Ah summer! It’s a much anticipated and longed for time of the year for so many of us in the Midwestern U.S. After the winter holidays, it’s pretty much on the minds of most of us as we endure the cold, sun-starved months of the late winter and early spring. Once it gets here though, it can hit with force. It can be only a matter of days between the last overnight frost occurrence and 80 to 90 degree days here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, we often are so excited to be in the sunshine that we forget to indulge wisely and end up with unpleasant effects.
The sun isn’t as bad for us as we may think.
Moderate exposure to sunlight is necessary for our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays is also linked to emotional well-being. This is the basis for the concept of Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) which affects many in more Northern climates and is often treated with gentle exposure to UV light. Most people just feel better on sunny days! Twenty minutes per day of sunshine is considered a healthy way to boost our vitally needed Vitamin D levels naturally.
In Oriental Medicine the sun is Yang. In fact, Yang is described as the concept of the sunny side of a mountain. It is warm, active, a little drier, but also vibrant in nature. It’s a good thing and we all need a little Yang in our lives to energize and stimulate the body’s functions.
There is, however the concept of “too much of a good thing” when it comes to sunshine.
This is commonly experienced as a sunburn, or in extreme cases sunstroke. These occur when too much exposure to the sun’s rays and/or heat deplete the Yin or moist, nourishing, cool aspect of the body. Yin and Yang must be in proper balance for good health and over doing sunshine and heat in the summer is a good way to end up with some unpleasant symptoms.
The sun’s UV rays are strongest from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so these are the hours where one must be more attentive to the amount of exposure they get.
Some folks are naturally a bit more resistant/tolerant to the effects of the sun, but it’s still a good idea to be mindful not to overdo it. Excessive sun exposure and repeated burning has been linked to increased skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
To Sunscreen or Not to Sunscreen – a big question
Despite the known danger of over exposure to UV radiation, there is much debate in natural health fields about the usage of sunscreen. If you are going to be in the sun in its peak hours and for long periods it is recommended that you protect yourself from it. That usually means the use of some sort of UV ray blocking substance on your skin.
A recently released report from the FDA indicates that many of the agents in commercially available sunscreens absorb into the bloodstream and remain present for some time after use.
Most of these products use chemicals like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octocrylene which absorb UV radiation and convert it into a small amount of heat. Because they are ring-shaped molecules and hormones are based on ring-shaped molecules, recent animal studies show that they may disrupt hormonal activity in the body. Oxybenzone in particular seems to do this and has been found in human breast milk, amniotic fluid, urine and blood samples. What’s more, the levels of these chemicals seem to accumulate with repeated use. The studies are still quite early and the FDA is still recommending sunscreen usage, since the danger from the chemicals has not been fully investigated in comparison to the dangers of excessive UV exposure.
A good way around this dilemma is to choose a sunscreen with a mineral agent, like zinc oxide, which does not contain these potentially harmful substances.
You can even try making your own. Here’s a simple and basic recipe from Healthy-holistic-living.com:
- ½ cup virgin coconut oil
- 2 Tablespoons Non Nana Zinc Oxide (find it on the internet)
- 1 Tablespoon Red Raspberry Seed Oil
This makes an approximately 20 spf sunscreen. You can add a couple capsules of Vitamin E oil, ½ c. fresh aloe and even a few drops of lavender oil if you want to spice it up.
Oops, too late! I’m already sunburned!
If you do find yourself a bit over exposed, there are a number of easy remedies you can try. First of all assess the level of burn. A first-degree, superficial burn will have redness on the outer skin layer with discomfort but no blistering. Second-degree burns with be deeper, more painful and blister quickly. A third-degree burn will be very deep, the skin may pale or become gray/brown and it generally painless or less painful. Most sunburns are first- or second- degree.
- Start by getting out of the sun.
- Cool your skin off with a cool, damp cloth.
- If the skin is unbroken you can bathe in lukewarm water with a little colloidal oatmeal or cornstarch and baking soda to cool and soothe the skin.
- Applying a good aloe vera gel (we sell and awesome one at AHHA) to the affected area will help the skin heal without cracking and excessive peeling.
- If the area is red or blistered use a natural burn cream (the Chinese use a product called Ching Wan Hung) to pull heat out of the tissues and facilitate healing.
- Stay well hydrated.
- Avoid sun exposure to the area until it is completely healed.
- You can increase/supplement with antioxidant vitamins like Vitamins A, C and B complex.
- Zinc, Magnesium and Calcium also support the immune system and aid in tissue healing.
- Topical Vitamin E will help speed the healing and generation of new skin tissue in the area.
- A severe burn with large areas of peeled skin exposing the lower layers, red or veiny appearance, weeping or cracking and burning may need to be seen by your M.D., just to be safe.
If you become light headed, nauseous or faint; get out of the sun immediately. Hydrate with plenty of water and electrolytes. If the symptoms persist, seek medical attention as there is a good chance you are experiencing sunstroke.
Remember, the sun is our friend if we treat it wisely. It’s also good to remember that a balanced and healthy body, with strongly functional organ systems is better able to recover from the damages that sun and heat in excess can cause. Chinese Medicine recommends that we continue to strengthen and maintain our body systems. Regular use of Acupuncture and herbal formulas are a good way to reach optimal health and resiliency and facilitate our ability to get out and enjoy all that summer (and all the seasons) have to offer!
Matta MK, Susterzeel R, Pilli NR, et al. Effect of sunscreen application under maximal use conditions on plasma concentration of sunscreen active ingredients: a random clinical trial [published May 6, 2019]. JAMA. doi:10.001/jama.2019.5586