The New Side of Sunshine


Our relationship with the sun is a complicated one.

Take sun tans. Nobody’s sure how it happened, but sometime over the last century in America and Europe, being tanned became fashionable. Yet go halfway round the world today, and you’ll find pale skin most desirable. Go back two centuries, and the same is true in Europe – just read up on the long tradition of lead-paint cosmetics (and deadly consequences). But now we have sun-beds and artificial tanning lotions that turn you a lovely shade of orange…whilst in India, skin-lightening lotions are on the shelves. Confused? I don’t blame you.

Biologically, things are more straightforward. Our skin needs ultraviolet light to manufacture Vitamin D. We’ve known for a while that this organic compound is important in maintaining good bones, regulating mineral absorption and keeping our immune system fighting-fit. (Here’s a detailed breakdown of the benefits of sunlight.) However, a recent study from John Hopkins University suggests we’ve underestimated its importance – in particular the association with heart disease.

Cue the sound of a million tanning fanatics heading for the beach. Somebody should tell them a little about the flip-side: even if we neutralize the threat of melanoma (and the latest news is promising), it’s been claimed that a tan is worse than smoking for your skin.

Sunshine’s getting an about-face these days, but it’s no license to fry. Enjoy the sun by all means – and here’s another reason to do so – just protect your skin with non-toxic sunscreen and natural skincare products, and do it properly – here’s National Geographic Green Guide’s suggestions.

The need for some sunshine is instinctive for animals, plants, children, and I’d argue even us hypochondriac adults. Think of how lovely it feels soaking into your bones. Sure, the relationship is complicated – but we couldn’t live without it.

Image: Zanastardust

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.