. The sun gives us life.

Most of all we love the sun, because at the end of the day nothing is better than catching some tasty waves on a warm sunny day….. with a cool buzz of course!


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What is healthy sun exposure?

Depending on the season most guidelines recommend anywhere from 10-30 minutes of sun exposure to at least the arms and legs to produce a sufficient amount of vitamin D. Those 10-30 minutes should occur during peak hours of sunshine, being between 10 am to 2 pm or 2 hours before and after the sun reaches it zenith. 

Typically it is advised that sunscreen is applied during these hours as the skin can easily be burnt within minutes when the sun is at peak intensity. Sunscreen should be reapplied every couple hours, especially when enjoying water activities or when being outside during peak hours. Note that even with sunscreen on, the body is still able to absorb enough ultraviolet light from the sun’s rays to stimulate the production of vitamin D in the body. 

For those with fairer skin it is recommended to always apply sunscreen before getting any sun exposure as they lack melanin, which provides an added layer of protection against the harmful UV rays from the sun. Of course those with darker skin can get sunburnt too, so always be mindful when you are in the sun and make sure to keep an eye on the time. 

Note that it is possible to get sunburnt in less than 15 minutes when exposed to direct sunlight, during peak hours, and especially with fair skin. Always use common sense and listen to your body to avoid getting badly sunburnt.

Why do we need healthy sun exposure?

Unsurprisingly, life, as it has evolved on earth has come to rely on the energy that the sun provides, with photosynthesis being a prime example. As living beings on earth, humans are innately and unquestionably married to the sun. Sunlight has been shown to be a regulator of a number of cyclical and metabolic processes in the body while being solely responsible for the synthesis of vitamin D in cells. 

The human circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, is regulated by sunlight which is registered by the higher operating centers of the brain. When the morning light shines through a window and illuminates one’s room, their brain will sense the increase in natural light and begin the process of ramping up cortisol production to kick the body into high gear for the day. At the end of the day when the light fades, the body begins to produce melatonin in order to prepare the body for a restful night of sleep. This is the same type of process that signals for animals to enter into hibernation. Unfortunately many of humans now have multiple sources of light which prevent the body from making melatonin and thus altering the sleep cycle. With lack of sleep comes increased inflammation and decreased resilience, which is further complicated when not getting adequate amounts of healthy sun exposure.

When healthy sun exposure is pursued it is, of course, the skin that has the most interaction with the sun’s rays. The skin, which is the body’s largest organ, produces and stores the highest concentrations of vitamin D precursor molecules (7-dihydroxy-cholecalciferol) in the body. It is this precursor molecule that needs UV light stimulation to begin the process of conversion to activated vitamin D (25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol), which the body uses for various functions that includes serum calcium and phosphorus regulation which plays a huge factor for bone health and development, immune function, heart function, muscular function, and enzyme production such as insulin. 

Individuals with low vitamin D have extensively been shown to be more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections, poor organ function, as well as poor mental health. Many skin experts will recommend that vitamin D should be supplemented, as more than half of the hospitalized and elderly patients have insufficient vitamin D levels. Those who have darker skin or skin high in melanin are also typically low in vitamin D, as melanin absorbs UV light from the sun, preventing it from activating the vitamin D precursor hanging around in the majority of cells in the skin. If someone has darker skin and feels they may be getting healthy sun exposure, their vitamin D levels may still remain low which makes it a good idea to periodically check levels with a healthcare professional.  

Although low vitamin D levels and lack of healthy sun exposure may seem concerning to some, it is not something to stress over. Vitamin D can easily be supplemented due to the fact that most living beings rely on the sun to produce vitamin D. This means vitamin D can be obtained through diet from other animals, vegetables, and mushrooms as well. Mushrooms are actually wonderful at producing vitamin D and are used to create many of the supplements we see today. You may even be taking a vitamin D supplement right now that was sourced from mushrooms and other yeasts. 

As with anything good though, too much of that good thing will eventually become harmful. In the case of the glorious sun, too much exposure will lead to a sunburn followed by a biochemical cascade of events in the body. 

What happens when we get sunburnt?

Ultraviolet light, otherwise known as UV light, is essentially radiation, and with excessive exposure it will cause a radiation burn and a substantial inflammatory response. This is the type of inflammation we all know well, as our skin starts to turn red, becoming hot and painful to the touch. Chemical messengers, immune cells, and cellular waste scavenging begins to reach a frenzy. The body has essentially kicked into full overdrive. It’s no wonder that tired, parched, delirious feeling settles in at the end of the day. 

Ultraviolet light and the subsequent inflammation both deal damage to the DNA of the cells on the surface of the skin. Section of the cell’s DNA may be altered causing a cell to essentially be deemed broken by the immune system. Normally when this DNA damage is sensed by the cell, it goes into a process known as cell death or apoptosis. Cell death is in itself an extremely inflammatory process, and adds to the overall inflammation already present at the site of the sunburn as time passes. 

Inflammation, though, is a necessary evil as it pertains to most mechanisms in the body, functioning as a powerful signal for other cells in the body to migrate to the area. Blood flow to the area increases, leading to a distinct “lobster” red color, as a means to bring more nutrients and white blood cells to the area all while clearing cellular debris and toxic byproducts from cell death. This process can typically last up to 3 days followed by itching and peeling that may occur for a few weeks as the body clears the remaining cellular metabolites. 

Unfortunately DNA damage, due to UV light exposure, may become too widespread or constant. When this occurs cells may fail to go into apoptosis, or programmed cell death, and instead begin to function with altered DNA and protein expression. Worst case scenario, the cells begin to multiply in a rapid and uncontrolled fashion, which is unfortunately how skin cancer develops. The chance of this process occuring greatly increases when individuals are getting excessive amounts of sun exposure while also having low antioxidant levels, overall health status, and fair skin.
Interestingly enough melanin absorbs UV light, which is clearly reflected in the fact that darker individuals are more resistant to getting sunburnt than fair skin individuals. Ironically melanocytes, the cells which produce melanin have over 2,000 genetic sites that are extremely sensitive to UV light, more so than regular skin cells. This is why many younger individuals who have more moles often get diagnosed with melanoma while other fair skin individuals develop skin cancer later in life after long term consistent damage. 
At the end of the day there is a storm of a response in the body why an individual gets sunburnt, leading to a number of immediately uncomfortable symptoms but can also have lasting effects on one's health and wellbeing. In the end if proper sun protection practices are not implemented and individuals follow an unhealthy lifestyle then the long term ramifications of excessive sun exposure may be bleak, yet there are tons of great ways to reinforce the body's ability to properly heal itself following a sunburn. 

What to do if you get burnt?

Hydration is probably the most important thing to consider when dealing with a sunburn. Proper hydration status allows fresh blood to more easily get to the sunburn which helps bring new nutrients and cells to the area while removing inflammatory byproducts of cell death. Furthermore, staying properly hydrated keeps our skin moisturized from the inside out which supports the cellular integrity of the skin. 

Frequent and cool baths are a wonderful way to relieve pains and decrease overall discomfort in cases of a particularly bad sunburn. Washing gingerly with water and mild soap can help remove some dead cells from the area as well, decreasing the amount of work the body has to do. Gently pat the skin down with a soft towel after exiting the bathtub or shower, and then immediately apply moisturizer to the skin to further assist in hydrating the skin. 

Moisturizers that are mild and unscented are ideal for extremely sensitive skin, especially something akin to a sunburn. Aloe vera and oatmeal based moisturizers can be particularly effective at soothing irritated skin. One can even go so far as to make cold oatmeal and then apply it as a thin layer over the sun burn or soaking cabbage leaves in water and then creating a sort of wrap over the sunburn. Both of these may sound extremely weird, but are both very anti-inflammatory for the skin and provide a bunch of antioxidants to the local area as well. 

Topical botanical products also offer a great way to reduce the severity and duration of a sunburn. Medicinal herbs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with many having potent wound healing, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant qualities essential for skin health. 

Honey is a common at home remedy for regular burns that occur in the kitchen, but can also play a great role in healing particularly nasty sunburns. Honey has been shown to heal partial thickness burns more efficiently than conventional treatment methods while also acting as a powerful disinfectant. So grab some delicious nectar and slather it on that burn for some healthy healing relief.

Eating lots of clean organic vegetables and fruit after a sunburn is always advised as they can be hydrating and provide a rich source of vitamins and minerals which aid the body in its healing process. Supplementing vitamins can also be a good idea if they are handy. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and is needed for proper collagen formation meaning it can help clear toxic debris while supporting proper skin integrity. Vitamin D can even be supplemented after a sunburn as it has been shown to reduce severity and duration of symptoms associated with a sunburn. Other supplement products such as turmeric, astaxanthin, b-vitamins, and many more can all be considered but remember to always consult your health care professional before taking any supplements. 

For more severe burns that result in blistering, hyperthermia, and severe pain it is always recommended that an individual goes to the hospital for proper care as there are potentially life threatening complications that can quickly develop after such a burn. Blistering skin and high fever likely indicates a second-degree sunburn or worse. One should never pop blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection. With mild blistering that rupture, topical antibiotics and loose gauze dressing can provide enough protection to speed up the healing process. 

An important thing to remember when dealing with sunburns is to always take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear loose and comfortable clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through. This will protect the skin from further UV damage from the sun and avoid interrupting the healing process. 

How to prevent long term damage from sunburns?

Much of long term damage to cellular DNA by UV light can be avoided by striving to maintain a healthy body with an abundant healing capacity. When our body is not dealing with inflammation, bogged down metabolic pathways, chronic infections, or clearing environmental toxins it is primed and ready to mount a quick and efficient healing response. Evidence has clearly established the link between chronic inflammation and poor health status to the development of cancer and other chronic conditions such as heart, liver, or kidney failure. When the body's innate healing ability has been overworked or become compromised it cannot properly mount a response to new injuries or insults to the system. 

As you may recall from earlier in the article, sunburns cause DNA damage and subsequently cell death, releasing a ton of inflammatory byproducts in the local area. When the body is no longer able to properly handle the damage caused by a sunburn, cells with DNA damage may sneak under the radar and avoid programmed cell death. Furthermore the body will be inefficient at clearing toxic byproducts from the area leading to further damage at the site of the sunburn. Overtime skin that is constantly exposed to this damage will likely develop into a less than ideal stat resulting in disease processes such as cancer. 

So what does health look like in someone who may be more resilient to long term damage from UV light exposure?

First adhering to safe practices when going out into the sun is always the best bet to avoid long term damage and ramifications of excess UV light exposure. Secondly when sunburns do happen, good care is taken of the sunburn by following many of the recommendations we have outlined above. Next it gets a bit more complex. 

For individuals who get a lot of sun exposure or live in an environment that has stronger sunlight throughout the year it is always recommended that a general clean and healthy diet is followed. A healthy diet, consisting mostly of organic vegetables and healthy proteins, should always be paired with proper hydration, lots of rest, and good mental health practices. Diets rich in organic vegetables provide a great source of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that are used in all biochemical processes in the body. A diet consisting largely of good clean and vibrant vegetables will support decreased levels of inflammation, increased organ function, and support general antioxidant levels in the body which primes it to deal with insults to the system. In this case that would be the damage caused by a sunburn, in which the body may properly respond to mitigate any long lasting damage.

Sleep is another extremely important factor and ties in with the circadian rhythm that is dictated by the sun. A solid 8 hours of rest every night should be the goal for any individual, although many times people feel like they can get away with less, and depending on the situation that might be just fine. For the majority of people on the planet, that is untrue, as technology and increased levels of stress has thrust humanity into a sympathetic state. When humans fail to get good rest their body is not given the time to properly heal and replenish itself. Sleep deprivation has powerful implications in the development of chronic disease and poor health status. To get better sleep avoid blue light 2 hours before bed time, avoiding stimulating activities in the bedroom (sex is totaly fine), and go to bed at a consistent time so that your body may more easily settle into its circadian rhythm. 

Finally good mental health is extremely important to overall well being, as many studies have shown that a depressed or stressed mood decreases immune function, increases rates of infection, and increases inflammation throughout the body. Mental health exercises can come in all shapes and sizes. Some people may find meditating to be the best option while others enjoy reading or writing. Getting outside away from the city can also be a great way to release negative emotions. If your mental health relies on being out in the sun or soaking in the world's oceans, then make sure to use proper skin protection. Preferably reef safe botanically based sun products like our sunshine salve that not only protects and nourishes the skin, but is made to be harmonious with our local and internal environments.

There are plenty of other ways to support your long term health when it comes to sun exposure which we will dive into in later articles. We hope that you have enjoyed this article and take some time to reflect on your relationship with the sun!