We associate the sun with so many negative things especially at this time of year: intense heat, sunburn, photo aging and skin cancer.  We’ve been taught to avoid the sun at all costs, slather on the sunscreen and hide in the shade.

But we also know that the sun is the most reliable source of Vitamin D, which has a multitude of benefits including calcium absorption, regulating insulin function, lowering the risk of chronic disease and even (ironically) the risk of cancer. Sun exposure also lifts your mood and helps you sleep better at night.

You would think that in a tropical country like ours, Vitamin D deficiency wouldn’t be a problem, but that isn’t the case.  A 2014 study by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development found that 3 of 5 Filipinos are Vitamin D deficient, and this is largely due to our tendency to stay indoors during most of the day and actively avoiding the sun.

Studies show that moderate, smart sun exposure is the best way to get all the benefits of sun exposure while minimizing risks.

But what exactly is “smart sun exposure”?

If you’ve been sun-averse for a while, then ease into regular sun exposure to build up your tolerance. In the Philippines where the sun is hot all year-round, start with 5 to 10 minutes a day, and work that up 10 to 20 minutes.  Try to get mid-day sunlight directly on the large areas of your body: the back, arms and legs.

The human body is an awesome thing: it self-regulates and provides all the warning signs you need to know when enough is enough. If you feel uncomfortably hot, then you know it’s time to get out of the sun. If your skin starts to burn then you know you’ve been out there too long and you should dive into the shade. And when you’ve had enough sun, the best natural ways to protect yourself when outdoors are to wear opaque clothing and a hat.

What about sunscreen?  If you intend to stay out in the sun longer than usual, then sunscreen helps, but be picky about it:  not only do many sunscreens contain ingredients that may be harmful to you (such as aluminum or oxybenzone) but some chemicals may harm the oceans as well.

When you think about it, humans were meant to be in the sun.  Our skin was built with all of these receptors to take in and process Vitamin D from the sun.  The sun naturally dictates our hours for waking and sleeping, and being outdoors gives us opportunities to be active and have fun!  Smart sun exposure, rather than sun avoidance, is the way to go.