By Helene Wechsler, MD, Natural Partners Advisory Board Member

Since ancient times the sun was appreciated as a gift:

During his travels, Alexander the Great traveled to Corinth, Greece.  He wanted to meet the
famous philosopher, Diogenes.  When Alexander finally arrived at the feet of Diogenes, he said, “I have heard so many stories about you but I have never met such an impressive man.  Can I do anything for you?  Just a word, a hint from you, and it will be done.”  Diogenes raised himself up and said, “All I want is for you to move a little to the side, because you are standing between me and the sun.”

When we think about sun exposure, we often consider the impact sun has on our skin. However, there is more to our skin than meets the eye. The skin is our largest organ; it weighs approximately seven pounds and is about 20 square feet in size.  Our skin protects us from microbes and the elements, helps regulate body temperature through evaporation and shivering, permits the sensations of touch, heat and cold and, of course, produces vitamin D.  It is our connection to the world around us.

As our skin protects us from the outside world, it also functions as an absorbent.  This can be advantageous if we need to administer certain topical treatments or deleterious when it is exposed to toxic chemicals found in our environment.

Our skin is also a barometer for overall health. Early warning signs of many diseases declare themselves on the skin, providing us with invaluable diagnostic information.  Certain types of cancer, kidney, liver and heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disorders, autoimmune conditions and many more can be recognized initially on the skin.


Summer is here and along with it comes our annual migration outdoors.  What precautions should we take to protect our amazing skin?

Risks of Excessive Sun Exposure:
  • Immune suppression: Scientists have found that sunburn can harm white blood cells and suppress cell-mediated immunity. Additionally, excessive amounts of time in ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning bed might cause long-lasting damage to the body’s immune system.1
  • Cataracts: Too much exposure to sunshine can contribute to the development of cataracts.  A recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology reviewed an analysis of the UV-A radiation protection in the front windshields versus the side windows of automobiles.  They found that protection was consistently high in the front windshields while lower and highly variable in side windows.  The authors hypothesized that these findings may in part explain the reported increased rates of cataracts in left eyes and the predominance of left-sided facial skin cancer.2
  • Premature aging of the skin: We know that up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.3
  • Skin cancer: Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States.  One in five Americans is expected to develop some form of skin cancer in his or her lifetime.  Ultraviolet radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. Whereas ultraviolet radiation from the sun can be very harmful, using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase your risk of melanoma by 59 percent.  The risk increases exponentially with each tanning bed use. Researchers estimate that indoor tanning may cause upwards of 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year.4 Prevention of skin cancer is key and includes avoidance, protective clothing and proper sunscreen.
A Note about Sunscreens:

Ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth in the form of UV-B and UV-A rays.  UV-B rays are the main cause of suntans and sunburns and play a key role in skin cancer. UV-A radiation can penetrate deeply into the skin and can contribute indirectly to skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration established regulations for sunscreens to be labeled ‘broad spectrum’ if they protect the skin from both UV-B and UV-A rays.  The SPF in sunscreens refers mainly to the amount of UV-B protection a sunscreen offers.  An SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent of UV-B radiation, while an SPF of 50 blocks 98 percent of sunburn rays.  Products that have higher SPF values offer no significant additional protection.  By preventing sunburn, sunscreens with very high SPFs can create a false sense of security, prompting sunbathers to stay out in the sun longer.  Most sunscreens now also contain UV-A blocking ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  Be sure that you choose sunscreens that are labeled ‘broad spectrum’ with both UV-A and UV-B protection.5

Benefits of Sun Exposure: 

Most public health messages have focused on the hazards of too much sun exposure.  But, is all sunshine bad?  There are actually some big benefits to modest amounts of sunshine.

  • Vitamin D production: The best known advantage of sunlight is to boost the body’s vitamin D levels.  In addition to maintenance of healthy bones and preventing rickets, vitamin D is essential in maintaining a healthy immune system. The efficiency of production of vitamin D depends on the number of UV-B photons that penetrate the skin.  This process can be reduced by clothing, sunscreen and suntans.  As skin tans, it darkens to protect itself against harmful ultraviolet radiation, but the increased pigment blocks vitamin D synthesis, limiting the skin’s ability to produce more vitamin D.  For example, to meet the  daily needs of vitamin D in Arizona, most people would need to spend 10 minutes in the sun with their arms and legs exposed in the summer and 15 minutes in the winter.6
  • Melatonin and Serotonin:  The melatonin precursor, serotonin, is also affected by exposure to daylight. Normally produced during the day, serotonin is only converted to melatonin in darkness.  Higher serotonin levels result in more positive moods and better social functioning.7 Seasonal Affective Disorder has been linked with low serotonin levels during the day as well as with a phase delay in nighttime melatonin production. It has been shown that our skin can produce serotonin in response to sunlight and transform it into melatonin.  Research has shown that many types of skin cells express receptors for both serotonin and melatonin.8
  • Endorphins: It has been shown that ultraviolet radiation also increases blood levels of natural opiates called endorphins. Melanocytes in human skin express a fully functioning endorphin receptor system, according to the June 2003 Journal of Investigative Dermatology.9  Endorphins help to decrease our perception of pain, aid us in stress reduction and trigger positive feelings of happiness and pleasure.

The benefits of our skin are more than skin-deep, so it’s important to give your largest organ the attention it deserves. Be cautious of the daily environmental elements your body endures and be mindful of wearing appropriate sun protection when enjoying the outdoors. The sun has been treated as a gift for centuries; we just need to understand how to respect its powerful effect on our skin. Love the skin you’re in and it will love you back.

Interested in more outdoor, skin and summer tips? Click here!



  1. Bernard, J.J., Cowing-Zitron, C., Nakatsuji,T., Muehleisen,B., Muto, J., Borkowski, A.W. …Gallo,R.L. (2011). Ultraviolet radiation damages self noncoding RNA and is detected by TLR3. Nature Medicine, 18(8), 1286-1292. Retrieved May 22, 2016 from
  2. Boxer Wachler,B.S., Assessment of levels of ultraviolet A light protection in automobile windshields and side windows. JAMA Ophthalmology, 2016; Retrieved May 22, 2016 from DOI: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1139.
  3. Health effects of UV radiation. (2015). Retrieved May 22, 2016, Retrieved May 22, 2016 from
  4. Indoor tanning. (2015). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from
  5. Does a higher SPF sunscreen always protect your skin better? (2010). Retrieved May 22, 2016 from
  6. Chen,T.C., Lu, Z., and Holick, M.F. (2011). Photobiology of vitamin D. In Vitamin D: Physiology, Molecular Biology and Clinical Applications. Humana Press. pp 35-60. February 24, 2010.
  7. Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN, 32(6), 394–399.
  8. Mead, M. N. (2008). Benefits of Sunlight: A bright spot for human health. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(4), A160–A167. Retrieved May 22, 2016 from
  9. Kauser, S.,Tobin, D.J.,Gummer, C. et al. Regulation of human epidermal melanocyte biology by β-Endorphin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Volume 120, Issue 6, 1073 – 1080


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.