With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in July 2020.
Have you had a depressing and demoralizing few weeks, or years? One of the best ways I’ve found to shake off the blues is to stand on the side of the shallow end of my pool, my arms folded on the deck, my back facing the sun. As the rays absorb into my skin, stress melts away and calming, almost-euphoric vibes percolate through my brain. It feels like my body is a battery that the sun is literally recharging.
You’ve probably had this experience whilst soaking up some rays too. And yet for a lot of folks, it’s an experience they can’t unequivocally enjoy, that’s tinged with some guilt. Sure, lying out in the sun feels good in the moment, but so does smoking a cigarette. We’ve been taught that sun exposure is bad for you — that it causes skin cancer and should be avoided as much as possible.
While sun exposure does indeed carry some dangers, we have arguably taken its risk too far. In all the warnings about the sun, the fact that its rays boost both mental and physical health in some very significant ways — and our ancient instinct as to the truth of this — has gotten lost. A restoration of our relationship with the great fiery ball in the sky is in order.
Peoples in every civilization around the world, from Mexico and India to Egypt and Germany, once worshipped the sun as part of their religion. While you need not bend a literal knee to the life-giving star at the center of our solar system, you ought to consider making sunbathing a part of your daily ablutions, turning the catching of rays into a regular ritual, putting the sun back in Sunday.
How Soaking in Sunlight for Health Fell Out of Favor
As the most democratic resource on the planet, an inextinguishable source of warmth and light, and the celestial power which gives life to everything on earth, humans have quite naturally always been drawn to the sun, and have attributed health and healing properties to its rays for millennia.
The ancient Egyptians thought if you exposed your balding head to the sun, it would help hair regrow. The Greek physician Hippocrates recommended sunbathing for its healthifying effects, and many aristocratic Greeks and Romans had solariums in their homes to partake in this solar therapy.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, doctors used the vitamin D-generating effect of sunlight to effectively treat and prevent tuberculosis, as well as rickets, which became a bone-weakening scourge in some countries as urbanized children began to spend less time outside. Up through the middle of the 20th century, sanitariums and health resorts utilized sunbathing and UV lamps to treat all kinds of ailments, as well as to simply increase the wellness of the already hale and hearty.
Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, however, solar rays began to be associated with danger and death. Starting in the 1960s, dermatologists began sounding the alarm on the link between sunlight and skin cancer. Campaigns began in the United States to get people to reduce the time they spent in the sun, and to slather on sunscreen whenever they were going to be spending a significant amount of time exposed to its rays.
By the end of the 20th century, dermatologists began to recommend that people not only put on sunscreen if they were going to the beach, but to apply it every day as a matter of course because, the thinking went, even a little bit of sun is potentially cancer-causing. Plus, the