We know all too well the warnings that sunlight overexposure and UV rays can be harmful to our skin's health, but science is revealing that sunlight exposure is beneficial for skin and overall health. In some cases, sunbathers have been shown to live longer than non-sunbathers. Why is that? Research has linked the sun's ability to help our bodies produce more nitric oxide with overall health. Nitric oxide is a gaseous molecule produced in and on the body that leading doctors agree - our ability and rate of creating is a primary health indicator. Nitric oxide is produced in the body by various mechanisms, and human skin releases nitric oxide when exposed to UVA sunlight. It has become a hero molecule in skincare.
While modern conventions on skin health tell us to protect ourselves from the sun, wear sunscreen, and limit exposure, getting your daily sunshine isn't an all-or-nothing game, and there are benefits you will miss out on if you skip the sun’s rays and wear sunscreen. It's important to know when and how much sun to get and when to hit the shade.
Let's review some new research on skin health and see how sunlight exposure helps boost nitric oxide levels and how together these mechanisms help us have healthier self-healing skin.
Sunlight as a nitric oxide booster for skin health
One of the most commonly known benefits of sunlight is the source of Vitamin D. Still, an even bigger, more wide-reaching benefit is the activation of nitric oxide production on the skin surface. This is called "dermal nitric oxide" and results from the nitrite within our skin cells.
Nitric oxide supports cell regeneration and intracellular communication. As we age, we lose our ability to produce nitric oxide, resulting in loss of skin health, poor complections, and without it, lines and wrinkles begin.
Most of our skin cells can synthesize nitric oxide, which plays three key roles in skin health:
1 - Wound healing - When the sun hits our skin, and nitric oxide is produced, tissue regeneration occurs. “Nitric oxide (NO), the endogenous regulator of inflammation and an antibacterial agent with no demonstrated resistance, has become an attractive candidate for wound healing therapy.” - Advanced Healthcare Materials
2 - Dermal immune response - Our skin acts as an immune organ, and via the nitric oxide synthase helps control the replication of microbial pathogens. “Nitric oxide (NO) is a bioactive gas that has multiple roles in innate and adaptive immune responses. It is needed for host defense against pathogens and for immune regulation.” - Macrophages
3 - Dermal vasodilation - Here’s where we come to understand that beauty means wellness. Nitric oxide production on the skin improves blood, nutrient, and oxygen availability to skin cells. As we age, we might notice one telltale sign of depleted nitric oxide production -- premature aging skin. But we can slow this process by adopting a nitric oxide lifestyle.
The production of nitric oxide from sunlight is dependent on a few factors, mainly the nitrite stores in your body. That is affected by your age, oral health habits, and whether you use antibacterial mouthwash or fluoride toothpaste. You want to amp up your nitrate and nitrite storage, so when you hit the sun, you start producing dermal nitric oxide. A great reason to work out in the sun is that you can double up on your nitric oxide production via sunlight production and a nitric oxide dump workout.
Sunshine & nitric oxide regulate your circadian rhythm for rejuvenating sleep and healthier skin
Want to wake up glowing and feeling rejuvenated? Make sure to get in tune with your nitric oxide levels and natural circadian rhythms. Both sunlight exposure and nitric oxide help you improve the quality of your sleep. Great sleep supports skin health by allowing cells to recover. According to research, nitric oxide is a cell communicator and is an important homeostatic factor in promoting recovery sleep, especially after sleep deprivation. One study showed how much more sleep affects the quality of the skin. Well rested people tend to have:
- brighter eyes
- brighter complexion
- clearer skin
- fewer wrinkles
- improved skin condition
With better sleep comes more energy, and having an internal clock that matches the external sunlight helps your body develop a healthy pattern for wake and rest.
You’ll also get a boost of energy from sunlight exposure in the form of feel-good serotonin and nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide helps with serotonin production and relaxes the smooth muscles around your arteries, allowing blood to pump more freely - hence ENERGY! Not to mention that sunshine feeling you get from another dose of serotonin production. It all feels good, and while you get energized, you also get relaxed as you slip into the circadian rhythm of sunlight.
Psychodermatology - the mental health, sunlight, nitric oxide, and skin health connection
It’s no surprise that sunlight has been shown to improve mental health in numerous ways, directly impacting skin health. There’s a skin - sun - nitric oxide - mental health link that isn’t widely discussed in the U.S. However, psychodermatologists touch on these topics in the U.K., whereby the cycle of stress, depression, and other mental health issues can exacerbate skin problems. Skin problems can manifest outwardly as an indication of an underlying mental health problem.
Sunlight and nitric oxide help our brains produce serotonin. Mental health conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and completed suicides are all impacted by seasonal changes, which then impact skin health. This means that during times of increased sunlight, rates and intensities of these disorders go down. When there's less access to sunlight, these mental health conditions increase and intensify for sufferers. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter hormone that is produced by the brain and the intestines. While scientists are still trying to understand the cause of depression, current understandings point to an imbalance of neurotransmitters like serotonin.
When it comes to mood, exposure to sunlight helps your body release feel-good endorphins. The sun is a natural chemical inducer, allowing us to pump out those feel-good hormones the way exercise does. That after workout rush of endorphins can be found in a milder form when you seek the sun's rays. We can even become addicted to the feeling we get in the sun; that's how great it feels. Another reason for the mood-boosting properties of the sun is that daily exposure helps you sync to circadian rhythms, which helps with sleep and mood improvement.
Sun exposure for boosting Vitamin D, decreasing acne, and amplifying nitric oxide production
The best source of Vitamin D comes from the sun. The anti-microbial properties of Vitamin D help keep acne in control. The anti-inflammatory properties of Vitamin D reduce visible acne-related redness and puffiness. The nitric oxide boosting properties of Vitamin D helps the signaling molecule regenerate skin cells.
Vitamin D production serves as a major contributor to skin health via many mechanisms. Vitamin D is important for more than skin health; it is vital for bone health, blood cells, and immune system health. Unlike it sounds, Vitamin D isn't a vitamin at all; it's a precursor hormone or "prohormone." And unlike other common "vitamins" like Vitamin C or "ascorbic acid," which cannot be produced in the body, Vitamin D can be made in the body, especially by way of sunlight exposure. Some key benefits of leveraging the sun for Vitamin D production include:
- Bone health
- Teeth health
- Supporting lung functions
- Protect against the flu
Doctors recommend 5-10 minutes of sunlight about 2-3 times every week for sufficient Vitamin D production.
Sunlight and nitric oxide to help with skin conditions
Skin conditions like psoriasis, acne, and eczema have been shown to improve with the right amount of sun exposure. Studies have shown that an insufficient amount of nitric oxide in the body can result in skin conditions like psoriasis. Other skin conditions like scleroderma have also been linked to reduced nitric oxide levels in the endothelial cells.
Sunlight as a cure for many ailments
Sunlight has been thoroughly studied and offers an incredible amount of curative properties. It's no wonder why people who live away from the equator (or less sunlight on average) have progressively higher rates of heart diseases. If you're curious to learn more about the studies conducted on sunlight and health, head over to PubMed and search sunlight + an ailment and see if what you're interested in has been studied.
How much sunlight to gain nitric oxide boosting and skin health benefits?
The amount of sunlight you need for max benefits really depends on some factors like the temperature, your age, health history, and diet. Here are some generalized recommendations for getting the optimal amount of sun exposure this summer and all year round.
Aim for 20-40 minutes of direct sunlight daily
Depending on your level of sensitivity around 30 minutes of direct sunlight is ideal; however, you will surely get some great benefits if you spend at least 20 minutes in the sun every day.
Avoid toxic sunscreens
While conventional wisdom says to cover up with sunblock, try to avoid chemical-laden sunblocks that may be even more toxic than sun exposure itself. Opt for natural sunblocks that do not contain nano-technology zinc and titanium dioxide, which can breach the blood-brain barrier.
Eat nitrate-rich foods
To maximize your nitric oxide stores and help increase dermal nitric oxide when you're enjoying the sun, make sure to load up on nitrate-rich foods like beets, red spinach, and other leafy greens.
Drink clean, filtered water
When you're out in the sun, it's important to stay hydrated and avoid beverages that are laden with chemicals and sugars.
Practice "clean" oral care
When we say clean, we mean to steer clear of mouthwash and fluoride toothpaste. These contain chemicals that hinder your nitric oxide production and diminish the cardiovascular benefits of workouts and the nitric oxide production rates from sun exposure.
Before you head out into the sun for your next workout or sunbath, prepare your body with our Nitric-Oxide Boosts and supply your body with a nitrate-rich food to get all of the possible benefits of sunshine.