Whether you’re in vacation mode or enjoying everyday outdoor activities during the summer, it’s important to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure, which can lead to sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. However, moderate sun exposure is critical for maintaining a healthy body and mind.
“The amount of light that hits you [tells your body] when to eat, what to eat and when to reproduce,” explain researchers T. S. Wiley, PhD, and Bent Formby, PhD, authors of Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival. “Light-and-dark cycles turn hormone production on and off, activate your immune system, and time neurotransmitter release daily, and especially seasonally.”
Along with supporting circadian health, sun exposure also boosts your mood and vitamin D levels, which are critical to overall healthy function.
So, how can you be smart about sun exposure? Try these tips from our experts:
- Be mindful of the time of day. Early morning sunlight is helpful for circadian health — and UV light tends to be less intense during these hours as well. However, depending on your skin type, midday sun may be best if you won’t have other outdoor opportunities during the day. (Learn more here.)
- Aim for 15 minutes or less of direct sunlight when not wearing any sun protection.
- Shop for nontoxic, mineral-based sunscreens. (For a list of safer sunscreens, download the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Guide to Sunscreens” here.)
- Apply sunscreen liberally and often, about every two hours when in direct sunlight, and following swimming.
- Allow your eyes some time outdoors without sunglasses to support mood, but wear sunglasses that filter both UVA and UVB radiation (marked as 100 percent UV or UV 400 protection) .
- If you have a family history of skin cancer, be mindful to avoid excessive sun exposure and burns, advises Gregory Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACC, medical director of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing in Minneapolis.
- Wear wide-brim hats and lightweight UV-protective clothing to best shield your skin from the sun. Seek the shade on days when the heat or UV index is particularly high.