In this article, we will discuss how to sunbathe safely without sunburn, sunstroke, heat shock, cataracts, skin cancer and other unpleasant side effects, so that you can stop being afraid of it and maximise the positive biological effects of sun exposure. I also cover the mechanism of sunburn and melanoma. I believe that if we understand what is going on behind the scenes, we can make smarter choices about our habits.
Many people think that sun exposure is dangerous, that it can even cause skin cancer, so it should be avoided, especially at midday. I don’t quite agree with that. There is some truth in it at an individual level, but it is a much more complex story than that. The very idea that midday sun exposure is harmful to everyone in general and should therefore be avoided is a misleading and not exactly health-promoting half-truth, DOGMA. It is the little details that matter a lot in this case, and I would like to clarify that.
Sun protection in all cases or rather gradual adaptation?
No man-made opinion, official recommendation, dogma, internet meme can override the universal laws of nature!
In unbiased, corruption-free science, these universal laws of nature are supposed to be sought. Even if there are not yet answers to everything in the description of nature, there is still a lot that can be known today by those who take the time to research (it’s all there on the internet and in books, articles), and who observe and think about nature.
Science progresses when it succeeds in challenging a previous dogma, not when we relax because we already know everything. People have been spreading narrow half-truths to each other, which then leads to dogma, ever since they learned to talk. The first smart people realized that whoever invented the dogma could control other people.
So live vigilant, think critically, learn, do your research and notice when you are being led by the nose and acting according to some outdated, entrenched dogma…
To quote Albert Szent-Györgyi:
“Every discovery is a discovery because it is contrary to what is known. If it does not contradict, it is only a little addition…
Here’s a not so new discovery or a little extra! To whom it may please… More likely not a world-changing discovery, I consider it an important little addition for the development of science and health recommendations!
How did humans evolve for many hundreds of years without skin cancer in the scorching African sun? And what about animals and plants?
With common sense or by observing nature, we can see that native people and animals have been living outdoors in the scorching African sun for quite a long time, without sunscreen, without sunglasses, without any particular skin problems. Maybe it’s not the sunlight, but something else? I think it’s more to do with modern lifestyles, which can spoil your relationship with sunlight.
Between 11-15 hours, what the hell is that?
What happens between 11.00 and 15.00? Is that when the workers in the sun are putting extra coal in the stove and we are getting killer radiation at that time? Nature doesn’t know the clock, it’s only a very approximate value from 11am to 3pm when we are actually exposed to the most high energy UV radiation accused of biological damage. I talked about it in a previous video, I also wrote in an article that this window of time varies by season and by geographic location, so I don’t think it’s accurate to put a time limit on it. UV light has been a natural part of the sun’s radiation for millions of years, and living things have adapted to it. Except, mysteriously, modern man…
Why does melanoma often develop in areas of the body that have not been exposed to sunlight?
If UV radiation was clearly the cause of skin cancers of all kinds, then perhaps they would only develop where people actually got a lot of sunlight, right?
Why do we have many biomolecules with aromatic structures that communicate with different frequencies of light?
Nature must be a great biophysicist to have combined the chemistry of biomolecule structure and the physics of light so beautifully. From there, I think the question is how much we know about the relationship between these biomolecules and different frequencies of light.
Why is human hemoglobin a structural twin of plant chlorophyll?
It is more than interesting to put these two biomolecules next to each other and think a little bit. If we know and teach that plants capture photons of sunlight with chlorophyll, it might be worth investigating the same with haemoglobin!
Why is melanin a UV light absorbing molecule?
Melanin, a group of dye molecules produced by melanocytes in the skin, can absorb many different frequencies of light. Tanning, for example, is one of our defences against strong UV. Interesting, isn’t it?
Why are there thousands of scientific studies on the health-protective role of vitamin D, which is best synthesised by UV-B light, mostly at midday?
As early as the early 20th century, it was observed that rickets, the abnormal development of bones, could be avoided by sun exposure or by UV lamps to promote vitamin D production. Since then, countless studies have shown that high vitamin D levels are protective against almost all civilisation diseases, cancers and infections. This is also interesting…
I have many years of experience with bathing in icy water, cold adaptation and also with a lot of sunbathing.
I used to have to put sunscreen on myself during summer workouts, on holiday, otherwise I would get a nice red and crispy burn pretty quickly, with peeling skin the next day. I’ve also had sunstroke with headaches and nausea a few times. Fortunately, that’s all in the past now that I’ve become more familiar with the science of the biological effects of sunlight and have changed my lifestyle accordingly.
Just as I’ve managed to tame the cold and spend hours outside barefoot and in shorts in the winter minus temperatures, I’ve also managed to do the same many times in the scorching summer sun. I have been consciously spending a lot of time outdoors since about 2014, with a lot of free skin. I can be outside all day in the summer with no side effects, no sun protection. Me, a white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, which is very not black… The worst thing that happens to me in the summer is that the skin on my nose starts peeling, my body gets a little red, which then turns brown the next day, regenerates. I might use sunscreen on my nose because of this, but that’s pretty rare too… No sign of the previous blistering sunburns, sunstrokes.
I can even stay out in the sun for hours above the so-called extreme UV index of 8 without any side effects and thank you very much I feel VERY good! Usually I only stop sunbathing because I have to go somewhere, otherwise I’d rather be out in the sun all day. But I must be some kind of alien creature and not a human being like everyone else… Or am I? All joking aside, I think everyone can do it, it’s just a matter of lifestyle and practice, consistently, for months, years… It’s not a lucky genetic inheritance, it’s a way of life, epigenetics! Wim Hof, the Iceman, also developed his amazing cold tolerance over many years and he is also only a human.
Going back to the Szent-Györgyi quote. So those self experiences are new discoveries because they are contrary to known knowledge? I wouldn’t say it’s some sort of miraculous discovery, that would have been known a long time ago, but they are rather an important piece of data, a package of information that can help us reinterpret beliefs about sunbathing.
According to this knowledge, cold would have given me colds and frostbite. And too much sun exposure would have resulted in a series of sunburns, sunstroke, skin cancer, etc., as a consequence of my experiments over the years. Despite this, I am alive and well and managed to push my comfort zone in more extreme environments. All this just by using my factory built-in biological capacity.
I know, one person doesn’t change too much, but if we were to look into it, we would surely find many more people with similar white skin and excellent sunlight tolerance in the world.
Based on my experience so far, if I were to get really into it for a few weeks or months and that’s all I had to deal with, I think I could survive a whole day in the Sahara in bright sunlight with no side effects. With my white, supposedly sunburn-prone skin.
Is sun exposure bad for you?
This is a sensitive topic. The common belief about lots of sun exposure is that it is harmful. Too much UV light can even cause melanoma, skin cancer. If a lot of sun exposure does cause melanoma, then why hasn’t the number of cases been decreasing (but actually increasing) over the past decades with indoor living, sun avoidance, sunscreen and sunglasses?
The susceptibility to cancer is much more related to the health of the individual and the value of mitochondrial heteroplasmy, which we might already know from the research of Douglas Wallace, from the work of Dr. Jack Kruse.
By the way, vitamin D, which we can produce by exposure to sunlight (UV-B light), mostly during the midday hours, is one of the most important lines of defence against all types of cancer… Sunlight deficiency, vitamin D deficiency is responsible for orders of magnitude more disease and death than melanoma.
The hormone melatonin, released during sleep, is an important defence against all cancers, including melanoma. If you spend little time outdoors in natural light and live under artificial lights at night, the less melatonin you will produce, the worse your recovery will be. From this point of view, it is more likely that artificial light will cause melanoma and other diseases in the long term.
So there is a lot of scientific evidence that sunbathing has positive effects, yet many people still get sunburned, feel unwell after a while in the hot sun, and there are even cases of skin cancer.
So what’s the problem?
The short answer is that modern man has developed (or has been forced to live) a lifestyle whereby we do almost anything to hide from the sun. We don’t adapt, we don’t use our full human potential and we become more susceptible to disease. What can protect against melanoma is high vitamin D levels and optimal melatonin levels. That means sun exposure, reducing blue light at night and getting quality sleep! Sun exposure and melanoma seem to be more associated with irregular sun exposure and repeated sunburns.
Typical case, someone who lives most of the year inside the four walls, eats unhealthily, doesn’t pay attention to his sleep and goes out in the summer sun and gets a nice sunburn… There is no miracle, his/her skin has not adapted yet, but we all could do it.
Another typical case on holiday is that, around a nice lake or on a tropical beach, people dine late at night, perhaps even drink under artificial lights, and go to bed late. Of course, everyone can chill as they like, but then there are the biological consequences. The next morning they get up late, not before sunrise, as they are on holiday, why are we in a hurry… Then at 10-11am it’s time to go to the beach, because we paid for a holiday by the water… And that’s when they are exposed to the strongest UV radiation. Their skin hasn’t received the infrared light from sunrise, which would help prepare it for the strong UV rays later on, and here comes the sunburn.
Why I think some people handle badly the strong sun:
- They’ve been avoiding the sun for years
- How many times have they seen the sunrise in their life and been outside in the morning?
- How many times have they paid attention to their light environment after sunset and reduced artificial lights?
- They mostly live their daily lives well dressed, with lots of clothes covering their skin from the sun
- Some medicines can impair light tolerance, so anyone taking medication should be extra careful and consult their doctor, pharmacist
Biophysical processes of sunburn
A small sunburn can easily occur in sudden strong sunshine, caused mainly by too much high-energy UV radiation, mostly UV-B, compared to the current sunlight receiving system.
It is worth becoming familiar with the so-called Fitzpatrick scale, which shows our “factory designed” sun protection and sunburn levels that we can expect according to our skin type. This system differentiates between 6 different skin types, which can be used to determine how well someone tolerates sunlight and UV. It may also give you an idea of who and how much sunlight needs. Generally speaking, darker skinned people need more sunlight and white northerners less, because they have adapted to less sunlight.
Sunburn is a process in which incoming electromagnetic rays, especially high-energy UV light, can no longer be adequately reflected or absorbed by the appropriate biological structures. Absorption is the most important mechanism because if the skin is healthy, it can in principle absorb almost any amount of natural sunlight! The main light absorbing compounds are EZ water, melanin, cholesterol derivatives and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.
People are sensitive to the effects of UV in very different ways, depending on the pigmentation level of melanin (the collective name for the dark pigments found in living organisms), the inflammatory state of the skin, the redox potential and the hydration of the cells.
UV is a relatively high-energy electromagnetic radiation that can induce free radicals in the body and can also damage DNA, especially when radiated in isolation. In sunlight, UV is never isolated, there are other frequencies alongside it that help to counteract the damaging effects of UV, but it can still be overdone by an unprepared body.
Here’s a little explanation of the interactions between biomolecules and various electromagnetic rays! To better understand what happens in our bodies when exposed to sunlight.
Electromagnetic radiations can be characterized by their frequency (f, ν), their wavelength ( λ ), their energy content (E). The energy of light is directly proportional to its frequency and inversely proportional to its wavelength. E= h ν or E=hf, where h is Planck’s constant h=6.62607015×10-34 Js. The relationship between wavelength and frequency is λ =c/f or λ =c/ ν, where c is the speed of light c= 299 792 458 m/s.
All living and inanimate bodies are made up of atoms, molecules and, if we dissect further, electrons, protons, photons and other subatomic particles. The atoms, molecules and electrons in our bodies can interact with electromagnetic radiation of certain frequencies.
The wavelength or frequency of a given electromagnetic radiation, its energy content and the type of atoms and chemical bonds in the molecule will determine how it interacts with the molecules of a living organism. And the power density of electromagnetic radiation (W/m2) also matters.
- Translation: Movement of whole molecules.
- Rotation: Rotation of molecules.
- Vibration: The change in the distance between the bonds between the atoms that make up a molecule. Vibrations can be thought of as if the neighbouring atoms in a molecule were connected by a spring and thus springing closer and farther apart.
- Photon-electron interaction: Electromagnetic beams of a certain energy can excite the valence electrons of the outer shell of an atom to a higher energy state, possibly by tearing them out (free radical formation or ionisation).
These interactions are constantly taking place within us, and the human organism has developed excellent adaptive and compensatory mechanisms to the natural electromagnetic and light environment over a long evolutionary path. The problem can arise when there is too much of one of these interactions and our body is not prepared for it, it cannot compensate enough.
Infrared is a longer wavelength, lower frequency, lower energy radiation. Infrared can cause molecules to vibrate and is also perceived as a thermal effect.
Microwaves are lower energy than infrared and cannot cause molecules to vibrate, only to rotate. A microwave oven causes friction by rotating the molecules, which generates heat and thus heats the food.
Visible light and UV rays are shorter wavelengths, higher frequency, higher energy. They may already be able to bring the electrons of the outer valence of the atoms of biomolecules to a higher energy state. Then these electrons like to go back to their rest energy state within a short time. If the strong external radiation is long lasting and strong enough – mostly in the shorter wavelength UV range (UV-C, UV-B) – it can either tear the molecule apart and produce free radicals or it can tear a outer shell electron out of the atom and thus reduce the atom by 1 negative charge, ionising the atom.
UV-C and X-rays are already clearly ionising and can damage DNA. So we wouldn’t want to spend our lives in an X-ray machine…
Too much sun exposure can in principle damage biomolecules by too much UV light. Too much free radicals are produced and can damage DNA. However, the human body is a marvelous engineering masterpiece and is capable of great adaptation, we also have excellent antioxidant systems to neutralize free radicals (e.g. catalase, glutathione enzyme systems). The question is, how efficient is this? If we give our bodies enough time, adequate nutrients and sleep, we will adapt to a lot of sunlight, we will strengthen the protective line, e.g. by tanning, through melanin or by more efficient functioning of the internal antioxidant system. And with a lifestyle that follows a normal circadian rhythm, quality sleep and nutrition, we can also smooth out the inflammation and free radicals triggered by too much sun exposure through melatonin in the evening.
Sun exposure as a basic biological need for the human body
Although it is not so much in the media, there has long been an epidemic of lack of sun exposure and vitamin D deficiency in the modern world. The spectrum of sunlight varies according to both time of day and season, with each season having its own biological role. Look at the diurnal and seasonal patterns of animals and plants.
Sunlight stimuli at sunrise and dawn are important for the maintenance of circadian rhythms, the later UV-A light in the morning has an important regulatory role through the biomolecules that absorb it, and it is also important for the production of our neurotransmitters. UV-B around noon is important for vitamin D. The infrared present throughout the day helps energy production in mitochondria and the formation of EZ water layers.
The β-endorphins, endocannabinoids, also known as the happy hormones, are produced in abundance by sunlight, and there is a reason why we feel good when we are in the sun. It’s as if nature has figured out how to get us addicted to sunlight.
Current sunlight tolerance
Everyone today has a degree of sunlight tolerance that varies widely. Like, for example, in weightlifting, someone can’t even roll 100kg on the ground, for others it’s the warm-up weight for snatch. With training, this current condition can be improved. Even in sunbathing, some people have a current maximum of 10-15 minutes and others have a limit of several hours.
The good news is that sunlight tolerance can be greatly improved and whiter skin types don’t even need to sunbathe all day to accumulate enough positive effects. If someone can manage their lifestyle to be outside even all day, it can only be a good thing, but it’s not totally necessary to prevent disease or live to 100 years.
What can we do to better cope with the strong sunshine around noon?
Regular sunrise watching
Sunrise, the infrared rays of morning sun exposure, help prepare the body for the strong UV rays later on. IR light and UV-A also help to form a structured layer of water (Gerald Pollack), after which we are much more tolerant of the UV-B light that comes later. All this may not work overnight, but it is worth doing regularly, even all year round. A few minutes is worth more than nothing.
The principle of gradualness probably doesn’t need much elaboration. Listen to your body’s feedback and only be out in the hot sun as long as you don’t feel burnt out or have any negative feelings, i.e. as long as it feels good. Body Awareness Development! Once you’ve reached your current limit, it’s then worth getting into the shade and getting dressed. Or, if you have to stay outside, use sunscreen. The human body is an excellent adaptor, and over time we will become more tolerant of strong sunlight if we take regular time out in the sun.
Year-round sun exposure, adaptation
Make time every day to spend at least 1-2 hours outdoors. The most important thing is that our eyes can see the natural light, but it’s even better if our skin gets some too. Sunglasses, glasses, no contact lenses, as little clothing as possible.
If one doesn’t want to start cold adaptation in winter and go outside with a large open skin area, walking around in a large coat with our eyes exposed is also a good idea. Then in spring it might be worth incorporating some sunbathing into your daily routine. There are a million books and magazines you can read while sunbathing, or go for walks, exercise, gardening, etc.
I’m not against sunscreen, but I would reserve it for special occasions. Ideally, if you live a life close to nature all year round, you wouldn’t need sunscreen. Since it’s not an ideal lifestyle for most people, I wouldn’t throw sunscreens in the bin. I would keep it for occasions when I need to be outdoors for extended periods of time with unprepared skin. However, even then I wouldn’t start with sunscreen, at least 5-10-15 minutes of free exposure to sunlight before applying. If possible, choose more natural sunscreens with fewer chemicals. In the long term, the ideal would be to build up your sunscreen shield and not need sunscreen.
Seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help improve sun absorption. The unique physicochemical property of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is its ability to convert photons into direct current and back again (Crawford, 2013).
Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin D (seafood, eggs, offal, mushrooms) is also a good idea indirectly. It is true that the best source of vitamin D is sun exposure, but if you also support your body nutritionally, higher vitamin D levels will help to regenerate the skin and reduce inflammation during and after lots of sun exposure. Avoid inflammation-boosting vegetable oils and refined, processed edibles high in sugar.
Antioxidant-rich foods, colourful vegetables and fruits can also help somewhat. Possibly astaxanthin as a dietary supplement, which has been the subject of many studies on its UV protective role (not a substitute for the lifestyle practices mentioned above). Antioxidant supplements in general, while promising, have been scientifically shown to cause more problems. It is worthwhile instead to strengthen your internal antioxidant system and take antioxidants from seasonal, natural foods.
Timing of meals. I found a study (Wang, 2017) that shows that the skin also has a circadian clock and its UV-B tolerance varies depending on it. And this can be controlled by the timing of meals. Oops! Surely it’s a good idea to hit the fridge at midnight or to eat in a wide window of time throughout the day?
Sleep, circadian rhythm
Getting quality sleep, paying attention to your normal circadian rhythm supports better sunlight tolerance in a number of ways, so it’s worth taking advantage of this too.
I mentioned earlier that microwaves (radio frequencies) can also affect biomolecules to a lesser extent through translation, rotation and other non-ionising pathways (more on this in my book Beyond Paleo). If biomolecules in our skin are in a suboptimal structural position in the artificial electromagnetic environment, sunlight tolerance will also be different than under natural conditions. Also, too much artificial blue light also has a dehydrating effect on mitochondrial function… That’s why it’s better to sunbathe in natural environments, and leave gadgets and Wi-Fi alone…
Epsom salt (bitter salt) bath
This is only a secondary interest. Some people use Epsom or bitter salt (magnesium sulphate) externally to promote better sunlight tolerance and recovery from sunburn. All this may be related to sulphate, and in the case of magnesium deficiency, it may also help this route.
Summary: The safe sun exposure
I don’t think it can be uniformly imposed on everyone that too much sun exposure is harmful. Individual lifestyle factors matter a lot. Some people may get too much UV radiation for their current sunlight receptor system, but that can be changed, you can biohack the system. The scientific literature does not clearly support the sun exposure – UV – skin cancer theory. There is plenty of literature to the contrary. Modern biophysics and quantum biology can be used to explain the subject and my own experience is at least thought provoking.
If we are looking for the big picture, we should add to the recommendations that discourage sun exposure the fact that the negative side-effects of too much sun exposure can be avoided within reason by making lifestyle changes. The safe comfort zone can be expanded.
Better sunlight tolerance starts with watching the sunrise, reducing blue light in the evening and continues with regular sun exposure throughout the year. A few minutes is better than none.
I think the problem is with modern habits and not with sunlight. Those who stick to modern habits will find it hard to cope with strong sunlight. It would be better if we practised sunbathing consciously and regularly on some level, so that we can tolerate it better. It is not compulsory, of course, but it is worth knowing that it is possible.
I would really like policy makers to review their recommendations on sun exposure and I would be happy if they would allow everyone to schedule morning sunbathing, mid-day sun breaks, less artificial lights in general, because I think sun exposure is a basic biological necessity for the healthy functioning of our bodies and fake lights can not replace it! Ok, it can be overdone if we avoid sun exposure for a long time, but why are we not informed enough about how many positive effects it can have and how to build a better sunlight tolerance?
It is interesting that sun avoidance health recommendations are made indoors in offices between four walls, in laboratories, under artificial lights… I wonder if the responsible people would spend more time in nature and observed it, might they come to different conclusions? But we could also learn from scientific research results and physical laws on the subject, it’s all there on the internet and in books, scientific articles. If you search you will find…
And I would like to add now that you should not believe me, go ahead, do your research, observe nature and draw your own conclusions. In other words, learn and think!
Wish you sunny health!
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