Let the Sun Shine (and Stay Healthy)
For centuries, humans have marveled at the sun and its power. In modern culture the sun no longer holds the same significance, but it certainly makes us happy when it shines. With the sunshine comes health benefits such as production of vitamin D (vital for strong bones), improved mood, and gorgeous glowing skin. Unfortunately, as with most things modern humans like to take things to the extreme, the sun has been abused resulting in increased rates of skin cancer, other skin-related medical issues, and more recently, bone diseases caused by a lack of sun (yes, a lack of sun!).
With summer vacations around the corner, here are our tips on staying healthy in the sun:
Use Natural Sun Protection
During holiday, most of us smear on layers of sun cream in the hope that it will protect us from burning and serious skin problems. However, those tropical-scented lotions and potions are usually chemical-laden and slathering layer upon layer onto our skin, the body’s largest organ, may actually be causing more harm than good. Several studies have shown that sun exposure to vitamin A and its derivatives, ingredients often found in sunscreen, may actually contribute to the development of cancerous tumors and lesions. Scary!
Although research is limited, concern has been raised about another potentially toxic ingredient of sun cream called oxybenzone. This chemical product is also absorbed by skin and some lab research has shown that this could potentially promote cancerous cells by disrupting hormones in the body.
Of course going without protection for long periods of time in the sun is unsafe so protection is important. But for personal and environmental health, it is vital to choose sunblock carefully, opting for more natural products like the following recommendations.
OUR FAVORITE SUNSCREENS
- Soleo Organics: organically produced without the use of any chemical UV-absorbers, titanium dioxide, or synthetic preservatives
- Badger Balm: certified organic and naturally provides safe broad spectrum protection with the mineral zinc oxide
- Green People: British label with organic sun care products that are suitable for sensitive skin and prickly heat
For more recommendations, check out the Environmental Working Groups’ Guide to Safer Sunscreens.
Take a Siesta
The Spanish tradition of a siesta is not something to be scoffed, especially in a hot and sunny climate. During the middle of the day, the sun is positioned directly above at its most powerful. Although spending every waking hour at the beach or pool seems tempting on vacation, use the hours between 12pm and 3pm to have a long lunch, enjoy a massage, or take an afternoon nap to take a break from the sun’s damaging rays. Not only will your skin thank you for it, but an afternoon siesta will energize you for the rest of the day.
Get Enough Sun
It may sound counter-intuitive after reading the above, but it is also important to get enough sun. Sunlight is one of the main precursors for the production of vitamin D by the body. Vitamin D is essential for good health, particularly for maintaining strong bones. There has been an increase of osteoporosis and other bone diseases in the West, in part due to deficiencies in vitamin D. Although your body can get vitamin D from food, the best way to keep healthy D-levels is by spending time in the sun. Many doctors recommend at least 30 minutes of unprotected exposure to the sun four times a week. Obviously, baking yourself in the midday sun without cream is dangerous, but an early morning or late evening swim or walk in the sunshine will give you a good dose without a nasty burn. You don’t have to get your fill all at once either: regular short exposures to sunlight are safer and more effecive than intermittent long ones. But if you do get burnt…
We recommend using a natural remedy such as coconut oil or an aloe-based lotion to alleviate burns. Many tropical after-sun lotions smell good because they are full of harsh chemicals that are absorbed by the skin. Badger Balm make a particularly lovely, soothing after-sun balm or you can make your own with a DIY recipe from Braintree Clothing, a UK-based ethical clothing store.
Kathleen is a contributing editor to En Route Traveler. From a young age, her parents took her and her sister on many adventures all over the world. Kathleen has lived in South Africa, London, and Paris. After five years of being a stressed corporate lawyer, she gave it all up to move to Nicaragua where she trained as a yoga teacher, learned to surf, and worked at the eco-lodge, Buena Vista Surf Club. Kathleen loves fitness, vegetarian cooking, contributing to the wellness blog, Hip and Healthy, and managing her own sites Yum Yoga and Super Fit and Super Food.
Now it’s your turn! Share your sun protection tips in the comments section below.