Here’s How to (Safely) Get the Health Benefits of Sunlight

Last Update: April 26, 2023

There’s a reason why the warmth of the sun on your skin feels so good, why the first rays of sunlight peeking in through your bedroom window help you to feel awake, and why a dreary, rainy day may leave you feeling like something is a bit off. 

Sunlight, in moderation, is essential for human health. It can give you a boost of serotonin, helps the body to create essential vitamins, and may even decrease stress and anxiety. 

Need more reasons to get outside this summer? Read on to better understand the feel-good (and a few of the not-so-good) impacts of sunlight. 

Risks of Sun Exposure 

Before jumping into the health benefits, it’s important to understand the risks of sun exposure. Here are some risks and how to avoid them:

  • Too much sun exposure can lead to wrinkles, sun spots, and sunburn. You (hopefully!) already know that the sun’s rays can damage your skin, but do you know how it works? The sun’s light contains two types of UV radiation: UVA and UVB. UVA light penetrates more deeply, leading to skin damage over time (like wrinkles and skin damage). UVB light, on the other hand, causes more superficial damage, resulting in a burning, peeling sunburn. 
  • Too much sun exposure can cause skin cancer. The sun’s UV rays can also cause skin cancer (such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma). While the best way to prevent skin cancer is by wearing sunscreen and limiting your sun exposure, you should also get regular check-ups by a dermatologist to help to detect early signs of skin cancer.

Health Benefits of Sunlight 

While you shouldn’t spend hours in the direct sunlight, you shouldn’t fear the sun, either. Humans have some essential health benefits to gain from the sun, and it can offer a major mood boost just by getting outdoors. Here are a few of the most valuable health benefits of sunlight. 

It helps to boost serotonin.

Did you know that spending time each day outdoors can boost your mood? Because humans are diurnal creatures (the opposite of nocturnal), we’re programmed to be awake and active during the hours when the sun is shining. Sunlight encourages our bodies to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which encourages a positive mood and focused energy. 

It helps to support your circadian rhythm. 

Your circadian rhythm is the natural process that enables you to fall asleep at night and feel awake and alert during the day. Sunlight encourages your body to produce serotonin during the day; in darkness, the body converts serotonin to melatonin, which helps you to fall asleep. This entire process is triggered by the presence (or absence) of sunlight. 

It boosts your body’s production of Vitamin D. 

Unlike other vitamins, which are obtained through food, the body can take in Vitamin D through photosynthesis. Vitamin D is essential for nearly every function in your body, including supporting your metabolism, neuromuscular, and immune system functions. While you can also get Vitamin D from food or supplement sources, to get it from the sun, all you need to do is slather on some sunscreen and let your skin absorb those rays. 

It may help to improve mental health. 

Because of its serotonin-boosting properties, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that sunlight is a great way to combat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. While there is no one-size-fits-all cure for these conditions, studies show that regulating serotonin and melatonin levels through sun exposure have been effective at improving cognitive function and combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (Note: Always speak to a qualified healthcare professional if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns.)

How to Get Healthy Sun Exposure 

  • Limit time in direct sunlight. To reduce your risk for cancers and other risk factors, only spend 30-minute increments in direct sunlight. 
  • Avoid direct sunlight when the sun is at its peak. The sun is typically at its brightest point between 10am and 4pm, so seek shade during those hours. 
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (and reapply often). Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which offer you a full range of protection from the sun
  • Wear hats and protective clothing. If you burn easily or if the sun is particularly bright, you can add another layer of protection with a hat or UV-protective clothing. 
  • Wear protective eyewear. Choose sunglasses with UV protection to help to prevent sun damage to your eyes during particularly bright days. 

Sun Care Essentials from Thrive Market 

Ready to get outside and soak up the sun (as well as some Vitamin D)? Here’s what you’ll need to do it safely. 

f.a.e. by Thrive Market Mineral Sunscreen Lotion & Spray Set
This handy set contains both a lotion and a spray bottle of this trusted broad-spectrum, non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen. 

Babo Botanicals Super Shield Sunscreen Sport Stick SPF 50
Hiking, biking, or beaching? This sport sunscreen stick makes it easy to reapply during even the most fast-paced summer activities. 

Badger SPF 15 Active Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm
Keep your lips protected from sunburn with this SPF lip balm formulated with cocoa, shea, and vitamin E.

Larkly SPF 30 Mineral Powder Sunscreen
Touch up your makeup and your SPF protection with this all-in-one mineral powder that has a convenient brush applicator inside. 

Well People Bio Tint SPF 30 Tinted Moisturizer
Create a protective base for your makeup routine with this plant-based tinted moisturizer, which blurs imperfections, even skin tone, and protects with SPF 30.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

This article is related to:

Health Tips, Sun Protection

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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