The UV light can be your best friend or your worst enemy. It can give you many benefits or cause long term problems. We believe that every person should be aware of both the advantages and downsides of being exposed to direct sunlight (either for short or long time, which is more popular as “sunbathing”.)
If you are interested in understanding more about positive and negative effects of UV light on the skin, keep reading! You will find the answers to all of your questions in this blog post.
What is UV light?
Ultraviolet light, also called simply UV light or sunlight, is a type of electromagnetic radiation, which comes from the sun. Three types of UV rays exist: UVA, UVB, and UVC. With differing properties and penetrations, each type of UV ray has a different effect on your skin and risk for skin cancer. 
What may be a shock to many is that UVA and UVB rays are able to penetrate through clouds, so you have to take them into account during all seasons, including winter.
In this article, we will not talk about the effect of UVC rays on the skin, as those rays are stopped by the ozone layer of the earth, and we have no exposure to them.
Why is sunlight good for you?
The most straightforward answer is: Because it stimulates vitamin D production in the body. But it’s important to mention that only UVB rays are the ones that are associated with the production of this vital vitamin .
Vitamin D itself, in the recommended amounts, is related to many health benefits :
- Boosts your immune system
- Strengthens your bones and muscles
- Helps with atopic skin conditions (eczema, dermatitis, dry skin)
- Boosts your mood and prevents depression
- Reduces the risk of stroke
- Increases insulin sensitivity and prevents diabetes type 2
- Promotes weight loss
- Improves the quality of sleep
Learn about the deficiency symptoms of vitamin D in our dedicated article!
However, there is one common misunderstanding: Many people believe that tanning is the key to getting enough vitamin D.
Tanning and vitamin D
Our skin changes its color when more “melanin” is produced. Melanin is the pigment that gives color to our skin, hair, and nails and it is produced in the so-called melanocytes (cells at the base of the epidermis).
When you expose yourself to sunlight, the melanocytes start producing more melanin to protect the skin from the UV radiation (like a very weak natural SPF ).
However, according to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine, the direct relationship between vitamin D and melanin production is inconclusive, thus, tanning cannot and should not be taken as a benchmark for getting enough vitamin D. If you have a low Vitamin D level, rather than seeking sun exposure without protection or tanning, consult with your provider about alternative ways to increase your vitamin D level through dietary changes and natural oral supplements.
Here you can read more on how to chose the best SPF for you.
Downsides of UV light
In theory, a healthy person can accumulate the recommended daily dose of vitamin D by only exposing himself/herself to direct sunlight for 10-20 minutes a day.  However, that can be misleading and confusing for a lot of people!
- Not the same for everybody
First, the right vitamin D dose varies among people of different ages and skin tones. So the universal 10-20 minutes would have a distinct impact on every different population group. 
Besides, depending on the geographical location and region, sunlight can be too strong or intense, making it difficult for people to recognize the fine line between the good and bad side of “sunbathing”. Other than geographic features, individuals with red hair and/or blue eyes are at a higher risk for sunburns and skin cancer, specifically melanoma, even in cases when exposed to limited sunlight, so diligent sun protection is essential” .
- Risk of melanoma and cancer
Overexposure to intense and direct sunlight increases the risk of melanoma and skin cancer.  And according to the NHS, 5 sunburns drive the risk of developing skin cancer up by 80%. In fact, 1 sunburn during childhood or adolescence nearly doubles the risk of skin cancer, specifically melanoma later on in life.
The reason for this is the fact that skin cells have “memory,” thus the damage caused by sun radiation accumulates, and the negative effects can be shown even after 10-15 years.
When we refer to sunburn, it doesn’t mean only very red skin with blisters, which peel off. Slightly pink skin is also considered to be sunburn, as the UV light has already damaged the skin cells.
- Premature aging
UVA rays are responsible for penetrating the two uppermost layers of the skin: the epidermis and dermis, and damage the integrity of skin cells and accelerate the breakdown of two essential components in the skin, collagen and elastin. Damage to collagen and elastin lead to changes in skin texture, strength, elasticity, suppleness resilience and appearance. 
For that reason, UVA is a major factor in terms of the photoaging and appearance of premature aging signs like wrinkles, fine lines, sagginess, and pigmentation.
In most of the cases, the damage that solar radiation causes to our skin outperforms the benefits. The good news is that you CAN supply yourself with enough vitamin D and keep your skin healthy at the same time!
In that sense, using high-quality SPF products is essential for preventing any kind of sun damage. Just remember to use them every day, no matter if it’s cloudy outside or not. Remember one application of SPF will not protect you from the sun’s rays all day and so reapplication is equally as important.
And to ensure you take enough vitamin D, you can buy supplements from the pharmacy. However, always consult that your doctor for further guidance on dosing and frequency of vitamin D supplemental intake.