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Surprising benefits of moderate sun exposure

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Over the last 20 years, the medical community has managed to wage quite a campaigne against sun exposure of any kind, be it indoor or outdoor. New research is showing, however, that moderate amounts of sunlight are not only beneficial but necessary for healthy living.

Vitamin D production: vitamin D helps with biological functions such as calcium absorption and helps maintain a healthy immune system. Doctors are seeing an increase in ricketts cases among kids ages 8-14 because kids spend less time outside and more time inside playing video games and watching TV.

A 2005 article in SunWellness magazine cites a series of studies showing the following: improved blood pressure, increased cardiac efficiency, lowered cholesterol, improved posteure, lower number of chronic infections, fewer nutritional problems, and less severe chronic fatigue- all the result of moderate sun exposure.

Sunlight can also reduce the effects of SAD, seasonal affective disorder, more commonly known as seasonal depression. Exposure to the sun makes the skin release endorphines or “feel good compounds.” States like Washington, Maine, and Alaska have some of the highest rates of alcholism, drug addiction, and suicide in the US. Coincidentally, these states have fewer days or fewer hours per day of sunlight.

The risks of over-exposure to the sun cannot be denied. There are certain factors to consider when spending time in natural sunlight:

Latitude: Exposure time will be slightly less the further south you go.
Altitude: For every 1,000 foot increase in altitude, surburning rays (UVB) intensify by 4%. You may get a worse sunburn in the mountains than at the beach.
Weather: Thin cloud coverage masks 20-40% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, lending the false impression that there is less risk of burning.
Time of day: Ultraviolet rays are more intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Indoor tanning allows you to access ultraviolet light you may be lacking, but in a controlled environment compared to the sun’s emmission. Tanning lamps emit mainly Ultraviolet A or bronzing rays with a small amount of Ultraviolet B or burning rays. The percentage of UVA and UVB is controlled through the lamps design, making the exposure constant. It is the mild exposure to the UVB that initiates the tanning process and the gradual increased exposure to the UVA rays that completes it. Depletion of the ozone layer allows for greater exposure to burning and cancer-causing rays.

Tanning salon operators in North Carolina, for example, are required by state law to complete 8 hours of class instruction toward certification. Clients are required to read and sign a consumer statement that says they understand the risks of UV exposure. The form asks the client to document past sunburns and skin problems, describe how they tan in natural sunlight, list any medications that may increase sun exposure and cause burning, and give the date and time of most recent sun exposure. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas are the most heavily regulated states for tanning. The goal of heavier regualtion is to ensure client safety and wellness as much as possible.