As summer approaches, we’re reminded to make sure we have two things before heading outdoors:
Sunglasses and Sunscreen.
But what if we told you both sunglasses and sunscreen may be doing more harm than good?
Would that be shocking to you? Or, would you be happy to hear someone else agreeing with what you already knew or suspected?
Either way, we’re going to take a very brief look into why you might want to consider at least cutting back on the use of sunglasses and sunscreen.
However, to be clear, we’re not doctors or even scientists. We’re simply sharing some research and ideas we’ve found interesting.
What you choose to do with this information is completely up to you. This is not health advice.
In fact, what you’re about to read below could be considered controversial or even crazy. It goes against the mainstream thinking and it seems counterintuitive.
But then again, doctors used to endorse cigarettes too.
So, let’s get into it, shall we?
Part 1 - Sunglasses
We’ve been told for decades now that sunglasses protect our eyes from the “damaging effects” of the suns rays.
According to the American Optometric Association, “sunglasses should filter out 99-100% of the ultraviolet rays and screen out 75% to 90% of visible light.”
But new thinking published in the Journal of Mood Disorders suggests wearing sunglasses throughout the year may have a similar effect on mood as “winter depression” or Seasonal Affective Disorder brought on by shorter days in the winter.
In other words, wearing sunglasses all the time may actually increase your chance of experiencing depression or low mood.
Because wearing sunglasses seems to confuse your body into thinking it’s later in the day than it is. Our circadian rhythm is controlled mostly by the photo-receptors in our eyes. So if your eyes think it’s low light outside, it throws off the circadian rhythm and the production of melatonin stays turned on too long. This means it’s not there when you really need it at night. And that means you’re not going to get the quality sleep you could be getting.
And consider this…
Our eyes have a built in defense system against bright light. When our eyes are exposed to bright lights, our pupils get smaller to allow in less light. When you wear sunglasses, your pupils actually allow in more of the sun’s most harmful rays.
So what’s the solution? Here are a couple of ideas…
At the very least, avoid wearing sunglasses the first part of the day. When you wake up, immediately turn on bright lights if you can’t get outside. Better is to get outside and expose your naked eyes to the morning sun.
This light exposure signals to your brain and body to shut down melatonin and switch to the wake cycle and to produce all the hormones associated with getting us through our day.
We’re not saying never wear sunglasses. It’s your call. Just be aware and more critical when everyone is saying you “must” wear sunglasses.
Finally, it does seem to make sense to wear sunglasses in bright snow or ocean conditions where there’s a lot of glare. Even then, try to get naked eye light exposure early in the morning.
(Bonus: do a little research on “sungazing” to see how some people believe our eyes use and process sunlight to better our health)
Part 2 - Sunscreen
According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office 5 million people are treated for skin cancer annually. Melanoma rates skyrocketed 200% between 1973 and 2011.
This seems to indicate we REALLY need sunscreen, right?
But here’s the thing…
Go back further and you’ll find that “the per capita melanoma rate has increased 1,800% since the first commercial sunscreens were introduced.”
But wait, there’s more!
Studies show that those who spend the MOST time outdoors have the LOWEST risk of melanoma. For example, lifeguards and construction workers and farmers have much lower rates of melanoma than office workers.
And “sunbathers” had the lowest incidents of all those studied!
Here’s what the current science is telling us:
This does not give you the freedom to go to the beach all day and get fried to a crisp. Sunburns do damage your skin. Ideally, you’d want gradual exposure in the spring so that you had a protective tan by the time summer and the sun’s most intense ray hit.
One way to do that is to get your exercise in outdoors with as little clothing as possible. This stimulates the production of melanin and vitamin D. All you really need is a consistent 20-30 minutes of full sun exposure on 60% or more of your body.
Conclusion and Additional Research
Sunglasses and sunscreen may not be as much of a summer “must-have” as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, they may be doing more harm than good.
Of course, we’ve just scratched the surface here. And we realize some of this is controversial. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the top of the rabbit hole by starting with these resources:
And then decide for yourself what makes sense for you and those you care about.
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