Sunbathing: When is it good for you and when is it too much?

After months of winter rain, cold, and drizzle, it's always nice to go sunbathing when summer brings its rays of warm light. Isn't sunbathing bad for you, though, or are there health benefits? Here's our guide to sunbathing, and how to do it safely.

Sunbathing can make us feel happier and has some remarkable mental health benefits. But it also poses big risks.
Sunbathing can make us feel happier and has some remarkable mental health benefits. But it also poses big risks.  © Matheus Vinicius / Unsplash

After months upon months of tedious winter days, grey skies, and cold, it is always lovely when summer comes around.

As soon as the sun comes out from behind the clouds, we all flock to the beaches, lakes and parks for a healthy dose of sunbathing.

The problem? It's easy to go too far.

Steve-O gets X-rated forehead tattoo inked by Post Malone!
Tattoos Steve-O gets X-rated forehead tattoo inked by Post Malone!

While sunbathing and spending time in the sun brightens our mood and soaks up natural vitamin D, which has proven positives for your mental health and other ailments, it's important not to overdo it. Sunbathing too much or too regularly can increase the risk of skin cancer, induce heat stroke, and burn you badly.

We're here to break it all down for you and bring you the important dos and don'ts of sunbathing.

Is sunbathing good for you?

Sunbathing does have a few relatively well-known benefits, but whether those benefits outweigh the risks is still up for discussion.

Exposing your body to high amounts of unfiltered rays has been proven to heighten your risk of getting skin cancer and other diseases, and can cause you short-term sunburn that is seriously painful.

Indeed, while sunbathing does prove to be a good source of vitamin D, the American Academy of Dermatology advocates against using sun exposure and indoor tanning as your primary source of the vitamin. Supplements taken orally can help.

Suntanning and sunbathing can greatly improve your mental health, can help boost your immune system, and improve your sleep, but it's important to do it at your own risk and in moderation.

How long should you sunbathe for?

Seeing as sunbathing can have such drastic implications on your future health, not to mention the potential for severe sunburn, it's important to know how long you can sunbathe without it being dangerous.

Reports and research recommend it is safe to sunbathe for up to 20 minutes a day if you are not wearing sunscreen.

Keep in mind, though, that you should make sure to reduce the risk of sunburn. To do this, only stay in direct sunlight for 5 to 10 minutes a day or use sunscreen regularly.

Additionally, the sun's power is different depending on where you live, with things like city smog and smoke blocking sun rays. And of course, people living on the equator deal with far stronger sunlight.

Sunbathing has health benefits – and big risks.
Sunbathing has health benefits – and big risks.  © 123RF / Sasa Mihajlovic

Benefits of sunbathing

Sunbathing has a plethora of benefits that are worth paying attention to. From help with the creating more vitamin D in the body to boosting the immune system, there are many positives. Keeping in mind the risks, spending time in the sun is not all bad.

Sunbathing benefits: Formation of vitamin D

When the skin comes into contact with UV-B light, the process of vitamin D synthesis begins in the body.

According to information from the CDC, vitamin D is "essential for good bone health" and provides increased muscle strength and protection against cancers and type 2 diabetes. This makes it vital for pregnant women and nursing mothers, who are often deficient in the vitamin even during summer months.

To provide clarity on your vitamin D levels, you should get a blood test checked by a medical professional. Indeed, vitamin D is not particularly prevalent in food (with a few exceptions, including fatty fish and cod liver oil), so it is easy to be deficient if you don't go into the sun very often.

It may be a good idea to take supplement if you find yourself lacking, after consultation with a medical professional.

Sunbathing benefits: Strengthening the bones

Due to vitamin D synthesis through exposure to sunlight, it's clear that sunlight actually helps to strengthen our bones.

Why? Vitamin D works in conjunction with calcium found in your bones, which strengthens them.

As a result, sun contributes to strengthening the skeleton and even helps protect against osteoporosis, a health issue stemming from low calcium levels and results in bones becoming porous, weak, and easily broken.

Sunlight has also been proven to promote muscle strength and growth in children.

Sunbathing benefits: Sun rays reduce blood pressure

UV rays from the sun convert nitrite and nitrate in the skin into nitric oxide, which relaxes your arteries.

As a result, it can be determined that sunlight actually dilated blood vessels and therefore reduces blood pressure. The chemical process is actually imitated by some blood pressure-lowering medications. If you have blood pressure issues, you should consult your doctor before taking up sunbathing over meds.

Sunbathing benefits: Sunlight boosts the immune system

T-Cells, a particular kind of white blood cell, are activated by exposure to sunlight. These white blood cells are considered the police of the immune system, protecting against pathogens and foreign substances.

As a result, UV-B rays can actually cause the immune cells in your body to move faster and attack harmful microorganisms far more quickly than they otherwise would have.

The absence of sunlight can therefore be attributed to a reduction in your immune system's ability to do its job. A lack of sunlight has been linked to Type 2 Diabetes, and is one of the reasons why more people die of heart attacks or strokes in winter.

Sunbathing benefits: Enhancing your mood

Everyone knows that on those gray, dusky winter days, most of us don't really want to get out of bed in the morning.

Increased rates of "seasonal depression" and suicide during autumn and winter have been linked to a lack of sun exposure, and the inability to spend time outdoors.

In the end, we all feel melancholy if we haven't been able to go outside for weeks. Sunlight actually stimulates the production of serotonin and dopamine, the happiness hormones, awakening our spirits and reducing our negative moods.

We are more energetic, feel more attractive, and are more productive and sociable when we are getting more sunlight.

Sunbathing benefits: Sun regulates your day-night rhythm

Sun doesn't just enhance your mood, but acts as a pick-me-up. This is because sunlight reduces the production of melatonin, known as the "sleep hormone".

This makes it easier to get up in the morning during summer, and helps to regulate your sleep and waking-up cycle. During summer months, many people find that they can go to bed later and wake up earlier while still feeling good.

Sunbathing benefits: More sunlight can increase sex drive

If you feel like getting in the sheets more during the summer, it might be because of increased sunlight.

Why? Because sunlight is thought to stimulate hormones that increase libido, or sex drive. And, as mentioned, sunlight is a natural mood enhancer.

Fun Fact: Did you know many think this is why the Spanish Costa del Sol, or "Sun Coast," is sometimes called the "Costa del amor" - the "Coast of Love?"

How much sun is too much?

It's easy to be exposed to too much sun, so make sure to wear sunscreen.
It's easy to be exposed to too much sun, so make sure to wear sunscreen.  © Toa Heftiba / Unsplash

As good as the sun can be for our health, mood, and happiness, it equally poses a vast assortment of risks. These risks include not only skin cancer, but the likes of heat rash and heat stroke.

The risks are abundant, but fortunately, there are ways by which you can protect yourself and beat the heat. They include:

  • Limiting your sun exposure to 5-10 minutes a day without sunscreen.
  • Wearing sunscreen for any periods where you may be in the sun for a long time (and make sure to protect your pets, too!)
  • Avoiding tanning treatments that require large amounts of UV light to be sent into your body.
  • Wearing hats and sunglasses when outdoors.
  • Wearing long sleeved shirts and pants when exposed to direct sunlight.

Can too much sun make you sick?

The sun also has its downsides: frequent and intensive exposure to sunlight damages skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer.

Every year, millions of people around the world are diagnosed with cancer. Skin cancer makes up a large percentage of those people, many of whom have spent prolonged periods of time unprotected from the sun throughout their lives.

In addition to cancer, there are a variety of other risks associated with spending large amounts of time in direct sunlight like heat rash and head stroke, sunburns, and sun poisoning. Make sure to take preventative measures to reduce your risk of getting sick from the sun.

Sunbathing is great for your soul, great for your sleep, great for your mental health, and great for your immune system. But it also comes with a host of huge problems, like heightened health risks.

In the end, though, wearing sunscreen whenever you intend to spend lots of time in the sun can help, and always consult your doctor for the best medical advice for you.

Cover photo: Matheus Vinicius / Unsplash

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