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"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day." Genesis 1:1-19
This is the Bible's description of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars. The sun is 1.3 million times bigger than the earth. Sunlight coming to earth represents only about one part in 2 billion of the total amount of energy radiating from the sun, and yet this is sufficient to supply our planet with about 4.69-million horsepower per square mile.
These waves of electromagnetic energy, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, take about 8 minutes to cover the 93 million miles to earth. Sunlight consists of several types of energy, including cosmic, gamma, and x-rays, ultraviolet and infrared light, and visible light of many colors. The rainbow colors of visible light make our earth and the things God created beautiful to look at.
The sun's rays vaporize the water which will eventually fall as rain and snow, filling our rivers and reservoirs and making possible the generation of hydroelectric energy. Solar energy is also stored in wood, coal, oil, and natural gas, providing us with heat and energy when we need it. We also have photovoltaic and passive solar systems that allow us to harness sunlight directly.
The warming infrared rays of the sun, or heat from various sources, is useful in the treatment of neuralgia, neuritis, arthritis, and sinusitis. Heat is usually good in the treatment of any pain. Warmth also helps bring healthful, natural body oils to the surface of the skin, keeping it smooth and protected.
Almost all of the food we eat depends upon sunlight to grow. In fact, the energy our bodies receive from the food we eat is, in a sense, solar energy that the plant has stored in the form of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
The ultraviolet rays are antiseptic and are capable of killing bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts, molds, and mites in air and water, and on surfaces. Even reflected light from north windows can destroy bacteria in the dust on window sills and floors. Since most window glass filters about 95 per cent of the ultraviolet rays, it would be well if they could be opened and the curtains pulled back for a period of time each day. Ultraviolet light also kills germs on our skin. This makes sunbathing a useful treatment for many skin diseases, such as diaper rash, athlete's foot, psoriasis, acne, boils, or impetigo.
Sunlight also toughens and thickens the skin, making it less susceptible to injury and infection. Regular, controlled, moderate exposure to sunlight, instead of damaging the skin and aging it, actually protects the skin by building up a natural resistance to the harmful effects of ultraviolet light, while giving it a nice velvety texture. Later on we will discuss some precautions, but first, more benefits.
Ultraviolet light converts cholesterol in the skin to vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for the proper handling of calcium in the body and thus in the prevention of rickets and adult osteomalacia. Vitamin D is also added to some of the food we eat. It might be possible to get too much of the vitamin this way; but not when we get it from sunlight, since the body makes only what we need. Getting out in the sun, therefore, is a good way to lower cholesterol levels in our bodies. If we expose six square inches of our skin to direct sunlight for one hour per day, we will obtain our minimum daily requirement for vitamin D.
Sunlight helps to regulate almost all our bodily processes. Starting from the top (our minds) and working down, sunlight has been shown to increase our sense of well-being and to improve sleep. Ultraviolet light coming into our eyes stimulates the pineal gland, which helps to regulate our activity cycles. It has bean said, "Dark nights and bright days will help keep the hormones in the body functioning properly." In one experiment hyperactivity in school children was decreased when the classroom's fluorescent lights were changed to full spectrum lighting. Thyroid function may improve. Hormone imbalances tend to level out.
Resting heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rates are all decreased after a sunbath. This result is especially true if any of them were high to begin with. Blood sugar levels can be stabilized. (NOTE: Diabetics must use extra caution in the sun, as they are at greater risk of permanent injury from sunburn.)
Sunlight stimulates the production of more red blood cells, increasing the oxygen content of the blood, and thus increasing muscular endurance. It also stimulates production of more white blood cells and enhances oxygen utilization, which helps the body maintain its defense against disease. While certain skin cancers are associated with exposure to sunlight, the incidence of some of the more serious internal cancers seems to decrease.
Appetite may be improved, along with our assimilation, elimination, and metabolic processes. Poisonous chemicals and heavy metals are removed from the bloodstream faster, while levels of healthy trace minerals are actually increased in the blood. Muscular strength has been increased, even in those unable to exercise. Sunlight has even been found helpful in the treatment of stomach ulcers.
As with most good things, there are some precautions to consider. The main concern is that of burning the skin. Normally, invisible pigment in the inner layer of the skin is converted to melanin, a much darker pigment that tends to reflect the sun's rays. But this process takes time. Blue-eyed blonds and red-haired people are not as adept at this, and these are the very ones who tend to bum easiest. The amount of natural pigment in the skin is the most important factor. For this reason Blacks have only about 20 percent as much skin cancer as Whites. For this same reason they also have more rickets, due to a lessened vitamin D production. The amount of tan acquired from previous exposure is a factor, too. A good tan may screen out up to 90 percent of the burning rays. Also, there are persons who for some reason are supersensitive to even a brief exposure to the sun. Some drugs, deodorants, soaps, cosmetics, and beverage alcohol can sensitize the skin to sunlight, making it more sensitive.
Excessive unsaturated or polyunsaturated, refined fat in the diet and in suntan oils and skin lotions can lead to the formation of free radicals. These may be contributing factors in the formation of some cancer. An abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the diet provides substances that help to prevent the formation of free radicals and protect against their harmful effects, and are thus important in order for the body to properly handle exposure to sunlight.
Overexposure to sunlight promotes scaliness, dryness, reddening, roughness, leatheriness of the skin, and wrinkles. These conditions are not due to any normal aging process, because the unexposed areas on the same individuals do not show these signs. In fact, no aging normally occurs in the skin until up to age 50. The capillaries in the skin are fifty times thinner than hair and can be permanently injured from sunburn, suffering some loss of their elasticity, bruising and breaking easier.
Overheating can lead to heat exhaustion or sunstroke. The big concern, though, is skin cancer. This is the most common cancer, and 80 percent occur on exposed areas of the face, head, neck, arms, and hands. Ultraviolet light from sunlight is believed by many to be the chief culprit. The National Cancer Institute estimates 300,000 cases of two types (basal cell and squamous cell) and 9,000 of the more deadly type (malignant melanoma). Malignant melanoma tends to occur on the lesser exposed parts of the body and is, thus, not clearly linked to sun exposure. These three combined lead to between 6,500 and 7,500 deaths every year-about 2 percent of all cancer deaths. Incidents and deaths for the first two are increasing in certain areas due to increased sun exposure. The key to prevention is to avoid sunburn and overexposure.
Wet skin burns more easily than dry. Sweating is good, however, as it cleanses and cools the skin. Although water is a poor reflector (reflecting ~5 percent, the same as grass), ultraviolet light does pass through it, so you can burn in the water. Dry sand reflects about 17 percent, white sand considerably more. Snow reflects up to 85 percent. Combine snow with high altitudes, where the atmosphere is thinner, allowing more sunlight through, and you have the makings of a good sunburn while you are skiing or mountain climbing. Only 1/3 of burning rays come directly from the sun, the other 2/3 come to us reflected from all directions.
Early detection is the next line of defense against skin cancer. If you suspect a precancerous condition, such as a mole or any other lesion that grows, changes color, spreads, or bleeds, get in touch with a physician for evaluation. He or she can best determine the type of lesion and the most effective form of treatment.
Remember, even if you burn only once a year, in fifty years you have tallied 50 burns. This accumulated effect increases the risk of skin cancer. Any excessive exposure can he considered as setting up precancerous conditions in the skin.
Max Benefit, Minimum Risk
How can we best use sunlight to obtain the benefits while minimizing the risks? The first rule is tan, don't burn. Take into consideration the time of year and the hour of the day. As the sun moves more directly overhead, its intensity increases.
Ordinary glass does not allow much of the ultraviolet light to pass through. Smoke, smog, and clothing block a large proportion of these rays. However, since clouds filter only about 20 percent, one needs to beware of sunburn even on a cloudy day, if it is during the season and time of day when the sun is directly overhead. When sunbathing, unaccustomed persons should plan their exposures, keeping them short at first (2 minutes per side) and gradually increasing the duration and frequency of exposure.
Any color change in the skin beyond the slightly pink stage is a sign you have overdone it. The therapeutic effects occur just below the level of turning red. Remember that it takes time for skin color to change. Get out of the sun before you turn pink. If you don't, it may be too late. Also the benefits are enhanced with shorter, more frequent exposures. When you've decided that you have had enough sun, the best sunscreen to wear is clothing. Chemical sunscreens applied to the skin may also be used. They are not necessary when sunbathing, and neither are creams or oils. Clean, dry skin is best for sunbathing. Opaque ointments like zinc oxide are the best for total blockage to susceptible areas like the nose, and they do not wash off in water like other screens that usually need to be reapplied.
Want a Tan?
If you cannot tan—don't try. Cover the body or use sun screens. If you can tan—do it gradually, and never allow yourself to bum. Solariums may be built that allow for privacy and protection from winds, so that you can sunbathe even in winter. Clear plexiglas, acrylite, or other plastics that are ultraviolet transmitting (UVT) labeled, as thin as possible (preferably less than one-eighth inch thick), would be the materials to use if a roof is needed.
Ultraviolet lamps may be used indoors. Fluorescent-type tubes are best. They should emit between 295 and 4,000 nanometers, not below 295, as this is detrimental. Always protect the eyes, genitals, and nipples, and be careful not to fall asleep under the lamp. Follow the instructions carefully. Use a timer or alarm clock for safety.
A helpful motto to remember when sunbathing is "Not too much—as often as possible." Combine productive exercise in the fresh air and sunshine for a really healthful trio.
The Scriptures Say:
The Scriptures declare, "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." Ecclesiastes 11:7
Our Saviour, God's Son, is linked with the sun and all of its benefits. As we see the sun in the sky above, let us also remember that "unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." Malachi 4:2
Compiled by Kurt Unglaub, M.P.H.
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Web page created: 1/26/99 Updated: 12/22/2003