Can Safe Sun Exposure Be a Part of Your Natural Health?

Top of the summer season’s questions and one of the most controversial, is can a natural approach to sun exposure be safe? This is a tough question to answer – start doing your research and the deeper you go, you’ll find a plethora of conflicting information and a minefield of scientific gobbledygook.

Holistic approach, anyone? Surely, for the everyday natural woman/man/child, we need information that addresses our lives from all angles, and not just the narrow slices of scientific studies that add to our confusion?

The first question I asked to try and uncover some answers was;

How Harmful is Sun Exposure?

Dangerously Harmful Sun

In most recent years, the message has very definitely been that sun = danger. Is that really the case? The most prevailing viewpoint you’ll read about is that exposure to sunlight (even on cloudy days – it is the ultra-violet (UV) light that does the alleged damage) without protection can be extremely harmful to your health. It makes for some scary reading…

According to recent news from Cancer Research UK;

  • 2 young adults are diagnosed with skin cancer every day;
  • Men’s skin cancer death rates double in last 30 years;
  • Deadly skin cancer rates soar for baby boomer generation …

Read on and you’ll discover that the danger lies most specifically with painful sunburns. This results in DNA damage which can lead to mutated cells forming into sometimes deadly skin cancers.

Aside from the dangers of sunburn, the common view is that the cumulative effect of normal everyday activities in the sun can also lead to greater risk of skin damage. The advice is

  • cover up
  • avoid the sun, especially during peak hours between 11am and 2pm
  • slap on the sunscreen (SPF factor 15+).

Therapeutic Healing Sun

Far back in ancient history, it was believed that sun exposure is a healthy undertaking and vital for physical and mental health.The Egyptians were believed to practice heliotherapy (sunlight therapy), and there is firm evidence which points towards them understanding the role of sunshine in their medicinal practices. It has also been demonstrated that the Greeks used sun therapy in therapeutic medicine, treating metabolic disorders, rickets and more.

Rickets is a disease of soft bones that was common in Victorian times but has since receded, primarily with the fortification of foods with added vitamin D and vitamin and mineral supplement initiatives. Vitamin D is notoriously hard to find naturally by means of diet alone and therefore vitamin D supplements are commonly recommended today. Of course, a reliable and natural source of vitamin D is the absorption of sunlight!

There is some argument today that the safe sun messages prevalent in the media can in fact result in a population so deficient in vitamin D that it is at risk from many other diseases aside from rickets and osteoporosis including “many common cancers (for example, breast, colon, prostate), type 2 diabetes, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, periodontal disease and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes of childhood and multiple sclerosis”.1

Prior to the introduction of antibiotics in the 1950s, sun therapy was commonly used by doctors in Europe and North America to treat infectious diseases.

To Sunbathe or Not?

Nowhere does the pro-sun argument recommend exposing yourself to the sun to such an extent that you burn and even the message by one of the UK’s most vocal proponents of regular sun exposure, Oliver Gillie, founder of the Health Research Forum is to “Sunbathe safely without burning – every day if you can“.

It seems to me that aside from the mental advantages of being outdoors on a sunny day, we can benefit physiologically from safe daily sun exposure. As to whether deliberately sun bathing to achieve a tan makes sense, then I’d suggest that’s up to the individual to weigh up their particular circumstances and apply the holistic assessment that science seems unable to provide, including their skin type, their geography and their diet.

Could it be that this most recent change of behaviours in the human population, whereby we rush to the beach, to strip off and bake in the sun for two weeks with minimal exposure throughout the rest of the year, has also led to an increase in skin cancers?

Whatever your skin colour or nationality, if you do decided to expose yourself to the sun, then the most natural way is to do it safely, keep active and avoid barbecuing yourself! If you have a light coloured skin that burns easily and live in the north, then it makes sense to sunbathe gradually and regularly for short time periods.

As for achieving a sun tan, I know I personally feel better and think I look healthier in the summer months when I achieve a tan, however I do try and avoid passive sunbathing. As a natural woman, I also avoid using chemical based skin creams with high SPF factors and turn to natural alternatives.



1. Evidence of deficiency and insufficiency of vitamin D in the UK: National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) data, 1994-2004, Barbara J. Boucher, MD, FRCP, Centre for Diabetes and Metabolic Medicine, Queen Mary School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK: Sunlight, Vitamin D & Health

SunSmart Campaign, Cancer Research UK
Health Research Forum
Heliotherapy in Ancient Greece
The Healing Sun

Photo by furbychan


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