The Surprising Health Benefits of Not Wearing Sunglasses: Sun Exposure, Melanin, and Nitric Oxide

Tom Nikkola | VIGOR Training

Apr 15 2023 • 11 mins

The other day, Vanessa mentioned that she read that wearing sunglasses can make you more likely to get a sunburn. I hadn't heard that before. Maybe you have. But, I wasn't surprised. It seems that we often end up with unexpected consequences of modifying how our bodies have functioned in nature for thousands and thousands of years. Ironically, I'm wearing blue-blocking glasses right now as I type on my computer since it's after dark and eye exposure to blue light at night compromises sleep. So, it didn't seem far-fetched at all that blocking sunlight from the eyes during the day could have negative effects either. I investigated and found the currently available answers to the question: Do sunglasses make you more likely to get a sunburn? I also included some other information that might be helpful to understand. If nothing else, it should give you something to discuss while you lay by the pool, on a boat, or on the beach this summer. The Science of Sun Exposure You hardly hear of the health benefits of sun exposure anymore, but there are many. While it's true that excessive sun exposure can lead to sunburn, skin aging, and even skin cancer, we also need sun exposure for optimal health.Skin Cancer Foundation. (2021). Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts/ Sunlight plays a crucial role in our overall health, particularly in producing vitamin D, which supports bone health, immune function, and numerous other physiological processes.Holick, M. F. (2004). Sunlight and vitamin D for bone health and prevention of autoimmune diseases, cancers, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1678S-1688S. However, the interplay between sunlight and our eyes is more complex than you might think. Some researchers, such as Dr. Richard Weller from the University of Edinburgh, have hypothesized that not wearing sunglasses could enhance the skin's natural photoprotection mechanisms, resulting in potential health benefits.Weller, R. B. (2013). Sunlight Has Cardiovascular Benefits Independently of Vitamin D. Blood Purification, 35(1-3), 5-11. The Role of Sunlight in Vitamin D Production Sunlight, specifically UVB radiation, is most people's primary vitamin D source. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, a process occurs that converts a cholesterol-like substance called 7-dehydrocholesterol into vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). This is then converted into its active form, calcitriol, in the liver and kidneys. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, bone health, and proper immune system functioning, among other vital processes in the body. Melanin Production in Response to UV Radiation Melanin is a pigment produced by melanocytes in our skin. It serves several purposes, including protecting against UV radiation's harmful effects. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, melanocytes produce more melanin, which absorbs UV rays and helps prevent DNA damage, leading to a tanning effect.Mitra, D., Luo, X., Morgan, A., Wang, J., Hoang, M. P., Lo, J., Guerrero, C. R., Lennerz, J. K., Mihm, M. C., Wargo, J. A., Robinson, K. C., Devi, S. P., Vanover, J. C., D'Orazio, J. A., McMahon, M., Bosenberg, M. W., Haigis, K. M., Haber, D. A., Wang, Y., & Fisher, D. E. (2012). An ultraviolet-radiation-independent pathway to melanoma carcinogenesis in the red hair/fair skin background. Nature, 491(7424), 449-453. Photoprotection and Its Potential Benefits Photoprotection is the idea that our eyes may play a role in signaling our skin to produce melanin in response to sunlight. Although research in this area is still in its early stages, there is growing interest in understanding how our eyes and skin may be interconnected in their responses to sun exposure.Weller, R. B. (2013). Sunlight Has Cardiovascular Benefits Independently of Vitamin D. Blood Purification, 35(1-3), 5-11. Dr.

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