The sun used to be a sacred celestial body, worshipped and prayed to honor the life-giving properties it had on the earth. Today our feelings towards the sun are much more complex. When modern clinical studies revealed the negative impact UV rays have on our skin, with increased risk of cancer and photoaging of the skin, we started to fear the sun. We switched the Hawaiian tropic tanning oil for full protective chemical sunscreens. However, after years of cautiously using sunscreen, we started to see alterations in sea life and it became clear that some of the common ingredients in the chemical sunscreens were hormonal disruptors affecting the ecosystem of oceans and lakes.
A new wave of mineral sunscreens emerged. The white layer they created on your skin and the fact that you had to reapply them frequently for full protection made them less convenient. Nowadays mineral sunscreens are as user-friendly and protective as chemical ones. This is, however, since the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles are downsized to nano size which means that they could enter through the skin barrier. It has also been seen that mineral sunscreens are antibacterial by nature and disruptive to your skin's microbiota. Since the microorganisms on your skin are (among many other things) protecting you from the UV rays this is counterproductive by effect in our strive to protect ourselves from the sun.
Even though we do want a fully dependable UV protection at hand there are also benefits of getting a little sun on your skin. The sun gives us energy, and endorphins and is by far the best way of producing vitamin D. Sunscreen, clothes, shadow and windows all block absorption of vitamin D. For people living in the northern hemisphere, the production of vitamin D does not start until late spring when the rays of the sun are closer to the earth. To get a sufficient daily dose of vitamin D through the sun you would have to be outside without any protection (neither clothes nor sunscreen) for 15 minutes to a couple of hours depending on your skin tone. Why vitamin D is so important is another journal or two, but let's just say for now that our health is dependent on this vitamin (that actually is a hormone).
So, how should we care for our skin when spending time in the sun?
Maybe no one has the answer to this (although many claim to have it) and to be clear - neither do we! We try to practice what we believe is “common sun sense” and see to our dispositions.
For example, from birth up to the age of 5 the skin is not fully developed, and in our point of view, sun protection is crucial. We keep our youngest ones strictly in the shadow or with UV-protecting clothes and hats on. When spending a day in strong sun and it is too hot to keep the hats and UV clothes on, we will use an effective and safe SPF 30 (SPF 50 only provides around 3% more coverage than SPF 30, but contains a great amount more of the chemicals). For spring days when clothes can be kept on it may be sufficient with sunscreen only on the face and the parts where the sun hits the skin. Since this sun strategy blocks any uptake of vitamin D, which is important during the early years as well, we add them in supplement form to our kids throughout the year.
For more mature skin or darker skin tones, we are a little less conservative and let the sun hit the skin just for a few minutes a day to get a daily dose of vitamin D in its natural form. However, always be careful not to burn the skin and protect it with clothes, shadow or sunscreen when the sun is strong or when you are planning to be outside for a longer amount of time. Also, remember that when the sun comes back after a long winter, the skin is not used to the sun and therefore more sensitive.
Since UV radiation is a form of oxidative stress it has been seen that eating food rich in polyphenols and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E can protect against the damaging effects. So by adding colorful plant-based meals and smoothies, we can support our bodies!
When it comes to skincare practices we recommend pausing any type of chemical or mechanical peelings during spring and summer. This is because peelings will thin the skin barrier. The skin barrier is one of our natural protectors and a great defence against UV rays. Another natural protector that we mentioned earlier is our skin microbiome. One of their many functions for our health is to protect us from damaging UV rays. Therefore we make sure not to disrupt their habitat by daily moisturizing and avoiding scrubbing and harsh cleansing with soap.
In summary, the sun-skin relationship is a bit complicated, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to taking care of ourselves in the sun. We want to avoid the harmful effects of UV rays, but we also need some sun to get our daily dose of vitamin D. So, it's all about finding a good balance that works for each of us. With a good SPF at hand, a diet rich in antioxidants, gentle skin care practices and some common sun sense, we can enjoy the sun while keeping our skin healthy and happy!