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Vision Myth #5 – The sun is bad for your eyes and ultraviolet light should be blocked out at all times.
The sun has gotten a pretty bad rap in the past half-century. We hear it all around, that the sun ‘poses a dangerous threat to your skin and your eyes’ and considerable measures must be taken to prevent it from harming you. Lots of the hype has been funded by the sunblock, sunglass, and optical industries. Medical professionals advise people to avoid exposure to ultraviolet light by slathering their skin with sunscreen and by wearing sunglasses at all times when outdoors. Modern day sunglasses and prescription lenses block out 99-100% of UVA and UVB light. Eye doctors tout that the sun is a causer of many vision problems including cataracts, pterygium, macular degeneration and eye cancers. Indeed, there is some truth in their claims and ultraviolet light can be harmful. In excess it can burn the skin and damage the retina. However, just because something in excess can be harmful does not mean it needs to be eliminated altogether. Instead, it is important to find a healthy balance of not too little and not too much.
The scientific discoveries of Dr. John Ott, the father of photobiology, helped establish the idea that humans require a trace amount of ultraviolet light in order to thrive. Full-spectrum sunlight is necessary on every level of life, all the way down to our cell’s ability to properly reproduce. Not only do you need sufficient sunlight externally on your skin, but also internally through your eyes. Sunlight entering through your eyes regulates your brain chemistry and glands that produce crucial hormones like melatonin, serotonin, insulin, cortisol and dopamine that all affect your moods, daily rhythms and sleep cycles. When you wear sunglasses that block out all of the beneficial sunlight you can end up developing “mal-illumination”, a term coined by Ott himself, which is an environmental condition characterized by the absence of full-spectrum light and vitamin D. It is a condition found primarily in industrialized countries when people’s lifestyles force them to be indoors for the majority of the day. Does this day sound familiar at all: wake up, get ready, put on sunglasses when you leave your house, drive to work, remain indoors under artificial lights from 9 am to 5 pm, put your sunglasses back on when you leave work, return home and stay under artificial lights for hours after the sun sets. Nowhere in that routine did full-spectrum sunlight get a chance to enter your eyes. After months and years of not getting enough trace amounts of ultraviolet light, your physiological functions fail and your internal clock falls out of harmony with nature. Restlessness, insomnia, fatigue and even depression can result from mal-illumination.
Human eyes evolved under full-spectrum sunlight. Eyes are the only organs in the body constituted to receive light. They feed on light. The retina is covered with millions of photoreceptor cells (light sensitive cells) called rods and cones that depend on stimulation by light. Without light stimulation they perish and vision dims. Only in the past century has a war been waged against the sun, which creates and sustains all life on our planet, including us. The Bates Method was developed before the sun became an enemy and is very pro natural sunlight. The Bates Method provides several “Sun Drills” that teach how to gently take in more full-spectrum sunlight in a very safe and effective way. I never instruct my vision students to look directly at the sun. Instead, I teach people how to accept sunlight indirectly and in constant movement so that the light never stays on one part of the eye for more than a moment. The most basic sun drill is called sunning and is demonstrated in the video below. In short, sunning consists of closing your eyes, facing the sun and pivoting your head left to right for several minutes. The light from the sun stimulates your retina while the warmth from the sun relaxes all your muscles, tendons and nerves. Sunlight increases circulation to your eyes and face and the sunning helps retrain the involuntary muscles that open and close your pupils properly. It also guarantees you get your daily dose of vitamin D.
When I began learning more about the health benefits of getting more sun, I stopped wearing sunscreen and sunglasses altogether. I started wearing hats instead, became more conscious of the time I spent in the sun and sought out more shade when available. Sunglasses certainly have their time and place, mainly in environments with high levels of glare like snow, water or roads when the sun is low, and can be used as tools to prevent over-exposure. However, they should be treated as crutches that should only be used in times of emergency. Just like prescription lenses, sunglasses can become addictive for users and can lead to light sensitivity. Ideally, you want to reach a point where you can be outside on a sunny day without wearing sunglasses and without squinting or straining your eyes. You want to keep your eyes relaxed in the sun and absorb the healing properties it has to offer. It doesn’t take very much sunlight at all to get the light stimulation and vitamin D you need, so don’t overdo it. Even just a few minutes a day will help get you going in the right direction.