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Sun Exposure Guide: Shades, Sunscreen & PUFA Risks

sunshine exposure guide kyletothemoon

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Growing up with extremely fair skin, red hair, and freckles, I was the poster child for sunburn caution. The advice “You better put plenty of sunscreen on that boy!” was a constant refrain in my childhood, leading to a ritualistic application of the highest possible SPF sunscreen by my vigilant mother who just wanted to look out for me. Despite her best efforts, severe sunburns were a rite of passage for me, culminating in a particularly painful episode at a pool party that left me with second-degree burns and blisters. These experiences planted seeds of curiosity about the sun’s true impact on our health.

My interest in sun exposure and developing sun tolerance isn’t solely about achieving a nice tan, though having some pigmentation is a bonus. My primary goal has been to overcome my sun sensitivity, which otherwise leaves me with painful burns unless I liberally apply sunscreen.

I’ve always suspected that these sunscreens might not be good for me, yet I couldn’t avoid using them. Now, the chemical smell is particularly off-putting. People react differently to various pollutants—some can instantly detect mold in a building if they’ve been exposed to it before. For me, the thought of how much sunscreen I’ve absorbed through my skin over the years is alarming. I’m now focused on building a healthy solar callus so I can fully enjoy and benefit from the sun’s energy.

The sun isn’t a terrible, deadly force to be avoided; it’s the giver of all life on Earth and integral to human health, just as it is to any plant or creature. 
And let’s be honest, the sun feels great. It isn’t some wild phenomenon that our beloved, domestic house pets will shift their napping positions around the living room for hours as the sun rises and falls.
Did you know that the further you are from the equator, where the sun is strongest, the higher the skin cancer rates? It may sound surprising, but it’s true. In this post, I’ll challenge the conventional wisdom about your relationship with the sun, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Keep reading to discover a different perspective.

Image from Big Think

Unlock the Sunshine Vitamin

Recent research, including a landmark study, challenges the long-held contradiction of sun exposure as solely detrimental. This body of work illuminates the profound implications of insufficient sun exposure—a public health concern with far-reaching consequences, from an increased incidence of certain cancers to a heightened risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, and beyond. The findings suggest a complex relationship where the sun, much like dietary or lifestyle choices, requires a nuanced approach to maximize its benefits while mitigating risks.

The synthesis of Vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine vitamin,” has long been heralded as the primary benefit of sun exposure, essential for bone health, immune function, and more. Yet, the narrative is evolving, with emerging research pointing to additional mechanisms, such as the release of nitric oxide from the skin—a process with potential cardiovascular benefits independent of Vitamin D. This expanding body of evidence suggests that our interaction with the sun might influence our health in more ways than previously understood, challenging the reductionist view of sun exposure as merely a means to Vitamin D synthesis.

Beyond the skin, bones, and immune system, Vitamin D has a role in the grander scheme of things. From influencing telomere length (hello, fountain of youth!) to supporting mental health, the benefits of Vitamin D are as broad as they are profound. Keeping your Vitamin D levels in check means you’re not just living longer but living better.

Bone Strength and Beyond: The Wonders of Vitamin D

Sure, we’ve all heard that Vitamin D is the “bone vitamin,” essential for absorbing calcium and keeping our bones sturdy. But the story doesn’t end there. This superhero vitamin plays a crucial role in balancing calcium levels in our blood and keeping those pesky hypocalcemic symptoms at bay. And guess what? It’s not just about what it does in your gut; there’s no automatic shut-off valve for Vitamin D absorption, making its regulation pretty fascinating.

Metabolism on Point: How Vitamin D Keeps You Lean and Mean

Here’s something you might not know: Vitamin D is like a secret weapon against obesity. Higher levels of this sunshine vitamin are linked to better adiponectin and leptin levels—hormones that help you stay slim and trim. So, by catching some rays or ensuring you’re getting enough Vitamin D, you’re not just building strong bones; you’re helping your body fight off the extra pounds and stave off diabetes. Talk about a win-win!

Nature’s Antibiotic: Vitamin D’s Role in Fighting Infections

Vitamin D isn’t just basking in the sun; it’s busy fighting battles against infections. This natural antibiotic boosts our immune cells to produce cathelicidin, a protein that zaps those unwanted bacteria and viruses. And it’s not just a skin-deep affair—Vitamin D fortifies your gut and respiratory system, making it a frontline defense against infections. Who knew catching some sunlight could arm your immune system so well?

Heart Health Hero: Vitamin D’s Cardiovascular Benefits

Think of Vitamin D as your heart’s best friend. By putting the brakes on renin, a hormone that can spell trouble for blood pressure, Vitamin D is all about keeping your heart ticking happily. It’s also on a mission to protect your kidneys from the aftermath of too much fructose—a common villain in our diets. So, soaking up some Vitamin D can literally be a lifesaver for your heart and kidneys.

Immunity Boost and Autoimmune Aid: The Protective Power of Vitamin D

When it comes to your immune system, Vitamin D is like the wise general strategizing its defense. Its knack for modulating immune responses means you’re better shielded against viruses, bacteria, and even autoimmune diseases. For folks dealing with autoimmune challenges, getting enough Vitamin D (hello, sunlight!) can make a world of difference in how your body copes and fights back.

Skin Health Unlocked: Vitamin D and Its Soothing Touch for Psoriasis

For those navigating the choppy waters of psoriasis, Vitamin D might just be the lighthouse guiding you to calmer seas. Sunlight-sparked Vitamin D production can lead to special compounds that ease psoriasis symptoms. It’s a gentle reminder that sometimes, nature offers the best remedies.

The bottom line? The sun and Vitamin D are pretty much a dynamic duo when it comes to our health. While it’s crucial to enjoy the sun responsibly to avoid its not-so-fun side effects, a mindful dance in its rays can boost your Vitamin D levels, offering a plethora of health benefits. So next time you’re basking in that warm sunlight, remember—you’re not just soaking up rays; you’re soaking up life-enhancing Vitamin D.\

More than Vitamin D

The sun offers a spectrum of benefits that extend far beyond its role in vitamin D synthesis. While it’s widely recognized for enhancing bone health through vitamin D production, the sun influences our bodies in numerous other profound ways. From boosting our mood with natural light to enhancing immune function and even reducing bacterial presence in our environments, sunlight contributes to our overall health. These benefits are facilitated through a series of complex biochemical reactions triggered by the sun’s rays touching our skin and entering our eyes, reminding us that our connection to the natural world is deeply rooted in our physiological well-being.

Mood Enhancement through Serotonin Production

The relationship between sunlight and our mood is fascinating and beneficial. When sunlight touches our skin and enters our eyes, it catalyzes the production of serotonin—a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in stabilizing our mood and feelings of well-being. Serotonin is often referred to as the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ chemical because of its significant impact on our mood. The process involves sunlight stimulating the retina, which sends signals to the brain to increase serotonin production. This biochemical reaction not only uplifts our spirits but also helps combat depression and anxiety. 

Melatonin Regulation and Sleep Improvement

Sunlight also influences our sleep quality through the regulation of melatonin, another hormone critical to our natural sleep-wake cycle. Exposure to natural light during the day helps to suppress daytime levels of melatonin, making us feel more alert. As daylight fades, the pineal gland begins to release melatonin, which helps to promote sleep. This natural regulation is essential for maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. By aligning our body clock with the natural light-dark cycle, sunlight exposure can improve sleep patterns, making it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Research suggests that even individuals who struggle with sleep disorders may find relief through timed sunlight exposure.

Potential Reduction of Viral Loads

Exploring the effects of sunlight on viral infections is an area of growing interest. While direct evidence of sunlight’s ability to reduce viral loads on human skin is still emerging, the known disinfectant properties of UV light from the sun show promise. Ultraviolet (UV) light can deactivate pathogens on surfaces, and by extension, it might contribute to reducing the spread of viruses in environments exposed to natural sunlight. 

Infrared Light and Pain Management

The therapeutic effects of sunlight extend to pain management, particularly through its infrared component. Infrared light, which is a type of radiant heat, is thought to penetrate deep into tissues and enhance blood circulation, reduce inflammation, and speed up the healing process. This can be particularly beneficial for wound healing and in treating chronic pain conditions such as rheumatism and muscle aches. The anecdotal and preliminary data suggest significant potential benefits for natural infrared exposure in pain relief and tissue repair.

Is Sunscreen the Answer?

Now that we understand the role of sunshine and Vitamin D in our health, let’s return to the sunscreen conversation.

The Surprising Truth About Sunscreen and Melanoma

Have you ever slathered on sunscreen thinking it’s your best defense against the dreaded melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer? Well, in 1995 a team of researchers from the International Journal of Cancer took a deep dive into this very topic, and their findings might make you rethink everything you thought you knew about sunscreen.

In their groundbreaking study, spanning Germany, France, and Belgium, the team interviewed 418 individuals diagnosed with melanoma and 438 lucky enough to be melanoma-free. They didn’t just ask if people used sunscreen; they got into the nitty-gritty—differentiating between your run-of-the-mill sunscreens, those containing psoralen (a tanning activator known to be a photocarcinogen), and self-tanners that bronze you up without any UV exposure.

Key Findings from the Study

Now, here’s where things get interesting. After adjusting for factors like age, sex, hair color, and those blissful weeks spent at sunny resorts, the researchers found that folks using regular sunscreen had a melanoma risk of 1.50 compared to those who didn’t use any. And for those using psoralen-infused sunscreens? Their risk shot up to 2.28. 

What’s even more eye-opening is that among those who didn’t tan easily (we’re talking about the pale crowd), psoralen sunscreen users had a melanoma risk of 4.45 when stacked up against regular sunscreen users. Plus, there was this intriguing negative interaction between using regular sunscreen and experiencing sunburns as an adult.

The Hidden Risks of Sunscreen Use

And here’s a kicker—using sunscreens, especially those with psoralen, was linked to more pigmented skin lesions. Yikes!

So, what’s the takeaway? The study strongly suggests that sunscreens, far from being the melanoma-shielding heroes we thought they were, might not offer the protection we need. This is possible because they allow us to stay out in the sun longer, feeling falsely secure, and soak up all that unfiltered UV radiation.

The findings particularly throw shade on psoralen-containing sunscreens, raising serious concerns about their safety. It looks like it’s time for a serious chat about our sunscreen choices and how we heal our species’ relationship with the sun. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not just about avoiding a burn; it’s about safeguarding our skin’s health for the long haul.

The FDA’s Updated Regulations on Sunscreen

In 2021, the FDA’s updated sunscreen regulations highlighted only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as definitively safe, casting doubt on twelve other ingredients due to insufficient data. Three of these, homosalate, avobenzone, and oxybenzone, are particularly concerning for their potential endocrine-disrupting effects. Contrasting U.S. leniency, the European Commission recommended stricter limits on oxybenzone and homosalate, highlighting discrepancies in safety standards. Research showing systemic absorption of these chemicals into blood, breast milk, and urine intensifies worries about their long-term health impact, especially oxybenzone’s hormone disruption. The FDA and European Commission’s scrutiny of oxybenzone, along with concerns over octinoxate and homosalate’s effects, signals an urgent need for reevaluation of sunscreen ingredients for health and safety.

Sunglasses and Sunburn: Rethinking Our Approach to UV Protection

Did you know that the simple act of wearing sunglasses might affect how our bodies protect us from the sun? It seems a bit counterintuitive, right? We wear sunglasses to shield our eyes, but in doing so, we might be dialing down our body’s natural defenses against sunburn. This intriguing insight comes from diving into how our bodies and the sun interact, shedding light on a fascinating biological dance influenced by UV light.

One study done by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology reveals a complex, nitric oxide-dependent pathway that kicks into gear when UVB light hits our eyes. This isn’t just any old light show; it’s a critical process that signals our hypothalami pituitary proopiomelanocortin system (we’re learning big words today) to get to work, increasing the concentration of α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH) in our plasma. Think of α-MSH as the body’s internal sunblock, but instead of slathering it on, we produce it internally, stimulating melanocytes to pump out melanin. Melanin is our skin’s way of saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to sunburn by absorbing UV radiation.

But here’s where it gets interesting: sunglasses, our trusted allies against squinting, might be telling our brains it’s darker than it is. This, in turn, puts the brakes on the whole α-MSH production line because the initial UV trigger is filtered out. It’s a bit like having a sophisticated security system but forgetting to turn it on; the protective mechanism is there, but it’s not activated.

The study continues beyond identifying this process; it dives deeper into the signaling pathways involved. By exploring various surgical interventions in mice, such as ciliary ganglionectomy and optic nerve denervation, the research delineates a specific path involving nitric oxide that signals the body to ramp up α-MSH production, leading to increased melanin and, therefore, protection against UV radiation. This pathway is not just a minor detour; it’s a major highway of communication between our eyes and skin, highlighting the critical role of UV exposure to our eyes in skin protection.

What’s fascinating here is the realization that this process is nitric oxide-dependent, highlighting the substance’s role not just in inflammation but as a messenger telling our body to protect itself against UV damage. This mechanism, involving the first branch of the trigeminal nerve and ciliary ganglia, outlines a novel defense strategy our bodies employ in UV-enriched environments.

So, next time you reach for your sunglasses on a bright, sunny day, consider this: a little bit of direct sunlight to the eyes (safely and in moderation, of course) might not be such a bad thing. It’s about finding the right balance between protecting our eyes and allowing our bodies to activate their natural defense mechanisms against sunburn. As always, moderation is key, highlighting the intricate ways our bodies navigate the challenges posed by our environment.

Seed Oils & Sunburns

One of the most beautiful trends in the past few years has been the rapid increase in people speaking out on the dangers of seed oils. We get it, seed oils are very bad. 

To stoke that fire a little more, I will go as far as to say that these oils will also drastically damage your relationship with the sun and cause sunburn. 

Rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), seed oils will stealthily embed themselves under our skin, setting the stage for an amplified inflammatory response when UV rays make contact. Dr. Cate’s work on this topic paints a vivid picture: seed oil consumers bear a higher load of PUFAs, turning their skin into a tinderbox for UV-induced inflammation. This is not merely about discomfort or the visible hallmark of a sunburn; it’s about a deeper, more insidious level of damage.

When UV rays bombard our skin, they do not merely tan or burn the surface; they instigate a cascade of oxidative stress, targeting the PUFAs nestled within our skin cells. This oxidative siege results in the production of harmful free radicals, including singlet oxygen, which has a particular vendetta against PUFA-rich environments. The outcome? An inflammation inferno.

Image from Dr. Cate

The Collagen Casualty & Saturated Fat Shield

The narrative takes a grimmer turn when we consider collagen, the scaffolding of our skin. In the fiery aftermath of UV exposure, seed oil consumers witness a more pronounced degradation of collagen. Why? Because the inflammatory response, a natural reaction to UV damage, goes into overdrive in the presence of excessive PUFAs, unleashing enzymes that devour collagen. This is not a mere aesthetic concern; it’s a structural one. Collagen degradation compromises the integrity, resilience, and youthful appearance of our skin.

In a twist of fate, saturated fats, long vilified in Western healthcare, have always been our true heroes. Unlike their polyunsaturated counterparts, saturated fats do not succumb to the whims of singlet oxygen. Instead, they stand their ground, quenching free radicals and halting the oxidative cascade. This positions saturated fats as natural anti-inflammatory agents, a mantle they wear proudly, despite prevailing dietary dogmas.

The Personal Journey: A Path to Enlightened Sun Exposure

Armed with a deeper understanding of the sun’s role in our health, I’ve adopted strategies that reflect a balanced approach to sun exposure. 

Here’s a rundown of how I gear up for safe sun, focusing on diet, supplements, and natural strategies. Remember, this isn’t medical advice, just what has worked for me. As controversial as it may be, I’ll never stray from encouraging my readers to always do their own research.

Supplement Support: As summer approaches, I boost my regimen with specific supplements to fight inflammation and enhance sun tolerance. Important ones include Vitamin C in my morning Adrenal Cocktail (code kyletothemoon to save $10), Krill Oil (code kyletothemoon to save $10), MagSRT Magnesium (code kyletothemoon to save $10), and my personal favorite internal sun protection: Astaxanthin (code kyletothemoon64 for varied discounts & rewards), a potent antioxidant that acts like an internal sunscreen.

Gradual Sun Exposure: I start with less sun exposure than I think I need, gradually increasing it to avoid sunburn while optimizing vitamin D levels.

Natural Sun Protection: After getting my dose of sun, I opt for natural protection methods like wearing a hat and shirt or using a homemade or recommended zinc-oxide sunscreen when longer sun exposure is unavoidable.

Eat a Real Food Diet With Enough Good Fats: My diet focuses on anti-inflammatory foods, rich in omega-3s and choline (read why I love eggs here), and fat-soluble vitamins, avoiding processed foods, grains, and high omega-6 oils.

Eat Antioxidants: Steering clear of most grains and omega-6 oils and focusing on proteins, fats, and vegetables naturally boosts my diet’s antioxidant levels, protecting against inflammation and skin damage.

Use of Coconut Oil: Instead of using sunscreen I opt for coconut oil. Coconuts are magical and are proven to deliver some UV protection without all the unnatural chemicals. While the protection isn’t as strong, I still have to listen to my body when it’s time for a sun break. 


Navigating the sun’s generosity without morphing into a human lobster has been a journey of enlightenment and re-education. I’ve gone from being a sunburnt cautionary tale to mastering the sun-savvy art of basking responsibly—without compromising on my vitamin D intake. Despite my complexion remaining a proud shade of pink, I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in my sun tolerance, spotting actual pigmentation amid my constellation of freckles. Here’s to a balanced relationship with our brightest star, where every ray counts and each moment without sunscreen is a move in the right direction.

3 Responses

  1. I absolutely loved your article. Thanks for doing your homework and sharing your research with me.

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