Vitamin D is an essential part of the diet; its benefits include helping the body absorb bone-strengthening calcium, fighting bacteria, and reducing heart disease risk. But that doesn’t mean you should acquire mass quantities of the super nutrient from the sun, or worse, tanning beds.
New research out of Harvard Medical School suggests that it's possible to get hooked on soaking up UV rays. For six weeks, researchers exposed mice to an amount of UVB radiation that was similar to 20 minutes of midday Florida sunshine in humans. After one week, the rodents' endorphins increased and stayed elevated throughout the course of the study, while the endorphin levels in a control group stayed about the same. Also, the UV-treated mice had higher pain thresholds and after receiving an opioid blocker, experienced withdrawal symptoms, much like an opioid drug user would want their fix.
Continuous exposure to harmful UV rays may cause skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the CDC, with more than 61,000 people diagnosed in 2010. Luckily, there are ways to get the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D (600 IU) and get the summer glow you’re looking for without doing any harm. Here are five ways to limit UV exposure while staying healthy and bronzed for the beach.
1. Avoid tanning beds
A recent study found that more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer can be attributed to indoor tanning, and another 2014 study found that newer tanning beds are not safer than older ones, just in case that was your argument. If you want to add color, try a spray tan, lotion, or mousse such as St. Tropez.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables
A 2011 study found that people who eat more fruits and veggies daily have more golden skin tones thanks to the carotenoids (orange-y pigments) in foods like carrots and tomatoes. When given the choice of sun-colored skin or carotenoid-colored skin, people said the carotenoid skin was more attractive. That’s a win-win for your skin and social life.
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3. Use protection
The CDC recommends using SPF 15 or higher to prevent sun damage. Look for the words "broad spectrum" on the bottle, meaning the product blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
Never remember to reapply? Try Sunscreen Bands, wristbands that change color when exposed to UV rays in order to remind you when to reapply SPF and when to get out of the sun immediately.
4. Get shady
Establish where the shaded areas are in your environment and stay in them. Set up a large umbrella when it’s time lounge on the beach.
5. Wear a hat and sunglasses
Make sure your sunglasses offer 100% UV protection (polarized lenses will also prevent glare). The bigger, the better since they will cover more skin on your head. For a hat, the same principle applies: the more coverage, the less skin cancer risk.