1. It makes vitamin D, wirelessly
Lurking just outside the visible spectrum of light is ultraviolet radiation, which penetrates your skin and is converted into vitamin D. This gets to work making sure you don’t have soft bones or develop rickets, and helps guard against diabetes. Rather cleverly, it’s impossible to get too much “D” from sunlight – once your body has enough, it’s degraded at the same rate it’s converted.
2. It has never lost a staring contest
Everyone who has ever used their eyes has found out the hard way that looking directly into the sun is bad for you, but excessive UV radiation is also thought to be a big contributing factor to the development of cataracts. This is where proteins clump together on the lens of one or both of your eyes, leading to cloudy vision, loss of colour perception or a greater susceptibility to glare. In other news: did you know that snow blindness is essentially the corneas of your eyes getting sunburnt?
It’s vital to select sunglasses that will shield your eyes from the catalogue of disasters UVA and UVB rays can inflict. Look for sunnies sporting a CE or UV 400 seal of EU approval to ensure no more than five per cent of UV rays are reaching your delicate eyeballs, and be wary of buying abroad where regulation isn’t as strict. Avoid darker lenses: your pupils will dilate, letting in more rays, and they’re a driving risk too. For full protection eye experts recommend wraparound shades that stop pesky UV rays sneaking in around the sides.
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3. It can make you ill
Sustained exposure to UV radiation – yes, that again – can have a detrimental effect on the body’s immune system. After you get sunburnt, your white blood cells change in their distribution from their optimal setting, which can increase the risk of infection. The field of photoimmunology (the study of the effects of light on the immune system, crossword fans) is a young one, but it’s already looking like an open and shut case. This is why some people get a flare-up of cold sores after they’ve been out in the sun for a long time.
4. It destroys DNA
Unfortunately, too much UV radiation in light is harmful to your body – it is a form of radiation, after all. For such a common condition as sunburn, the language gets scary pretty quickly. Your skin is inflamed, but what’s going on is in fact direct damage to your cells’ DNA. In an effort to prevent it spreading, your body essentially conducts a controlled demolition on the affected skin cells, which then peel off – a process called apoptosis.
5. It can speed up time
If you’ve ever been anywhere near a beach, and witnessed how sunbathers of a certain age resemble a leather goods sale, you’ll know the havoc extended time in the sun can wreak on the skin. UV radiation destroys collagen – the protein that holds your body together – and over time this loss leads to wrinkles, less elasticity to your skin and liver spots. This doesn’t even need to be after a sunburn episode – the sun will get you in the end.
6. It’s a sleeping pill
Human beings are naturally diurnal – as in we are built to do things during the day. Our body’s hormones regulate sleep by monitoring light exposure – in short, the body feels light, it’s time to get up, and feels less light, vice versa. This has more been a case of the body evolving around the sun’s daily cycle than the other way round, of course, but getting more sunlight is a common solution to insomnia as it helps recalibrate the natural sleeping cycle.
7. It’s a giant anti-depressant
On the plus side, sunlight has been demonstrated to directly correlate with the production of serotonin in rats. This is essentially the body’s wellness chemical – it regulates mood and appetite, along with a whole lot else. The decrease in this as autumn turns to winter is thought to be a major case of Seasonal Affective Disorder. More sun equals a happier you.
8. It boosts fertility
Sunshine boosts testosterone levels in men – so you’re more likely to conceive in the sunnier months. A study in Turkey found that women who get less than an hour of sunlight a week reach menopause seven to nine years earlier.
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9. Before destroying skin, it can first be kind to it
The negative side to UV radiation can be brutal – but it’s also repeatedly been shown to be beneficial in treating a whole range of skin conditions. Psoriasis, eczema and jaundice (as well as rickets) have all responded positively to UV treatments, leading doctors to prescribe controlled exposure to the sun to help.
10. It’s a carcinogen
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, and is primarily caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight. Most cases are what are called basal-cell cancers and can be easily treated. Look out if you get a new mole because a tiny minority are melanoma, which are angry, red, irritated and can bleed – and can lead to death.
Check your moles with the Hud Smart Scanner, available from indiegogo.com. This is a medical grade lens which you attach to your smartphone. You snap the mole which is most scaring you, and send it via an app to be meditated on by a medical professional who, for a small fee, will share her thoughts.
“I never thought it would happen to me”
Loti Jackson, who contracted melanoma at 27, in 2012, is one of more than 100,000 new UK skin cancer sufferers who get to say the above each year…
What were the first signs something was wrong?
At the time I was working on PR for a fake tan brand, and I was writing press releases on what to look for and who was more prone. I realised I was ticking a lot of the boxes, so I went to my GP and a mole on my left cheek turned out to be a worry.
That must have been a shock
I had never thought it would happen to me. I’m fair-skinned, and I’ve always been careful in the sun. I’d only had two sunbed sessions in my life.
Was it new or had you always had it?
Looking back at childhood photos, I don’t think I had it. It was just a small mole. It became darker and more raised. I think it did bleed but it coincided with me getting a puppy, so I thought it might have been from rough and tumble with the dog.
What was the treatment process?
They removed a leaf-shaped section of skin, then you need a second operation to check it’s all gone. My melanoma grew upwards, rather than down into my body. If it did that, it could have got into my lymph system, and that can be fatal.
What was the second operation like?
I was terrified. There was a chance I could be left permanently disfigured. I was lucky to have some of the best care possible. Now I need regular check-ups, but I’ve been in the clear since 2013.
Is there a lesson you’d like others to draw from your experience?
Any cancer can happen to you at any time. If you’ve got anything you’re not sure about, definitely check. Know your body and be vigilant – if anything changes even slightly, get it checked. It saved my life, and it could save yours.
Loti spoke to Coach via the British Skin Foundation
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