Getting that bronze summer glow is inevitable in most summer climates. Sometimes, it happens because we force it to happen — booths, sprays, lotions, or laying in the sun for hours. Sometimes, it happens as a result of what we want to do in the summer — garden, swim, ski, and picnic. Either way, we want to make sure our time in the sun is beneficial to us, not detrimental.
We spoke to Dr. Gregg Anigian, a prominent plastic surgeon in Dallas, to get advice on how to spend time in the sun safely, whether we’re sunbathing or gardening.
Our desire to be in the sun stems from more than just a desire to bronze. Sun exposure, within reason, is really good for us. We get 90-95% of our Vitamin D from spending time in the sun, and Vitamin D is beneficial to our calcium and phosphorous levels (think bone density), our immune system function, and mood. Additionally, sun exposure boosts serotonin levels (A.K.A. the happiness hormone), it lowers melatonin levels and therefore increases our energy, and it’s even linked to stimulating fertility and weight loss.
Dr. Gregg Anigian offers, “Optimum sun exposure times vary based upon many factors, including skin type, amount of skin exposed, and the time of day and year, but twenty minutes of sun exposure per side of the body is usually effective to raise Vitamin D.” In other words, your ideal sun exposure is different from your neighbor’s, and the time it takes for your body to produce sufficient Vitamin D is less than it takes to burn. Keep it short, sweet, and during the middle of the day. If you plan to spend more time than this in the sun, make sure to wear protective clothing and lots of sunscreen. `
When we spend too much time in the sun, we get sunburned. But this is just the short-term effect. Long-term effects of overexposure include skin growths such as cancers (melanoma and basal cell skin tumors), benign scaly and rough lesions (keratoses), chronic inflammation, and thinning of the skin. Aesthetically speaking, too much sun can scar the elastic fibers of the dermis, change pore size, and dilate small blood vessels close to the skin’s surface. As Dr. Anigian says, “These harmful effects occur over decades, are cumulative, and sneak up on us.”
These effects occur because the ultraviolet light is too great for our skin to withstand. The fairer your skin type and the more intense the light, the worse the repercussions.
So, how to avoid the dangers? Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Sunscreens that contain zinc oxides or titaniums are Dr. Anigian’s preference. They reflect and reduce UV penetration of the skin. Just remember to check and reapply. We promise it won’t affect your tan — just keep you safe.
“As with most of life,” Dr. Anigian advises, “balance and common sense are usually the standards that get us down the path of health.”
Whether you’re merely growing in your garden or laying out for a summer tan, take care of yourself this summer! You’ll be happy in the end.