The risks and benefits of sun exposure

The risks and benefits of sun exposure

No one likes being cooped up on a sunny day, and for good reason! The sun’s rays have physical and mental benefits… as long as you don’t get burned.

The vitamin factor

It’s not all in your head – sunshine does a body good! UV rays play an important role in the synthesis of vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” which has an important role in helping our bodies absorb and use calcium and phosphorous, essential for bone development, muscle health and other important bodily functions. The “sunshine vitamin’’ actually helps reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis and certain types of cancer.

Anti-depression rays

The famous architect Le Corbusier once said, “When the sun enters your home, it enters your heart a little as well.” It’s true – sometimes all you need are a few rays to raise your spirits! The good mood you get when you step outside is from a boost in the production of serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone.” So, when you’ve got the blues, there’s nothing better than letting natural light work its wonders. Another big benefit of the sun is that it makes you want to go out and get exercise, bringing a myriad of benefits. Need more proof that sunshine brings happiness? Think about the seasonal depression that sidelines so many of us in the winter, when the days are short and gray. Take a look at daylight hours in Montreal, Whitehorse and Quito. Where would you rather spend your winters?
Montreal, Quebec Whitehorse, Yukon Quito, Ecuador
Hours of sunlight at the winter solstice (January 1, 2017) 8.8 5.6 12
Hours of sunlight at the summer solstice (June 20, 2017) 15.6 19.2 12

Blazing sun

A tip for insomniacs: when you expose yourself to the morning sun, it synchronizes your biological rhythms by triggering the release of melatonin. It’s like magic – this “sleep hormone” helps you doze off easily once nighttime rolls around.

From tanning to wrinkles

All of the sun’s benefits are linked to moderate exposure. So what happens when you spend a bit too much time outside? The epidermis produces melanin, a pigment giving the skin a tanned appearance. While some people still seek out tans, remember that it’s the skin’s way of defending itself from UV rays. And unfortunately, melanin isn’t enough to efficiently counter the negative effects of excessive exposure. With too much sun, the skin dries out and loses the elasticity that keeps it looking young – hello spots and wrinkles! So what’s the right way to tan? Sparingly!

Watch out for sunburns!

When you overexpose your skin to UV rays, you also run the risk of a painful and dangerous sunburn. And remember: repeated burns over time can lead to skin cancer. Sunburns during childhood are of particular concern. Children’s skin is thinner, making it more vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV rays.

Allergy alert

If the skin on your torso and your limbs gets covered in hives or red spots as soon as the snow melts, you might be allergic to the sun. If hives appear as soon as the sun hits your skin and disappear once you’re in the shade, you could have solar urticaria. But if you experience a delayed reaction several hours after exposure, it could be a condition known as polymorphic light eruption, or PMLE.

Sunscreen to the rescue!

Stay inside all summer? No way! Most people can tolerate the sun in small doses, as long as they’re well protected! To get you through the summer months, sunscreen is key! But it’s important to be an informed consumer and check the ingredients, which can vary significantly by product. Wouldn’t you rather ward off the sun’s rays with a natural product? Have you heard of mineral sunscreen? Here’s what you need to know: zinc-oxide based products (which create a physical mineral solar filter) are considered the most efficient for humans. They also reduce the negative environmental effects that harm marine life, including corals.

Relax and enjoy the sun

You can enjoy the good weather stress free as long as you’re protected with a good sunscreen. Here are some extra tips to stay safe in the sun:
  • Generously apply sunscreen before heading out and every two hours afterwards.
  • Take it easy in the spring. Try to spend a few minutes in the sun every day, but not all day.
  • Hide out under shady trees and parasols between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV rays are the most damaging.
  • Cover up and wear a wide-brimmed hat. We’re sure you can find one that’s just your style!
Ready for a sun salutation?

Further reading:

Health effects of ultraviolet radiation (Government of Canada)
Skin cancer (Government of Canada)
Sun allergy (Mayo Clinic)
Sun allergy (Photosensitivity) (
Everything you need to know about UV rays (Public Health Agency)
Am I deficient in vitamin D? (Vitamin D Council)
Benefits of sunlight: A bright spot for human health (Environmental Health Perspectives)
Benefits of moderate sun exposure (Harvard Health Publications)
Sunburn and other sun reactions of the skin (WebMD)
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