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Be Sun Wise: Natural Sun Care for Healthy Skin

July 24 2019

Image via @serenastravel

“There is a sun within each person” – Rumi

With the PNW sunny weather right around the corner, it’s important to talk about wise and sustainable sun-care. Like many things nowadays, both the sun and sunscreen have been portrayed as dangerous and beneficial from various sources. Are they one or the other, or can they be both!? Stephanie Kent of Empowered Wellness shares her opinion on the topic, doing her best to offer a balanced approach for enjoying our long-awaited summer!

Image via @nathill

“The human race evolved under the sun, and for thousands of years lived in harmony with its heat and light. Yet over the last fifty years, we have lost this close contact with the sun and its healing powers. We have become afraid of it.” – Dr Richard Hobday in his book The Healing Sun


As most of you know, plants require sunlight for photosynthesis and growth. In our bodies, a human version of photosynthesis called photobiomodulation occurs for properly functioning hormones, strong bones and cellular energy, amongst many other functions. Yet, we often point our finger at the sun, blaming it for this problem or that issue, and tend to forget that without its warmth and rays, not much life would exist on this planet!

Ancient Greeks practiced “heliosis“; therapeutic sun exposure for health, while Romans built solariums to strengthen their muscles and Egyptians worshipped the sun because of its benefits for stronger bones and more beautiful skin.

Fast-forward to the early 1900s, phototherapy Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Niels Finsen used light therapy for the successful treatment of lupus, tuberculosis, and smallpox. This form of healing therapy was then mainstreamed across Europe by Swiss doctor, Auguste Rollier around the same time. He was known to build “solaria hospitals” in the Swiss Alps and popularized early morning, unprotected eye and bare skin sunbathing, combined with cool mountain air exposure (this discussion is for another post!), and a nourishing whole foods diet to halt, reverse or cure the development of certain diseases.

Yet, the debate about the suns’ benefits continues centuries later. 

While reading about Rollier’s wise sunlight prescription, it is clear that, even in those days, he was aware of the benefits and dangers of sun exposure. He suggested that exposing the skin, without sun protection, in the mornings until noon during the summers, and for the whole day during winter months was best. He cautioned against wearing sunglasses as he believed they neutralized the healing benefits of sunbeams absorbed by the eyes, and suggested that it was important to slowly build a tan through gradual sun exposure early in the Spring to prevent damaging sunburns.

To this, I would add that we can also benefit from evening sun exposure and from sunset gazing. Taking in the suns’ calming orange and red hues, without sunglasses, can benefit the nervous system after a busy day and provide our mighty mitochondria with light energy to keep function at optimal levels. I also believe that conscious summer sun exposure in moderation can be enjoyed with clean and nourishing sun protection, shade and light covering clothing as needed, and with proper mineral hydration and whole foods.

In summary, be wise about your time in the sun!

Image via @tomnoske


Sunlight reaching the Earth contains ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVAs penetrate more deeply in the skin layers and tend to damage proteins and cells, especially as the sun travels higher midday, while UVBs penetrate only superficially. The latter are mostly responsible for sunburns, but also for the highly important activation of vitamin D receptors throughout the body. 

Our skins’ melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) convert sunlight from direct sun exposure (without sunscreen or sunglasses!) into a sort of elixir for every cell.

Natural sunlight offers most, if not all, of our organ systems a kickstart to the cascade of processes required for proper functioning. Part of these lead to the production of cholesterol sulfate and vitamin D3 sulfate (which is not actually a vitamin, but a highly regarded steroid hormone!), as Dr. Stephanie Seneff, PhD, MIT Senior Research Scientist shares. Cholesterol sulfate is a precursor to all sex hormones and helps to protect cells, including blood cells, while vitamin D can boost the immune system, protect your DNA from damage, lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure, facilitate absorption of minerals, including calcium, which benefits bones, muscles and nervous system, and can act as an antioxidant in the body. Sunlight exposure also contributes to the release of endorphins, to the production of dopamine and increase of heart-protective Nitric Oxide.

Can vitamin D supplements replace sun exposure?

The short answer is, no. While synthetic vitamin D3 (combined with K2) supplementation can certainly provide benefits, especially during the winter months in the Northern hemisphere, it isn’t able to offer the full spectrum of benefits natural sun exposure does. If you are able to plan to travel somewhere sunny during the darker months, bank those sunrays! If not, it is definitely better to take a D3/K2 supplement during that time of year to reap some of the benefits it can provide.

With all this said, remember to always practice conscious and wise sun exposure. “Sunlight is like a good champagne,” Sir Henry Gauvain, a 1920s British surgeon and leading heliotherapist wrote, “it invigorates and stimulates; indulged in to excess, it intoxicates and poisons.

Image via @tomnoske


“The Sun is our most vital factor. Like sea water nourished seaweed, so the Sun supplies the vitality that human beings live on. Bones and nails especially are concentrations of invisible sunfluid.” – Dr. Niels Finsen in Nobel Lectures

The use of sunscreen or SPF skincare/makeup is being marketed mostly to protect against skin cancer, all the while a lack of vitamin D3 is linked to the development of cancer in thousands of studies. I am referring, again, to conscious sun interactions, not to spending hours in the midday sun without cover and getting repeatedly sunburned! 

One of the two major problems I see with commercial sunscreen application (and from working behind a window with direct sunlight), is the isolation of UVA rays from UVBs. Surely it blocks the UVBs that cause sunburns (and inhibits vitamin D at the same time!), but it also allows the DNA-damaging UVAs through. As Nadine Artemis mentions, sunburns are the body’s early-warning system that keeps us from overindulging in sun too fast, and when the system is disabled by the application of sunscreen, it is easier to expose yourself to excess UV radiation that cause damage in other ways.

The second problem I find is that sunblock provides users with the false hope of being protected by cancer, while most are filled with carcinogenic chemical ingredients. These damage the skin by increasing the amount of free radicals generated in layers, especially when you expose your body to the heat during sunbathing.

Can you believe that some of these sunscreen chemical ingredients actually become carcinogenic when exposed to sunlight!? 

Lookout for some of the following harmful ingredients when choosing sun-protection: oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens, retinol palmitate, PABA, nano or micronized mineral particles and artificial fragrances. Some of these ingredients can also enter the bloodstream, cause oxidative damage, and increase your exposure to xenoestrogens. Some may also potentially cause bioaccumulation and cell toxicity, as the body cannot process them.

If you get extended exposure to high index UV radiation, there are some effective natural sunscreens on the market. Personally, I use sun protection for midday sun exposure, when I spend time on or in water on sunny days, and especially when I travel to tropical destinations. I love the Living Libations sun care product line for my face and neck (hitting Bala Boutiques soon!) and DeVita sunscreen for the rest of my body. I have also heard great things about MyChelle, or if you want to venture as I did a few years ago, you can also make some yourself as Wellness Mama shows you on her website.

Image via @nathill


Sunshine and foods hold a symbiotic relationship for the human. The sun feeds our cells with solar rays, while foods and clean water allows our skin cells to be properly nourished to receive the sunrays without creating excess damaging free radicals.

An interesting 2014 study on chlorophyll and mitochondrial energy (your cells’ powerhouses!) showed that “through consumption of plant chlorophyll pigments, animals, too, are able to derive energy directly from sunlight.” This means that you may also benefit from the suns’ healing energy by eating your greens!

Eating antioxidant-rich foods and high quality fats can nourish the body internally to reduce inflammation and act as an “internal SPF”.

Eating lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, catechins and phenol-packed ones such as coffee, green tea and high quality chocolate, beta-carotene in turmeric, carrots and red bell peppers, and resveratrol-filled berries will offer your cells good protective nutrition! Astaxanthin found in wild salmon and seaweeds and omega-3s also provide your body with internal protection. Avoiding rancid PUFAs and processed sugar prevents excess inflammation and cell damage. Also remember to always drink plenty of clean, mineral-filled water to keep your cells hydrated.

Topically, I love to use high quality botanical oils and essential oils, especially during the summer. They can provide protection for skin cells or facilitate regeneration when damaged. Coconut oil, sea buckthorn berry oil, red raspberry and carrot seed oils can be used for protection with a non-nanoparticle zinc oxide to block and reflect sun rays when needed, while jojoba and coconut oils with aloe vera and peppermint, lavender and geranium essential oils offer skin healing properties. I recommend avoiding long hot showers and baths, especially during the hot months as they can actually dry out the skin.

You may also want to use the D Minder app to track your sun exposure. It allows tracking according to your current location and skin needs, and calculates approximately how much vitamin D you are generating during your time in the sun.

So while they’re here…I hope you medicinally enjoy the golden summer rays a bit more wisely! 


Blog Post Written by Stephanie Kent @empowered_wellness_

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