Sun exposure: Is it dangerous or good?

Ultraviolet rays from sun exposure is believed to be the main cause of skin cancers.

However, sun exposure is vital for the production of vitamin D, which in turn protects against internal cancers and a number of other diseases.

So the dilemma persists – should we increase or reduce our daily exposure to the sun?

To make the right decision, we should understand the pros and cons.

The benefits of sun exposure

Sun exposure helps our body produce vitamin D as very few foods contain this crucial vitamin.

Vitamin D can be found in the flesh of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel as well as fish liver oils.

Small amounts of vitamin D are found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks while mushrooms provide vitamin D in variable amounts.

Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphate that are important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Adequate vitamin D prevents a number of diseases, including cancers, heart disease and autoimmune disease.

In a review of studies conducted in 2014, breast cancer patients with high levels of vitamin D (more than 32ng/mL) at the time of diagnosis, approximately halved their risk of dying from the disease compared with those with a low level of vitamin D (less than 14ng/mL).

Colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are also reported to benefit from sun exposure.

Sun exposure is also linked to a reduction in hypertension. It is believed that nitrogen oxides found in the human skin is mobilised into the blood’s circulation when the body is exposed to UVA radiation.

Nitric oxide is known as a blood vessel relaxation agent that decreases blood pressure.

Besides vitamin D and nitric oxide, sun exposure is known to promote the production of melatonin, serotonin and the regulation of the circadian clock, the body’s biological clock.

This, in turn, promotes better sleep and greater emotional well being.

The dangers of sun exposure

The adverse effects of sunlight include the development of skin cancer and other degenerative changes in the skin.

Women who’ve had five or more blistering patches of sunburn between the ages of 15 and 20, compared with those who never experienced any, are 80% more likely to develop melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that develops from melanocytes, the cells that control skin pigmentation.

Besides possible genetic factors, ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure can induce its formation.

Other skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma may also be linked to over-exposure to the sun.

Should one limit or increase sun exposure?

Skin cancers and degenerative changes of the skin may stop you from exposing yourself to the sun. But the relationship between melanoma and ultraviolet rays is two-sided.

Sun exposure that does not leave the skin burnt is linked to a reduced risk of melanoma, while sunburns double the risk of melanoma.

In fact, it has long been observed that outdoor workers have a lower incidence of melanoma than indoor workers.

Hence, moderation is an important key to sun exposure.

Without adequate exposure to the sun, you will deprive your body of the benefits of the sun’s rays while exposing yourself to the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

All you need to do is take the right measures when exposing yourself to the sun.

Use a sunscreen to protect against dangerous ultraviolet rays and moisturise skin adequately to prevent degenerative damage to the skin due to sun exposure.

This article first appeared in hellodoktor.com and was reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.