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Sunlight exposure: The bright and dark side of the sun
Individuals concerned about sun exposure should speak with their dermatologists to determine healthy ways to get some sun.

The sun is an important star in our solar system. The sun warms the Earth and promotes animal and plant life on the planet. The sun also is vital for human health.

The National Institutes of Health says the human body was built to make good use of the sun. Sunlight helps regulate sleeping patterns, keeping one awake during the day and sleeping soundly at night. Sunlight also helps the body produce vitamin D, which is necessary for immune system support and normal bone function. The sun can boost mood. Lack of sun exposure, especially in winter months, can increase the risk for seasonal affective disorder, which is a form of depression. According to the World Health Organization, UV rays from the sun also can treat some health conditions, like skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis. The sun also may help combat rickets or jaundice.

While there are many benefits of getting ample sunlight, there also are some downsides to the sun and UV exposure, particularly in regard to the skin. Yale Medicine says that too much sun exposure can lead to photoaging of the skin. Symptoms include wrinkling, loss of skin elasticity, hyperpigmentation, sun spots, and redness. Photodamage causes changes to DNA at the cellular level and in the deepest layers of the skin, so it can take years before the effects are noticeable. But the damage already has been done.

Damage to the skin can happen to anyone, but often is more pronounced in people with pale or fair skin, light-colored eyes, and with blonde or red hair. These people burn easily and may not tan readily.

Overexposure to the sun also increases the risk for skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States and elsewhere around the world. UV rays can cause changes to cells that make them rapidly grow and divide, leading to extra cells known as tumors. Cancerous tumors can form, and cancer may spread from the skin to other organs of the body, says the NIH. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas affect more than two million people each year in the U.S. Melanoma is less common but more serious, affecting roughly 68,000 Americans each year.

The Dallas Dermatology Center says about 10 to 30 minutes of safe sun exposure each day can help a person get the benefits of vitamin D and other perks of the sun without the harmful side effects.