Summer's sultry days are upon us, thank goodness. It's holiday time again, and the press, as usual, is full of warnings about the dangers of sunshine. Skin damage, ageing, wrinkles, melanoma, uv rays. Cover up! Don't dream about leaving the house unless you're slathered in sun cream. Don't walk out at midday! The exhortations go on and on. Remember the terrifying Nivea ads of beautiful people frolicking in the waves? Pale skinned and fabulous, until, like a horror movie, the full extent of their sun damage was revealed, the images imprinted on our psyches for eternity.
Poor sun. Turned into our enemy, when in fact it is one of the best friends we have. Don't listen to those 'sunshine doom-mongers'. If the sun disappeared tomorrow, all life on our planet would be extinguished in a matter of days. Light is the fuel for life on earth, and our cells depend on it for survival. Sunshine is one of the most powerful of all natural healing therapies. It's also entirely free. No need for doctors appointments, wait lists or pill popping. Sunlight heals us. We take it in through our eyes, and our skin. It penetrates deep into our organs, energising us at a cellular level.
Striking the sun-balance
But, as with everything, you need a healthy balance. Too little sunshine can make you ill, and so can too much. Like the three bears, you need to find your 'just right'.
If you value your health, get outdoors. Vitamin D deficiency is now a modern world epidemic. Genetically, we are out of light balance. Our bodies work best in a world of bright unfiltered daylight, followed by a gentler firelight in the evenings. Today, those patterns are upside down.
Many of us spend our days inside, where the windows in our rooms filter and block aspects of the full spectrum of light that we need. We work in artificially lit offices and rarely venture outdoors. If we do, we are often covered from head to toe with protective clothing, particularly in the winter. The natural light just can't get in. At night now, we live very differently from the hunter gatherers of thousands of years ago. We have fully lit, bright electric lives, extending our waking period and messing with our natural circadian rhythms. And the light from your iPhone, computer or iPad just isn't the same. We are, quite simply, all out of kilter.
What you need to stay healthy is pure, unadulterated light. The full spectrum of sunshine. Make sure you walk outside in the fresh air daily, and that the light can get to your skin. Even 30 minutes (without sun cream) a day makes a difference. Lack of light can make you sick, but just as surely, light therapy can help you get well again.
Light activates your cells. It's nature's greatest gift. A free source of healing that you can tap into any time.
Another way of accessing light for healing, is to eat raw, uncooked vegetables and fruit. Plants photosynthesise light. They take in the energy of the sun and hold that energy. By eating the plants, you take that light into your body and fuel your cells.
Top up your body's batteries
So back to summer. This is the time to up your sunshine quota. Re-invigorate your cells.
Sunshine is probably the reason you get back from holiday feeling great. But as soon as you slip back into your habitual working patterns you will feel it all drain away within the space of a few weeks or even days.
Everything in moderation though. Too much sun can also, obviously, be harmful. And it is clearly not sensible to lie out in it for hours on end. What's the fun in turning bright pink and spending days in agony?
Sunshine Safety: 6 top tips to stay safe in the sun
1. Accustom yourself slowly
Start with just a few minutes of exposure each day and increase it gradually. If your skin turns pink, it's burning. Slow it down. Go out in the early mornings or later afternoons. Avoid the sun at its height from 11 -2pm
2. Choose your time of day
Never go out when the sun is at it's strongest. That phrase from Britain's colonial days sums it up perfectly: 'Mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun'. The rest of the world are far more sensible. Stick to early mornings and later afternoon. The rest of the time, sit in the shade if you can.
3. Protect yourself
Wear a hat. Carry a sunshade with you as you would an umbrella in winter. Go for long sleeved tops and shade your eyes with sunglasses.
4. Don't spend too long in the sun
And if you must, build up to it slowly. A few minutes longer in the sunshine each day with a good quality sun cream with a decent SPF will build you a lasting tan. No peeling or bright, red lobster look.
5. Do your research on sun cream
Are you boggled by the quantity of sun creams out there? The rows and rows of bright orange and yellow bottles, all proclaiming themselves the safest and the best. It can feel like a minefield. Which one to choose, and is it really organic? And if it is organic, does it actually work?
Your skin takes in whatever you put on it. You can heal your body, or harm your body, just by rubbing in that sun cream. Your skin sucks it in quickly, and sends it and all it's contents straight to your cells. The TV ads and giant billboards tell you to slather on vast quantities of sun cream. All over your body and several times a day.
Do you have a clue what's in it? Check your sun cream bottle, and not just for the SPF. If you can't understand the list of ingredients on the back, it is very likely they are chemical. And chemicals are toxic. If it says oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone or octocrylene, watch out. Research shows that sunscreen chemicals show up in blood, urine and breast milk samples. Some disrupt hormones, and many irritate the skin.
Mineral sunscreens use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, and these penetrate the skin less, so are probably a better choice. If you are using a spray sun cream, be particularly careful not to breathe it in as you rub it in. Who wants toxic chemicals in their lungs? These feel easier to use, but they may not give you as good a cover as the creams or oils.
And what about SPF levels?
SPF protects you from sunburn, but not other types of skin damage. The sun protection factor implies that the higher the number on the bottle, the longer you can lie in the sun without burning. But it doesn't quite work like that. You might think that covering yourself with an SPF 100 would get you double the time safe sunbathing as using an SPF 50. But the difference is negligible. And you are just as well off, and as well protected apparently if you choose SPF 30-50. Plus, according to tests, many of the manufacturers claiming an SPF of 100, are only in fact providing levels considerably lower. The same tests also showed that people who used the super high SPF sunscreen lulled themselves into a false sense of security, and stayed out in the sun far longer than those wearing low levels of SPF cream. They got as many UVB sunburns as the unprotected sunbathers, and probably absorbed more of the damaging UVA rays in the process.
The chemicals that create the SPF are intended to block the UVB rays that cause sunburn and non melanoma skin cancers. But it's the UVA rays that are associated with melanoma and high free radical levels that are more harmful. Sunscreen with however high an SPF has little effect on those.
Lower factor SPF may be better
SPF 30 seems to do as good a job as any of its higher relatives. In Australia they don't sell suncream with an SPF of higher than 30. Yet they have the most ozone layer damage on the planet and are hugely aware of the dangers of too much sun.
Don't skimp on your quantities
In America, the recommended FDA suncream dose for successful protection was considerably higher than most people would apply. Beware - you may be protecting yourself considerably less than you thought!
American sunscreens are less protective than their European competitors, and have been found to let roughly 3 times more UVA rays through. In Europe, all sunscreens must offer UVA protection at a level that is at least a third of the SPF's UVB protection. If you are wearing SPF 30, your UVA protection will be 10. Buy European when you can.
And a warning about sun creams that advertise added vitamin A as a defence against wrinkles. Retinal palmitate can cause skin cancer and lesions when triggered by sunlight!
Suncreams that pass the testing
Ewg.org has done a test of 880 sun teams, and rates them on a scale of 1-10. Check out which one works for you. Avoid the toxic brands. I use The Organic Pharmacy's Cellular Protection Sun Cream. It protects from UVA and UVB rays and is entirely free of every nasty.
6. Mole checks
Keep ahead of skin cancer and get your moles checked annually. The mole clinic offers a mapping service where they check you over for a minimal fee, and you can go back each year to see if there are any changes. Prevention is an easier option than a shock diagnosis.