Here Comes the Sun: What You Need to Know About Sun Exposure

We just celebrated the solstice—the day with the longest amount of sunshine all year—but for most of us, summer is just getting into full swing, as we talked about last week. This week, I want to dive into—from a Chinese Medicine perspective—what the sun is, what it does, and how we can best take advantage of all its good qualities without taking on damage.

This probably won’t come as any surprise: The sun is a major source of Qi. In the summertime, being out in the sun is like absorbing pure Qi into your body. Think about how your body and skin just seem to drink up that warm light when it finally comes around—that isn’t just an emotion/sensation. That’s really happening! You can get Qi from exercise and food and fresh air, of course, but just lying in the sun allows you to absorb so much great Qi. That’s because the sun directly warms your body’s Yang right up.

People who haven’t had enough exposure to the sun year-round (ahem, most of us, especially in Minnesota) will often feel tired or depressed when the sun goes away in the winter. Western medicine says that being out in the sun creates Vitamin D, and while they don’t exactly have a clear explanation yet why it helps with your mood, getting sunlight and natural light can benefit Seasonal Affective Disorder and ward off winter depression.

Before you break out those baby oils and foil reflectors, though, know this: Research has shown that the only amount of exposure you need to generate Vitamin D is 10 minutes a day on your hands and feet. Anything more than that and we risk skin cancer and aging. So how do you get all the Qi-boosting effects of the sun without the risks? Yep, you guessed it, sunscreen (long-sleeve shirts and hats work too but sometimes that’s tough when it’s so muggy out). You can still get maximum Qi by being out in the sun, but sunscreen minimizes the damage that can happen to your skin.

What if you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, though, and you have a job where you don’t see the sun all day? And you tend to have low Vitamin D or depression in the winter? Get outside on your lunch break and absorb the sun for 10 minutes. It’s not just a great way to de-stress, it’s an investment in the future: Your body can store up Vitamin D (or Qi!) for when the sun’s rays are less intense in the winter. You can also supplement a lack of sun with Vitamin D or Chinese herbs that boost your Qi (these supplements are kind of like swallowing the sun!). But getting the real deal is always better. Use this as an excuse: Get outside and get some Qi!

Stay tuned for Wednesday when we’ll talk about how to protect yourself with the safest, cleanest sunscreens so you can get maximum Qi from the sun with minimum risk.