Some 10 million people have watched “How the sun sees you” as it reveals shocking sun damage to skin with UV camera footage. The hidden spots, splotches, and face-consuming freckles are enough to incite SPF 100 sunscreen showers and urban sombreros, but don’t freak out. While the Scared Straight! (for sunscreen) montage, shot by photographer Thomas Leveritt, illuminates the unseen creep of sun damage, it ignores the health boon of regular UV exposure. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits and how to reap them safely:
RELATED: Six Chemical-Free Sunscreens That Really Protect Your Skin
You need a healthy dose of sun. Vitamin D deficiency is a real problem affecting roughly half the population. Your skin converts sunlight to the precious vitamin, which we know helps strengthen muscles, stop respiratory infections, boost bone mass, and aide weight loss. It may even boost sperm count.
The right amount of sunscreen-free exposure differs depending on your skin tone. Rule of thumb: Aim for half the amount of time it takes for your skin to turn light pink, or about 15 to 30 minutes, a few times a week. For a more specific recommendation, check out the app D Minder. You enter your location, the time of year, your skin type, and height and weight and the app will recommend the appropriate amount of time, telling you exactly how much vitamin D you’ll be getting, and warn you when it’s time to head in.
RELATED: The Health Benefits of Sunshine
After your allotted 15 to 30 minutes, apply sunscreen, but not just any brand. Use plant- and mineral-based sunscreens. The natural sun blockers will sit on your skin, not seep in, to help prevent absorption of unwanted chemicals.
A few big chemicals to avoid: Oxybenzone and avobenzone, which can irritate your skin, parabens — this group, which usually includes butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben, break down to free radicals in UV light, adding to skin aging and skin cancer risk — and phthalates. New research indicates that high exposure to these endocrine disrupters, commonly found in personal care products, along with plastics and packaged foods, can significantly lower testosterone levels — up to 24 percent in men aged 40 to 60.