Growing up, I was told to always wear sunscreen and to limit my exposure to ultraviolet light (UV). As a kid, I would slather my face and the rest of my body with SPF 15 and more. It made sense, getting sunburned could increase my risk of skin cancer and more. Now, studies are questioning if the risk of skin cancer outweighs the benefits of direct natural light exposure. Currently, research is showing getting some natural light, while still avoiding sunburns, may outweigh the risk of UV rays exposure.
Some of this research shows that natural light may help with:
Reduction in blood pressure
How Much UV Rays Do I Need?
Now you might be thinking then how much natural light is appropriate for me? Depending on your skin type according to the Fitzpatrick Scale and where you live in latitude, the amount of natural light you can handle before getting sunburned will vary. If you are white with Type II skin (skin that tans minimally and usually burns), getting about 15 minutes of direct natural light between May and October (northern hemisphere) from the hours of 11-3PM may be sufficient for satisfying your vitamin D requirement. This review goes into skin type (ex. Fitzpatrick scale) and other factors that may impact how much light you can have before getting sunburned and maybe how much light you need for getting adequate amounts of vitamin D. Chris Masterjohn, PhD, takes into account more factors (ex. parathyroid hormone levels) for assessing how much vitamin D each person needs, which can help with determining how much natural light you may need as well. You can listen to Chris' podcast on The Evolution of Diverse Vitamin D Requirements for more information.
On a northern latitude note, if you live in Canada you may want to check out this article for recommendations on how to get vitamin D throughout the year.
App For How Much Ultraviolet Rays To Get?
And maybe some day not to far in the future an app will be made that takes into account all of these factors (skin type, latitude, diet, season, parathyroid hormone, and more) - making it easier to calculate how much sunlight would be appropriate.
Lastly, if you do get sunburned, you may want to add certain antioxidants to the creams you use to help reduce skin inflammation. I personally like using Sun: before & after body oil from Laurel Whole Plant Organics, which contains a lot of different antioxidants. A couple of months ago, I got sunburned pretty badly and didn’t use this product like I normally do. My sunburned lasted longer than normal. Once I started using this body oil, my sunburn seemed to magically calmed down. Lastly, I don't get any financial compensation for recommending this product, though I wish I could!
Lavender oil might be another option for working with a sunburn. I did an n=1 experiment with lavender oil after getting sunburned while paddleboarding (note to self, apply sunscreen to every part of your body - including your ankles). I compared a body balm with lavender oil from McEvoy Ranch with another one of their creams without lavender oil. The cream with lavender oil seemed to calm my sunburn down much faster than the other cream. I know this was just a n=1 experiment, but I found a research study (caveat: nonhuman model) that also noticed that lavender ointment may help wounds heal faster. Again, I don't get any financial compensation for this recommending this product, but wish I could since they are a great company and product!
On another note, if you are concerned about how to use sunscreen for your skin type, according to the Fitzpatrick Scale, you may want to read this article.
Not Too Much & Not Too Little
Basically, research has shown that there are some benefits for direct natural light and that certain antioxidants may increase your skin's ability to promote healing from sunburns faster too. With this information, I hope you get inspired to enjoy being outside a bit if you are not enjoying that already. And that if you do get sunburned, there are certain antioxidants you can help speed up the healing process.
Hoel, D. G., Berwick, M., de Gruijl, F. R., & Holick, M. F. (2016). The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermato-Endocrinology, 8(1), e1248325.
Saric, S., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Polyphenols and Sunburn. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 17(9), 1521. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijms17091521