Memorial Day is right around the corner heralding in summer days at the pool, barbeques, trips to the beach, boating with friends. What do all those activities have in common? Lots and lots of sunshine. Humans have been celebrating and worshiping the sun since the beginning. That makes sense, the sun is awesome. However, a balanced approach to sun exposure is hard to find. People are either avoiding the sun completely or getting burned to a crisp. What are we to do? Where is the balance between the benefits of the sun and its damaging effects? As a reminder I am not a doctor. I am sharing my research and personal experiences. Always consult with your health care provider and do your own research.
How does sun exposure benefit us?
Elevated Vitamin D Levels and Reduction of Some Cancer Rates
Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Proper Vitamin D levels are linked to strong bones, decreased risks of cancer and improved immune system function. A study from the Oslo University Hospital stated, "It can be estimated that increased sun exposure to the Norwegian population might at worst result in 200-300 more cutaneous malignant melanoma deaths per year, but it would elevate the vitamin D status by about 25 nmol/l (nanomoles per liter) and might result in 4,000 fewer internal cancers and about 3,000 fewer cancer deaths overall."
Regulates Circadian Rhythm and Improves Sleep
Exposure to sunlight, especially in the morning, helps regulate melatonin, the main hormone controlling your circadian rhythm. A healthy circadian rhythm promotes better sleep. A 2008 study showed when exposed to morning sunlight individuals fell asleep faster at night and reported fewer incidents of insomnia.
Improves Certain Skin Conditions
Proper levels of Vitamin D and sun exposure have been linked to the improvement of certain skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, and eczema.
A European study from 2017 showed a reduction of nearsightedness from increased UVB exposure.
Improves Mental Health Disorders
Exposure to sunlight has positive impacts on mental health. A study from 2019 showed sun exposure is linked to decreased Seasonal Affective Disorder. The improvement also seemed to extend to other depressive states. Production and turnover of serotonin is linked to the amount of sunlight an individual is exposed to. A 2011 study found that individuals with the greatest sun exposure over 30 days had the highest density of dopamine receptors in the reward regions of their brains. To sum all those studies up, exposure to sunlight increases dopamine and serotonin production, decreases seasonal affective disorder, and decreases depressive states.
Burning and extreme exposure to sun can be damaging and may increase your risk of cancer. Damage from burning can also lead to uneven skin pigmentation and signs of early aging.
Strategies for Healthy and Safe Sun Exposure
Mind the Time
Sun exposure during the morning and later afternoon bring the multitude of benefits mentioned above. The sun is most intense from the hours of 10am-2pm. During those hours, limiting your direct sunlight exposure to 30-minute increments can reduce your risk of damaging sunburns. Find some shade or follow the examples of cultures like Mexico and Greece and head in for a nap.
Eat Your Sunscreen
You read that right. Consuming foods high in phytonutrients and antioxidants can protect you from the potential damaging impact of sun exposure. Mackenzie, at Mackenzie Brooke Wellness, goes in-depth on the importance of a diet rich in antioxidants.
Detox Your Body
Having a body free to toxins is another important way to minimize damage from sun exposure. The fewer toxins you have the less overall stress there is on the system. The body can then us all the phytonutrients and antioxidants you consumed to go directly into maintaining glowing, healthy skin.
Block the Sun
Wear a broad brim hat and lightweight, long sleeved clothing, sit in the shade, apply mineral based sunscreen during the sun's most intense hours, all effective way to protect yourself from potential skin damage.
This will probably be new to most people. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a powerful tool for radiant, ageless skin. It is a byproduct of paper making and was discovered in the late 1800s. It is an organic solvent, known most widely for its ability to penetrate the skin. For our discussion we are interested in its anti-inflammatory properties, its analgesic (painkilling) properties, its ability to increase blood flow to the skin, and its powerful antioxidant properties.
I quick online search will result in hundreds of studies on the benefits of DMSO. An article in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal highlights using DMSO to increase blood flow (profusion) to the skin after surgery, speeding up recovery. A study from the Emory University School of Medicine shows intravenous DMSO had the same pain killing ability as morphine and it lasts longer! Topically, DMSO has long been used to relieve arthritis pain. The chemical structure of DMSO has sulfur in the center, 2 methyl groups, and an oxygen atom at the apices. The oxygen atoms carry an unbound electron pair. Those unbounded electrons make it a powerful antioxidant. This article on wound healing indicates DMSO improved wound healing partly because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
What does all this mean to us? Taking orally or topically DMSO is a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the body. If you do get sunburned DMSO can reduce the associated pain, speed up the healing process, and reduce the cellular damage caused by excessive sun exposure.
This is how I use DMSO. I take it orally weekly, and I apply it to my skin regularly. If I am going to have increased sun exposure, like a beach vacation, I increase the amount I am taking. In the rare occasion I get sunburned I take additional oral doses and apply aloe vera gel with DMSO to my skin.
The main drawback to DMSO is the unusual odor it produces. Any form of it (intravenous, topical, or oral) creates a strong garlic-like breath and body odor. This effect is probably why using DMSO is not more popular. Personally, the benefits outweigh the odor drawback. The odor is only for the 12-24 hours after taking a dose. I take mine in the evening and when I will not be in close confined space with other people for the next 24 hours. The topical application does not produce as strong of an odor. Unusually, you cannot smell the odor on yourself. You also cannot smell it on someone else if you have both taken DMSO at the same time. One option for overcoming the odor issue is to have everyone in the house take some at the same time. You can all smell garlicky together and not notice.
DMSO is generally considered safe to use but there are a few words of caution when using it. DMSO makes the skin hyper permeable, so avoid handling any toxic substances for several hours after applying. It is also contraindicated with some medications. Consult with your physician before taking DMSO.
Melanotan II Melanotan II is a peptide that stimulates the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives our skin and hair color. I first hear of Melanotan II on the Medicine Stories Podcast Episode 67. It immediately struck my interest because of its ability to naturally stimulate the body's production of melanin. This was of interest to me for 2 reasons.
I have an autoimmune condition called vitiligo. Vitiligo is when the body attacks its own melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) resulting in white patches of skin with no pigment.
The process of getting a tan is the body's response to stimulus from the sun. The skin produces more melanin which acts as additional protection from skin damage. Melanotan II stimulates the melanocytes to produce more than the usual amount of melanin, you develop a darker tan faster and from less sun exposure.
Peptides are fragile and for best results must be mixed as needed and kept refrigerated. Some companies sell nasal sprays of Melanotan II, those do not work. The peptide is too fragile to be used that way. It must be injected subcutaneously. I did extensive literature research about the use of Melanotan II before deciding to take the plunge. I took my first dose 0.25cc before bed and made sure to get some sun exposure the next day. I was amazed at how quickly I browned up. My ethnic heritage is German and English, neither are known for their tanning ability. The tan was a beautiful, golden brown. I continued to use small doses throughout the summer especially if I was planning prolonged sun exposure.
The result most exciting to me was seeing my areas of vitiligo repigment! The possibility of Melanotan II encouraging repigmentation was the driving force behind trying it. I was unable to find any research about the use of Melanotan II and vitiligo. However, my personal experience is it helped to repigment affected areas of my skin. Not all my affected areas repigmented. I would guess 70% of the affected areas saw a noticeable improvement. I am also happy to say those areas have maintained their pigment for the past year without the continued use of Melanotan II.
If you decide to use Melanotan II please do your research. This is not medical advice I am only sharing my personal experience. There are some possible side effects including nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, uneven pigmentation, the appearance of new moles, and darkening or enlargement of existing moles.
What I do About Sun Exposure
There is overwhelming evidence of the health benefits from sun exposure. Because of that, I do not avoid the sun and aim for regular time in the sun. I protect my skin when the sun is most intense. I eat a variety of vibrant fruits and vegetables and detox regularly using Biomagnetism and magnets. I also increase my use of DMSO during the summer and am giving Melanotan II another try. Let me know your favorite sunshine activities and how you stay sun safe.