For many of us, summer means more time spent outside under the sun and more exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light imposes many consequences to an individual, both positive and negative.
Effects on Your Skin
The first thing that comes to mind concerning UV light is the various effects it has on your skin. Unfortunately, many of the effects of UV light on the skin are more detrimental than they are beneficial. It’s true that UV light contributes to developing tanned skin, a summer attribute that many individuals pursue. Beyond that, over-exposure to ultraviolet light can have a devastating impact on your skin.
Most commonly, UV light results in sunburn, in which skin cells are severely damaged, causing pain, itchiness and in extreme cases, flu-like symptoms. Damaged skin cells lose their elasticity as well, which results in wrinkled skin or other signs of premature aging. UV exposure can also result in actinic keratoses, or skin growths, along the face, neck, arms and hands.
In worst case scenarios, overexposure to ultraviolet light has been tied to various forms of skin cancer including basal and squamous cell carcinomas, and the very serious melanoma. Failure to use sunscreen increases your risk for all of these diseases.
Effects on Your Immune System
There’s increasing scientific evidence that UV light suppresses your body’s immune system. The science suggests that the ultraviolet radiation alters the molecular chemistry and activity of your cells (particularly your skin cells). These changes have a negative effect on the body’s immune system. A weakened immune system lessens a person’s ability to defend against various diseases or overcome common ailments like a cold or flu.
Effects on Your Eyes
If left unprotected, your eyes can also be damaged by excessive exposure to UV light. Ultraviolet light has been tied to the development of certain types of cataracts. Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye loses its transparency, resulting in cloudy vision or even blindness. Another common issue that arises from UV exposure is pterygium where tissue grows over the eye, blocking vision or causing blind spots and damage to the retinas. You may also be at risk of developing skin cancer around your eyes. Fortunately, sunglasses that filter UV light will thwart many of these concerns and help protect your eyes.
Vitamin D Production
At this point, it might appear that exposure to ultraviolet light only has negative consequences. However, sun exposure does have some positive benefits. Most notably, UV light has been shown to stimulate vitamin D production in the body. When an individual has healthy levels of vitamin D, he or she is less likely to develop certain heart diseases, autoimmune diseases, bone diseases and even certain types of cancers. Daily sun exposure of up to 20 minutes helps the body produce enough vitamin D to meet daily recommendations for vitamin D intake.
Keep in mind that vitamin D production slows down after a certain period of ultraviolet light exposure time. Your body doesn’t continue to produce more and more vitamin D the longer you stay out in the sun, and does not exponentially decrease your risk of various health problems. As a result, be sure to limit your sun exposure and wear plenty of sunscreen to avoid skin damage or sunburn.
Effects on Your Mood
Some studies suggest that spending time around the sun results in increased energy levels and improved mood. Whether these effects are directly tied to ultraviolet exposure, or should be attributed to other factors, are not entirely clear. Some researchers speculate that individuals feel as though they look better with tanned skin (which of course comes from UV exposure), causing increased self-confidence and elevated mood. In any event, you’ll likely feel happier after spending time in the sun.
When spending time outside, be sure that your skin is properly protected so that you can maximize the benefits of UV exposure, while avoiding potential harm.