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Sunlight and Skin Health: the Good and the Bad

Posted April 2019 by Biodermis
Sunlight is required to sustain life. Without it, our planet would be an icy wasteland barren of plants, animals, and humans. For us, we know that sunlight is a good source of vitamin D which can help maintain healthy skin and bones. But there is no clear standard for how much sunlight is a sufficient amount. Getting too much sunlight can pose risks such as skin cancer and sunburn. If you have scars following surgery or injury, UV radiation can cause hyperpigmentation in the scar tissue. On the other hand, not enough sunlight can lead to a number of biological impairments and can even contribute to depression.

Continue reading to learn about the health benefits and risks of sunlight and the pertinent role it plays in skin health.

Sunlight skin health

The benefits of sunlight for the skin

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease caused by the overgrowth of skin cells. Where psoriasis occurs, it is thought that epidermal cells are multiplying ten times faster than normal skin cells. This causes skin patches to build up and become scaly, dry, and red. Psoriasis can develop anywhere on the body but they most commonly form on the elbows, knees, scalp, and lower back. Currently, there is no cure for psoriasis but flare-ups can sometimes be treated with topical ointments and steroids.

Getting the right amount of sunlight won’t cure your psoriasis, but it can help reduce inflammation and other common symptoms. Some research indicates that the right amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays can have immunosuppressive effects. In terms of treating psoriasis, UV rays can slow down the rate of rapidly-growing skin cells and clear up some of the flakiness, inflammation, and redness associated with psoriasis.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a common skin disease that causes blotches of skin to lose their natural pigmentation. Melanin is the component of the skin that gives it its color. With vitiligo, the cells that create melanin are destroyed, leading to inadequate production of melanin and the loss of color. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 US cases of vitiligo patients every year. One of the most famous cases of vitiligo is with the Pop singer Michael Jackson, although there is a lot of debate surrounding this topic.

Because vitiligo is characterized by a loss of color, it makes sense that sunlight would bring some of that color back. Light therapy is recommended by some dermatologists to help vitiligo patients achieve some desired effects. But because sunlight contains harmful UV rays, it may be advised to use artificial sources of light.

UV Rays


The dangers of sunlight for the skin

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the number one danger of exposing your body to too much sunlight. The reason sunlight is dangerous is that it contains three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. UVC rays would be the most dangerous to humans but they are luckily blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer. UVA and UVB, on the other hand, aren’t as harmful but they can penetrate the surface of the skin and disrupt normal epidermal cell synthesis, leading to skin cancer.

Skin cancer is caused by the abnormal, rapid growth of skin cells in the epidermis (middle layer of the skin). Skin cancer is typically slow-growing and is easily treated with surgical excision by a dermatologist. However, if skin cancer goes undetected for too long, cancer can spread to nearby tissues and organs. The most common type of skin cancer is called basal cell carcinoma, which accounts for approximately 80% of all skin cancers. Most skin cancers are contracted by people over 40 but any age group can be at risk. It’s important to always use sunscreen to protect yourself against the Sun’s harmful rays and lower the chance of getting skin cancer.

So how much Sun exposure is safe?
Sun exposure is safest in small amounts and it’s always recommended to use sunscreen for any extended stay outdoors. It’s difficult to say what the ideal amount is because there are so many factors that determine the danger levels of sunlight. Some parts of the Earth are at higher elevations than others, making direct sunlight easier to reach. If you live in an area that is constantly cloudy, the threats from the Sun aren’t something to worry too much about. People with fair skin are at a greater risk of sunburn and skin damage than people with darker skin tones. But given these factors, it is believed by some health professionals that 20 minutes of direct sunlight without sunscreen is a relatively safe amount. However, the science on this subject isn’t conclusive. Our recommendation: always wear your sunscreen!

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