For thousands of years, people have been utilizing sunlight as a means to aid health and even cure illness. However, it has fallen in and out of favor on multiple occasions over the course of time.
For example, from ancient Greece to the middle-ages, tanned skin was viewed as a sign of poverty, thus exposure to sunlight was minimized by the affluent. Then, in the 1900’s, research by Augusta Rollier led to the establishment of solaria throughout Switzerland for the express purpose of sunbathing, which provided impressive results for fighting tuberculosis, small-pox, lupus, and even chronic diseases like arthritis. (1) By the middle of the 20th century, sunlight fell out of vogue again as the American Cancer Society blamed sun exposure for skin cancer, a myth that is still perpetuated to this day. However, the world is beginning to wake up to the reality that consistent exposure to sunlight is a critical component to overall health.
Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll cover whether sunlight is dangerous, why it’s important, how you can actually benefit from increased exposure, and a few reasons why light therapy (photobiomodulation) may help.
Does Sunlight Actually Cause Harm?
Blaming sunlight exposure for newly emerging diseases doesn’t hold up to the most basic tests of logic. However, that is precisely what most western cultures have propagated for many decades. Think about this: throughout the ages, regardless of the geographical location, large groups of people have been exposed to nearly continuous sunlight. Even sunbathing in the U.S. was quite popular in the 1910’s and 1920’s. So, why did the melanoma epidemic not hit until the 1970’s? And if sunscreen is the solution, why have melanoma rates increased over 200% since 1973, while the U.S. sunscreen industry has expanded from $18 million in 1972 to around $2 billion today? (2),(3). Clearly, sunlight was not the problem, nor sunscreen the solution.
Indeed, the evidence supporting the myth that sunlight is harmful is starting to become unraveled. Several studies have come to the conclusion that consistent sunlight exposure actually reduces the chances of getting melanoma, and instead, increases survival rates. (4) In fact, a recent review of many such studies published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention concluded that, “there is accumulating evidence for sunlight as a protective factor for several types of cancer.” (5) Sadly, many misinformed individuals still live under the premise that sunlight is damaging and harmful.
The reality is that we have become so disconnected from natural sunlight that our bodies aren’t equipped to handle its underappreciated benefits - whether it’s a weekend of full sunlight or a vacation in the tropics where our skin is exposed to powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays. You may be surprised to learn that as your body gets sunlight in the morning, you can actually prepare your cells for the effects of UV light later in the day. And, amazingly, the wavelengths in evening sunlight have a natural repairing effect. (6) That’s because red and infrared wavelengths, which is delivered in higher concentrations in the morning and evening, have the unique ability to boost mitochondrial function. This, in turn, enables our cells to both withstand the stresses, and harness the benefits, of UV light. In addition, exposure to sunlight as the seasons change allows our skin to develop a tan, which also forms a natural protection against the stronger UV wavelengths during the summer months.
Why is Sunlight So Important?
Like virtually all life on earth, the human body utilizes sunlight for many essential functions. It’s hard to overstate its importance for our emotional and physical health. The fact that we get the vast majority of our vitamin D from sunlight has been well established. However, many other critical benefits are not as widely understood.
The Benefits of Receiving Light Through Your Eyes
Our retinas are connected directly to the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus gland, which acts as the master circadian pacemaker of the body. Because of this, light received through your eyes plays a critical role in hormonal functions, including melatonin production, which regulates our sleep. Quite literally, your body knows to shut off this hormone through exposure to morning sunlight. This type of exposure early in the day also helps produce melatonin later in the evening with the absence of light. Even more amazing, the hypothalamus gland, which is controlled by light, is responsible for controlling body temperature, thirst, hunger, emotional activity, in addition to regulating your hormones and circadian rhythm!
Dopamine is another chemical released in the brain that is regulated by light. It functions as a neurotransmitter and is closely tied to the emotions of reward and pleasure. In fact, many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity. Not surprisingly, studies have demonstrated that light exposure is tied to increased dopamine. (7) So, as you can see, light received through our eyes plays a much more powerful role than most of us realize.
How Our Bodies Metabolize Light
There are many proven benefits of receiving certain wavelengths of natural sunlight directly through our skin and bodily tissues. One aspect, that up until now has received little attention, is related to the cellular processes affected by certain wavelengths of light. Researchers in the field of light therapy, or photobiomodulation, have discovered some incredibly powerful functions derived from wavelengths of light in the optimal window. Improved mitochondrial function, which impacts virtually all cellular metabolic activity, has been widely demonstrated to positively impact health in a number of ways - including enhanced muscle recovery, reduced inflammation, increased testosterone, and better overall skin health.
In addition to these clinically-proven benefits, a longtime puzzle of the human body has been its ability to push red blood cells through capillaries that are often smaller than the cells that pass through them. Somewhat similar to flushing a tennis ball down a toilet, one would expect a massive amount of resistance to this type of movement. However, to the surprise of most, tests have concluded that there is no significant pressure drop, which is why several studies have demonstrated that certain wavelengths of light can increase blood flow and assist in the formation of new capillaries. (8) Dr. Gerald Pollack explores this concept in more detail in his award-winning book, The Fourth Phase of Water. In summary, scientists are really just beginning to understand the role that light plays in overall health.
How You Can Benefit from More Light
Getting as much natural sunlight as possible, especially during the right times of the day, is clearly important. For example, receiving morning sunlight is crucial as it correctly sets your circadian rhythm. However, for a number of different reasons, most of us find it challenging to spend hours in the sun - at the right time of day - on any sort of regular basis. Either we live in an area with limited sunlight for large portions of the year, or, our busy schedules just don’t allow for it.
Because this is the case for most of us, a great way to receive red and near infrared wavelengths of light is with a full-body, clinical-grade photobiomodulation (PBM) device. By providing high dosages of critical wavelengths, cellular function is greatly enhanced, resulting in many of the health benefits described above. Using a high-quality PBM device on a daily basis is like supplementing your diet with the most advantageous wavelengths of light.
So, go get some sunlight on a regular basis! And if you aren’t getting the amount of sunlight that you should, or, your body needs the healing benefits that red and infrared light therapy can provide, then I’d strongly recommend getting a quality, full-body, photobiomodulation device such as the Joovv Light!
(1) Woloshyn, T. (2011). Our Friend, the Sun: Images of Light Therapeutics. [eBook] Osler Library of the History of Medicine. Available at: https://www.mcgill.ca/library/files/library/osler-ourfriendsun.pdf.
(2) Melanoma Stats, Facts, and Figures [Web Log Post]. Available at https://www.aimatmelanoma.org/about-melanoma/melanoma-stats-facts-and-figures.
(3) Sunscreen Report. [eBook] Available at: https://finalstepmarketing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Sunscreen-Market-Analysis.pdf
(4) Berwick, M., et al. Sun Exposure and Mortality From Melanoma. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2005 Feb 2;97(3):195-9.
(5) van der Rhee H, Coebergh JW, de Vries E. Sunlight, vitamin D and the prevention of cancer: a systematic review of epidemiological studies. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2009 Nov;18(6):458-75.
(6) Avci, P, et. al. Low-level (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg. 2013 Mar;32(1):41-52.
(7) Cawley, EI, et al. Dopamine and light: dissecting effects on modd and motivational states in women with subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2013 Nov;38(6):388-97.
(8) Ihsan FR. Low-level laser therapy accelerates collateral circulation and enhances microcirculation. Photomed Lasser Surg. 2005 Jun;23(3):289-94