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Why You Should Be Enjoying the Summer Sun

This is a freelance article by Helen Angus.  Watching the sun rise and set, sitting out on a warm summer’s day, or even waiting to watch the moon pass across its face during an eclipse: the sun is a large part of most people’s lives. However, enjoying the sunshine isn’t an experience that we can all share. The sun and the UV rays that it produces are so powerful that they can harm us, particularly those of us with conditions like TTD, whose bodies aren’t able to protect themselves. The Dark Side of the Sun Sunburn is a clear reminder of just how powerful sunlight can be, but even when we manage to avoid burning, we can still be harmed by exposure to the sun. You might not be able to see it happening, or to feel the effects immediately, as someone with TTD would do, but the sun could be damaging your skin cells and the DNA they contain. One of the effects of this invisible damage does become apparent over time, as some of the effects of ageing are caused by the damage inflicted by the sun. When we develop wrinkles and sunspots, we can blame many years of exposure to the sun, as well as our age. Sometimes, the effects can be more serious. The sunlight that penetrates our skin can damage our DNA. Although a lot of this damage can be repaired by proteins that can recognise and remove the damaged sections, replacing them with new, correct copies, sometimes the damage is permanent. When the wrong section of DNA has been affected, the damage caused by the sun can even develop into skin cancer. Sun Protection Knowing all this, we can make efforts to protect our skin. We can stay in the shade during the hottest days of summer, we can wear protective hats and clothing, slather ourselves in sunscreen, and stop ourselves from burning. Some of us have darker skin that is easier to protect, while others have fairer skin that burns easily, but even the most sensitive skin can be protected very effectively, with a little extra care. However, there are conditions, like TTD, that can make skin so sensitive to the sun that it cannot be protected with these usual methods. If you had been born with photosensitive TTD, or one of the other similar conditions that can produce the same effect, you wouldn’t be able to sunbathe on the beach, to enjoy a picnic in summer, or even to sit out in your own garden on a warm day. You wouldn’t have the repair mechanisms that should be able to help your cells to recover from some of the damage done by the sun. You would burn in just a few minutes if you stepped outside unprotected, and using sunscreen, protective clothing, and other methods to shelter yourself from the sun, would have to be part of your everyday life. Why We Need Sunlight Although the damage that the sun can do can be serious, there are also some good reasons why most of us need to spend some time outside in the sunlight. Spending time in the sunshine can actually help us to stay happier, and the sun can also keep us healthy by enabling our bodies to produce the vitamin D that it needs. The importance of the sun in keeping us healthy, combined with the increasingly indoor lives that many of us are leading, has actually led to many people experiencing the opposite problem to those with TTD. Rather than suffering from the damage caused by too much sunlight, many people are failing to spend enough time outside. Shut up in our homes, our schools, or our offices, away from the sun, we are experiencing rising levels of vitamin D deficiencies. It only takes five or ten minutes of direct exposure to sunlight, a few times a week, for our bodies to be able to make all of the vitamin D we need, but some of us still aren’t managing to get enough sunshine, even though there is nothing to prevent us from doing so. A vitamin D deficiency can have serious consequences, particularly in children who are still growing, so it is somewhat shocking that this problem should be on the rise in countries where we all have access to good food, and all of the time we need to step outdoors on occasion. With a good diet and a little care, even people who are affected by photosensitive TTD or XD can maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, so there is no excuse for the rest of us to neglect our health by staying indoors. We should embrace our freedom to go out and enjoy the sunshine, while remembering those who, for whatever reason, are unable to join us.
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