As recently as 100 years ago UV light was used for treating tuberculosis, long before the advent of antibiotics. We now know that UV rays offer many additional health benefits. Based on modern scientific studies, such benefits can include the following:
Promoting the production of nitric oxide (NO), which provides protection against damage by UV light; NO also promotes cardiovascular health for the small capillaries in skin, provides an antimicrobial effect, and inhibits certain types of cancer
Regulating melatonin production from the pineal gland for synchronizing daily biorhythms
Treating skin diseases (e.g., psoriasis, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis, scleroderma)
Protecting against melanoma
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Suppressing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)
Elevating mood by stimulating the release of endorphins
Regulating body temperature
Enhancing the role of skin as a barrier to microbes and environmental toxins
In spite of these health benefits, UV light remains a concern for the harm that it can do to skin. Skin cancer and photoaging are at the top of the list. The key to benefiting from UV light, while simultaneously reducing or avoiding its harmful effects, depends on a little common sense. Follow these two strategies for enhancing the benefits while at the same time minimizing any potential harm.
1) Limit overexposure to UV rays.
2) Promote protective skin health with the regular use of antioxidant-rich natural skin care products.
If anything, the single best piece of advice for everyone is to limit overexposure that leads to sunburn. Sunburn is the skin's defensive response to too much UV light. The redness and pain of sunburn are the skin's emergency responses to damage. Sunburn accelerates all of the negative consequences of overexposure to UV light.
The difficulty in determining how much exposure is too much is that, by the time sunburn appears, it is too late. It is wiser to keep several factors in mind before getting to that point. Skin color may be the primary factor. Lighter, untanned skin is the most susceptible to burning. It takes longer to burn darker skin, regardless of whether it is darkened by Mother Nature or by tanning.
Overexposure occurs more quickly when the sun is more directly overhead. In North America peak sunlight occurs around midday in summer at lower latitudes (i.e., further south). Winter UV intensity is more common at higher elevations, especially in areas where snow can reflect UV light. Sunburn that accompanies winter sports is every bit as fast and as damaging as it is in the summer at the beach.
Also keep in mind that high doses of UV rays at indoor tanning salons also can lead to overexposure. Tanning devices too often cause reddening of the skin, which is still an indicator for skin damage and photoaging.
Promoting Protective Skin Health
FDA-approved ingredients for sun blocks have little to do with promoting skin health. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Filtering out UV light with sun block diminishes its potential health benefits. It is much more sensible to get the right exposure to UV light, while at the same time using the best natural skincare products for enhancing these benefits.
Truly protective herbal skincare products promote health in many ways. One of the most versatile ingredients for enhancing skin health is green tea, due to its powerful antioxidant, EGCG. This antioxidant invigorates skin cells, protects against DNA damage, and inhibits enzymes that destroy collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are the main strengthening and flexibility components, respectively, in skin.
Of course, combining green tea with other herbs that promote skin health care is the ideal strategy for keeping skin healthy as you take advantage of the benefits of UV light. A short list of examples of these other herbs includes angelica root, white peony, and ginseng.