Sunshine is a highly prized natural resource in this country. Sunny days help us feel good! There’s something about sunshine that makes the colours around us seem more vivid and help us feel more alive in our surroundings. But it’s not just the feel-good factor that makes sunshine good for us. Healthy sunshine is also an important ingredient in helping us maintain whole body health and should be considered an important part of your paleo lifestyle.
That said, we must also protect our delicate skin from over exposure to the sun’s rays. Here’s a roundup of what you need to know about getting enough healthy sunshine.
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin for a reason, the best way to get it is through exposure to sunlight. We need vitamin D for a whole host of processes in the body including in the immune system and for bone health. Our modern lifestyles, where we spend most of our days indoors and walk less and less doesn’t help. In fact, research has estimated that as many as 75% of north Americans are deficient in Vitamin D.
Doctors suggest that an adequate amount of Vitamin D is between 40 – 60 ng/mL while anything under 20 indicates a deficiency. If you’re not sure whether you are getting sufficient Vitamin D, why not ask your doctor to check for it the next time you get a blood test?
We can get Vitamin D from sources other than the sun, such as through diet and supplementation, but getting out in the daylight is certainly the most enjoyable way to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D.
A vitamin D exposure calculator found online can help determine the amount of exposure to sunlight you will need based on individual criteria you input such as time of year, location, weather and skin type. Using the co-ordinates of Paleo Ireland on the Greenhills Road in Dublin (where we make our delicious paleo meals) and choosing a middle of the road, blonde Caucasian skin type, this calculator advises that on a dull, overcast day in July, one would need 13.48 minutes of exposure to day light at midday every other day to ensure optimum vitamin D levels.
The darker your skin, the more exposure your skin will need. And that’s without applying any sunscreen. Obviously, this amount of time will drop on a sunny day. But we don’t get that many sunny days around here. Interestingly, when I entered the same information for a cloudy day in December the calculator revealed that one would need 24 hours worth of exposure to get enough Vitamin D! So, it’s important to get out in the sunshine year-round to do what you can to prompt vitamin D synthesis in the body, but know that over exposing your body to sunshine in the summer won’t help you come winter time.
Much has been written on the dangers of skin exposure to excessive levels of UVA and UVB light. Without going into too much detail here, the UVA rays are the more dangerous ones and they do not cause visible sunburn. UVB rays, however, are the ones that cause redness and irritation. Despite the lack of warning signals emitted by UVA rays, they can be doing significant damage at a cellular level which in the long term can lead to skin cancer.
While it is important to get Vitamin D for our health, it is also equally as important not to expose our skin to excessive amounts of UV radiation. There are a number of ways to do this.
Health conscious people find getting the balance just right. It is tricky. Especially when the weather is as fickle as ours here in Ireland. It’s no wonder that when it’s been raining and dull for days (or weeks!) on end that when the sun comes out we all rejoice in its warmth and offer our limbs up without a second thought. We want to get sufficient vitamin D levels without leaving our skin open to UV damage.
We can offer our skin the best health benefits by taking a holistic approach to achieving optimum Vitamin D levels by getting adequate healthy sunshine while taking sun protection into consideration too.
For many of us, the importance of good sunscreen was drilled into us as children. I remember learning about UVA and UVB rays at a young age, that I had to apply the cream 20 minutes before going outside and that I needed to reapply regularly. It seemed like a lot of hassle, but it was a non-negotiable as far as my parents were concerned. And they were right to take skin protection seriously, research shows that sun damage which occurs before the age of 20 can have the most devastating effect on our skin.
However, sunscreen is not a straight forward topic at all! There are many factors to consider when choosing the best sunscreen for your skin.
The SPF number that is displayed on sun creams is a measure of the level of protection it will allow against UVB rays. An SPF of 15 allows 1/15th of the suns UVB rays through. However, the SPF number does not relate to UVA rays at all. Most sunscreens available in the E.U. now protect against UVA and UVB rays but this is not always the case, particularly when travelling abroad.
Some sunscreens work by using an ingredient to reflect the light while others absorb the light. The former are usually less toxic while the latter can involve a range of chemicals which pose other health risks. Natural sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (protects against UVB only) as the active ingredient reflect the light away from your skin. They often contain a range of ingredients that don’t cross the barrier into your bloodstream. However, there are some creams which use these natural ingredients at a nanoparticle size which are small enough to enter the bloodstream and may cause difficulties of their own.
Chemically based sunscreens use a range of compounds which absorb the light so that it doesn’t burn your skin. The most toxic of these is oxybenzone, a chemical which disrupts the endocrine system and can affect the reproductive system in both men and women.
Some natural ingredients help protect skin against UV damage, however, they are generally not strong enough to use on their own for complete protection. Coconut oil protects against 20% of the sun’s rays, while edelweiss, a plant found at high altitudes has a knack for protecting itself from UV rays and is now being used in sunscreens. you can incorporate these compounds into your natural skin care regime to help protect against UV damage.
Perhaps the simplest way to protect your skin from the sun and from the damaging chemicals in many sunscreens is to cover up instead. While you’re getting some much needed healthy sunshine, opt to wear a hat, loose and cool long sleeve tops and pants or simply get out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. That doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the fun or stay indoors, simply relocate out of the direct light into a more shaded area.
As mentioned earlier, it is possible to use a Vitamin D3 supplement to ensure that you get adequate amounts for health. However, it is possible to eat certain types of food while on a paleo diet to boost the levels of Vitamin D in the body. Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines are a rich source of Vitamin D3, while eggs provide a lesser amount.
You can also choose to include some healthy foods in your paleo diet which have great benefits in reducing the negative impact of the sun on our skin. Lutein, which is found in egg yolks, spinach and kale is an anti-oxidant which can help prevent skin damage. Lycopene, a source of which is tomatoes, is another nutrient which bolsters our skin against the damaging effects of the sun. Another antioxidant which can help our skin against UV radiation is green tea. Though usually we may not get enough of these compounds in our diet, we can make specific choices to incorporate more of them if skin protection is important to us.
Skin health is a very serious topic with health implications for all. It is not our intention to suggest that people ought to stop wearing sunscreen and leave their skin at risk of damage. We all need to approach the sun in a sensible way. If you decide that you no longer want to purchase sunscreens which use chemical blockers to protect your skin, it is imperative that you employ another skin protection measure.
Though we live in a country which lies under cloud cover much of the time, our skin is still susceptible to damaging UV rays. Get out there and let your skin soak up some sunshine for health, after all, we need it. But don’t go too mad either. Limit your sun exposure to short intervals during the summer and when you’ll be outdoors for prolonged periods, plan to protect your skin in advance.