Why sunbathing is not a bright idea

Everything you need to know about preventing sun damage

When I first moved to the U.S., it shocked me how fascinated people were when I told them that I am from The Bahamas. They spoke about the different things they would and would not do if they lived on an island. The consensus was that they would ditch work for the beach and scorching Bahamian sun. While I humored them, I always reminded many people that everything is not what it seems. There is more to island life than being lazy and baking in the sun all day. Most islanders that I know balk at that idea. As you get older, sun overexposure can cause severe skin issues. These issues can be so severe that you will pack your bags for the next trip to Chicago! 

Not to be typical, but too much sun is not fun. In The Bahamas, the sun seems to shine brighter and feel hotter than everywhere else. I hate it and avoid too much of it when I am home. Despite my feelings, I know that a little sun exposure goes a long way for the skin and body. The amount of sunlight you need depends on several factors that include skin tone, age, personal health history, diet, and where you live. People with darker skin tones can stand to be in the sun longer, but not much longer than people with fair complexions. Dermatologists recommend 5-15 minutes for people with lighter skin tones. Then, up to 30 minutes for people with darker skin tones. What does that tell you? A full day at the beach is a bad idea for anyone. Oops! There goes your island life dream, down the toilet. Where it belongs.  

For all the heat, there are many benefits of sun exposure. So to start, let’s focus on why you need sunlight. 

1. The sun increases your body’s production of vitamin D

When it comes to skincare and the essential nutrients that it needs, you seldom hear about vitamin D. You always hear about vitamin A (retinol), vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), and vitamin E. It turns out that vitamin D is essential for the skin too. It may not be a skin brightener, smoother, or fountain of youth. Yet, your skin needs it as much as it needs water. Vitamin D comes from the cholesterol found in your body. When the sun’s UVB rays hit the cholesterol found in your skin cells, it triggers the production of vitamin D. This vitamin is critical for optimal health and provides instructions for cells in your gut. An unhealthy gut often manifests in skin issues and severe health issues. 

2. Sunlight may improve your sleep

A real skincare enthusiast knows that sleep is the ultimate skincare hack! Without it, your skin will not absorb your potent nighttime skincare products. Apart from skipping out on your nighttime skincare routine, a loss of sleep can result in: 

  • Dark under eye circles
  • Puffy, tired-looking eyes
  • Fine lines and wrinkles

That’s a no-no, right? Apart from its cosmetic benefits, ample sun exposure regulates your circadian rhythm. How? It balances melatonin, a hormone that is critical for helping you to sleep. 

3. The right amount of sun exposure may decrease your risk of depression

If you survived 2020, you experienced firsthand what decreased sun (and people) exposure will do to your mental and emotional health! Sunlight stimulates a hormone found in your brain called serotonin. This hormone stabilizes your energy levels. It increases your focus, keeps you calm, and improves your feelings of well-being and happiness. Think of a time when you felt unhappy or were in a negative mood for an extended period. How did your skin look? Well, for many people, exhaustion, anxiety, and sadness show up in their countenance. You may gain more fine lines and wrinkles during these times. Further, you may lose sleep, which results in superficial skin issues too. Either way, your skin needs serotonin as much as your body does. So be sure to get enough of it. 

It feels a lot like an echo chamber right now, but I will repeat it anyway. No matter your skin tone, you need to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day! Even if you do not go outside and sit in front of a screen all day. While the benefits of sun exposure are palpable, the drawbacks are damaging and often irreversible! 

The truth is that the more sun exposure you give your skin, the greater your skincare bill. Why? You will need more expensive skincare treatments to address sun-damaged skin! From deep chemical peels to laser skin therapy, your bill will go from $240 on a Masktini skincare product haul to $700 on a deep chemical peel. It depends on the city you live in and the dermatologist that you choose! If you don’t believe me, here are a few of the visible signs of sun-damaged skin:

  • Sunburn: there are levels of sunburn. With the first-degree sunburn, you experience redness, skin that is hot to touch, and pain. Second-degree burns damage deeper layers of your skin and nerve endings. Blisters may form, pain increases, and the healing time takes longer. 
  • Wrinkles: the sun’s UV rays damage collagen and elastin, the two proteins that your body needs to maintain its elasticity and suppleness. 
  • Uneven skin tone: if you are prone to hyper-pigmentation and have existing marks on your skin, they will become darker. The darker the spots are, the more difficult they are to remove. That's annoying! Apart from hyper-pigmentation, you may experience redness as a result of permanent damage to blood vessels. 

If those three reasons alone are not enough to send you running back inside to slather on sunscreen or avoid the sun altogether, then I do not know what will! In this New Year, try to strike a balance between giving your skin what it needs and suppressing its deep-rooted desires that are not always best. When in doubt, invest in skincare products that can clean up your mistakes. But remember that natural, gentle skincare wins long-term. Now, will you be sunbathing any time soon?