Getting enough sunlight is extremely important. Our bodies require it to. synthesize vitamin D from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. In fact, 75 percent of the body’s vitamin D supply is generated by the skin’s exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in your immunity and blood cell formation; it is needed for absorbing and using calcium for good bone formation as well as regulating cell growth. And it is more than just a handy Vitamin – it is a crucial hormone that helps to regulate many organs in the body. It also provides emotional and mental benefits. No-one can deny the emotional lift a beautiful sunny day has on one’s spirit. And even science agrees with SAD syndrome now a recognised condition that relates to a lack of sunlight and effects people in grey winter months.

However, overexposure to the sun is another big story, a different story and a significant problem for us all, especially in the Southern Hemisphere.Overexposure to the sun causes excessive UV radiation damage that ages and weakens your skin, not to mention increasing your risk of skin cancer. The sun attacks the skin on different levels: UVA rays penetrate the skin damaging its structure and elasticity; UVB rays, on the other hand, are responsible for the skin burning. Over time with repeated excessive exposure the skin fibres of collagen and elastin start to break down. The outer layer of your skin starts to thicken and the tell-tale signs of sun damage like sun spots, dilated capillaries and dull leathery skin start to show.

For this reason, we are told to Slip, Slop Slap. SLIP on a shirt, SLAP on a hat and SLOP on some sunscreen, especially in peak danger times when the sun is at its highest.Now, slip and slap are fine, but be careful with what you slop! Most sunscreens out here are laden with so many chemicals that you may be protecting yourself from the UV rays but exposing yourself to other harmful ingredients. Sunscreens come in two forms – chemical, which absorb the harmful rays and physical, which reflect the rays away. Chemical sunscreens use ingredients such as ethyl hexyl p-methoxycinnimate, octyl methoxycinnamate, 2-ethylhexyl salicylate, benzophenone, avobenzone to name the common ones. It is these kinds of ingredients that many experts believe are causing more harm than good.

Research conducted at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Zurich, Switzerland found that many common sunscreen chemicals mimic the effects of oestrogen and cause abnormalities in animal tests. Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority found that a weak dose of octyl methocinnamate that is found in nearly 90 percent of sunscreens killed 50 per cent of the mouse cells that it came into contact with. Exposing it to light also made it more lethal. The concentration they tested is less than the concentration in most sunscreens. Doctors Cedric and Frank Garland from the University of California believe physical sunscreens are much safer. In fact, they believe that the countries that have heavily promoted chemical sunscreens have seen the greatest rise in melanoma.
 Luckily there are companies out there who are up for the play and are providing high-quality natural sunscreens that are safe and highly effective. They combine plant extracts like shea butter, carrot seed oil, wheat germ, seaweed, buckwheat, wild pansy extract and calendula, which have sunfiltering abilities with physical barriers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Studies are also investigating the relationship between your diet, skin condition and the sun. They are looking for how the first two change and influence how the sun affects you. If your diet is high in essential fatty acids – which are the omega fats from fish and nuts and flaxseed oil – and high in phytonutrients, from lots of fresh, mainly raw fruit and veggies, then your skin will be in optimum condition to cope with the extra stress it receives from the sun. Eating these foods will make your skin stronger, more resilient and able to recover quickly from sun  damage. However a diet high in processed foods and bad fats like canola, corn and soya may be weakening the skin. You can also consider taking a good antioxidant supplement. And as we now know, antioxidants slow down the damage caused by the sun and for this reason, slow the ageing process. 

So here it is – the ‘natural’ sun care approach:

  • Enjoy the sun out of peak danger times. A doctor once told us we need just 15 minutes naked in the sun a day to get all its health benefits.
  • Check the highest burn times. They are available on the weather reports and are usually between the hours of 11am and 4pm.
  • When using sunscreen, select a good natural one and apply before you go out. Then re-apply after exercising or swimming.
  • If spending the day out at the beach use a beach umbrella or find shade under a tree. 
  • Cover up with a T-shirt or kaftan when in full sun.
  • Don those hats and sunglasses!
  • Get a good flaxseed oil or fish oil supplement.
  • Consider taking a good quality antioxidant.
  • Drink plenty of water to re-hydrate.
  • Forget about trying to get a tan from the sun – what you will do is damage and age your skin! If you feel the need to tan get a bottle tan, they are safer and these days can be natural looking. Opt for more natural one like Eco Tan.
  • Remember children’s skin burns quicker, so be extra vigilant about them.
  • A bath with 6-8 drops of soothing lavender and chamomile is fantastic to soothe the skin after sun exposure. 

  • Finally, when the day is over, feed and support your skin by massaging with a good natural body lotion or oil blend after your shower.