As summer is fully upon us, warnings about sun exposure are already beating down on us like a scorching hot sunny day. Everyone from the evening news and weather people to your mom or the clerk at the local drug store is telling us what we have now accepted as truth: Cover up with sunscreen, hats, clothes and umbrellas or you will get wrinkles (or worse, skin cancer). Once again, my intuition, common sense, education and skepticism makes me wonder if there are some “wrinkles” in our logic regarding this relationship…
Rethinking Sun Exposure
Does sun exposure cause wrinkles? No, I don’t think it does. I don’t think it causes skin cancer either. Why? Here’s my rationale…
I think we need sun exposure to maximize the health of our skin, prevent wrinkles and skin cancer. Humans have evolved with the sun. Avoiding it is a fools errand. Wrinkles and skin cancer are the result of many things, only one of which is sun exposure. Excessive sun exposure is often a problem, but only under certain conditions.
In a nutshell, it boils down to this: I think wrinkles arise from over stressed, under nourished people practicing unnatural sun hygiene. Skin cancer is very similar and although more complicated it is only partially impacted by sun exposure. For the sake of simplicity I will focus on wrinkles and give some thoughts on skin cancer at the end.
Sun exposure can contribute to wrinkles if…
…The body isn’t right:
You don’t eat well.
The health of the body is the biggest factor in skin health. Nourished, well fed bodies have healthy skin. Healthy skin responds appropriately to the sun. People who don’t eat good food and/or can’t digest and assimilate nutrients get wrinkles from malnutrition, not from the sun. Think of nutrients associated with the sun. Saturated fats, vitamin A/D/E, minerals and the many antioxidants/polyphenols in plants. Similarly, nutrients like collagen, almost absent from the modern diet are vital for maintaining the integrity of the skin. Not to be ignored, keeping yourself hydrated well, particularly during and around sun exposure, will help your skin embrace the sun.
You are stressed.
Just like every other bodily process, the skin’s status is a product of stress. An organism under stress, no matter what kind, has less radiant and resilient skin. If you are stressed your skin will be more sensitive, dry, and weak. Good skin is a manifestation of a balanced organism. Bodies under fire will get burned more easily than ones running cool, calm and collected. How many of us have seen someone’s skin looking great after a vacation or a mess after going through a stressful period?
…or your sun hygiene is poor:
Sun exposure is not gradual (too much too soon).
Your body is designed to ease into sun exposure as the sun rays get more intense over the spring months. Just like exercise, our skin and bodies need training. Think of how your body feels trying to run a marathon without training for it. That is not much different than going out tanning after being covered up all winter. Easing into sun exposure allows our skin to be much more resilient.
Sun exposure isn’t seasonal.
We are not meant to be tan in the winter. There is a time for tan and a time for paleness. Attempting to keep your skin tanned year round doesn’t match our natural cycles and is at contrast to many other physiological processes and environmental cues. We should be exposed to the sun all year round but should not try to be tan (either via tanning, tanning booths or chemical means) during the offseason. Don’t hide during the winter but simply allow your skin the ebb and flow of the slowly changing seasonal sunshine and give it a break during the colder months.
You expose/tan outside your heritage.
If you are light skinned, you should be mindful of that. I don’t think fair skinned people are designed for being really tan. I think they can and should have a slight to moderate tan in the summer but they need to be very gradual and smart about their darkness level.
If you are dark skinned you likely have more genetic history with the sun and tan skin and should be more tan in general. I think dark heritage skinned people who don’t spend time in the sun are at risk of not getting the sun stimulus their genes expect.
You live outside your ancestral latitude.
Similar to heritage, fair skinned people living closer to the equator are in a mismatch. So are dark skinned people living in higher latitudes. I think this needs some consideration at all times but the longer you have lived in a place the more your body has had a chance to adapt to the angles, intensities and patterns of the sun.
You don’t turn off the lights.
The skin, like every other system in the body, has a circadian rhythm. If it receives sun (and light exposure by default) during the daytime, it needs a break from the light at night. The more we keep our skin bathed in artificial light at night, the less it gets a break. In essence, our skin needs time for rest and recovery and the more we ignore that the more brittle our skin will be.
…or we get in the way of natural processes:
We mess with our skin too much.
Simply put, the more soaps, creams, lotions, sunscreens, makeup and other chemicals we put on our skin the less healthy it becomes. The skin is a giant organ that has served us well for a very long time. All of the skin products we use get absorbed into that marvelous organ and either strip away its oils, clog it up or interfere with its natural processes. I have no problem with using soap but over washing is as much of a problem as it is a help. Skin is as healthy as the organism it protects. If you have dry skin, look within, don’t treat from the outside.
My instinct tells me that sun exposure is only correlated to skin cancer. Although it may sometimes be a catalyst, I feel that the health of the organism is paramount. If it is indeed the sun causing skin cancer, then how do people get skin cancer on parts of the body that never saw the light of day? Once again, I feel that skin cancer is more about hyper stressed, under slept and malnourished bodies that often practice bad sun hygiene. Should we blame the sun or look at what behaviors and situations made the person vulnerable? I think cancer is far too complicated to look at as simplistically as sun exposure. Do I think sun plays a role? Absolutely. But it does not cause it. It is more like the last straw. And for those people with skin cancer on the bottom of their feet, I think that is evidence as to how some people get cancer that just happens to manifest in the skin the same way that others get it in the brain, bones or organs. It is much more complicated than we even have an idea of now.
Skin Fitness, A.K.A. How To Prevent Wrinkles
Be thoughtful about your appropriate sun exposure. Get as much sun as your body is ready for and can tolerate.
– Start by taking a look at your overall health. Priority number one is your health. Healthy bodies have healthy skin that can handle almost anything. Good skin comes from within.
– Eat as nutrient densely as possible and be mindful of getting all the beneficial fats (saturated), vitamins, minerals and polyphenols. If you don’t eat well, your skin will reflect that.
– Mind your stress. If you are stressed, your skin will get stressed too.
– Ease into sun exposure. Get a few minutes of good sun and then go inside or cover up. Work your way into it slowly but surely.
– Respect your heritage. Don’t tan past your pay grade. Overachievers are not rewarded in wrinkle land.
– Give your skin a break. Both seasonally and daily, let your skin rest, recover and repair. Yes, that means having a year round tan is a bad idea.
– Don’t mess with nature. Your skin is marvelous. Go easy on the chemicals, lotions and soaps and focus your time, effort and money on health from the inside. Let it be the awesome skin it can be.
**By all means, if you are going to be outside longer than your skin can handle, cover up or wear some sunscreen. Don’t burn. Know your current tolerance.
The Bare 5 Bottom Line on Wrinkles:
1. Don’t blame the sun, look at the person. Healthy bodies have healthy skin with that benefit from sun exposure.
2. Poor nutrition/digestion and stress make the skin brittle, weak and sensitive.
3. Bad sun hygiene (too much, irregular, not seasonal, genetic mismatch) challenges unprepared skin and bodies.
4. Sunscreen, soaps, lotions/etc. mainly interfere with the skin’s ability to adapt and respond appropriately to the sun.
5. Be smart about the sun. Get as much appropriate sunshine as possible, know your limits and act accordingly.
Thanks for reading, have a great sunny day!
P.S. Here’s two examples of the nourish from within concept..
An article I recently shared on Facebook: Eat Your Sunscreen?
and another fun thought: Chocolate As Sunscreen
High cocao content chocolate offers skin protection!