An introduction to Heliotherapy [Published]

NegrophobeNegrophobe Regular
edited June 2011 in Life

Heliotherapy 101

Heliotherapy is the application of sunbathing as a means of restoring health. Its place in the Hygienic System is an important one. Many great ancient cultures practiced various forms of heliotherapy, the first records of sunbathing come from ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, Babylon, Assyria and Persia. The Egyptians, Babylonians and Assyrians all had sun gardens, and many of these people gave the sun the dignity of a God. The Greeks had solariums which they called helioses, and the great physicians, Hippocrates, recommended the use of sunbathing and equipped his sanatorium on the isle of Cos with a large solarium. Philostratus also claimed that all of the Olympian athletes took sunbaths. The Roman writers, Galen, Cicero, Celus, and Pliny tell of the use of the Roman solariums. Pliny is well known for his remark: "Sol est remediorum maximum"— the sun is the best remedy. Even the old Germanic tribes employed sunbathing.

Waldvogel, of Bohemia, recommended sunbathing in 1775. Le Peyre and Le Cornte focused sunlight on "wounds and tumors" in 1776 with brilliant results. In the early 19th century Cauvin, Dobereiner, Girard, Harterive, and Bonnet carried out numerous experiments to determine the effects of sunshine. The experiments conclusively showed that sunbathing is of value in treating disease that they tried to build a new system of therapeutics based upon the use of the sunbath.

A Swiss natural healer, Arnold Rikli, understood the importance of sunbathing so well that he opened his own healing centre. He employed sunbathing to a great extent, giving him the nickname "Sun doctor," and the rapid recoveries of health which his patients experienced gave heliotherapy its real origin as a sound basic science.

Hygienists in both America and Europe were also using sunbathing in their practice. In Germany Dr. Lahman opened his famous "Sun and Air Cure," an institution devoted exclusively to heliotherapy. In 1872 Biltz, also of Germany, started to employ sunbathing in his sanatorium. In American hygienists Sylvester Graham And R.T. Trail highly recommended sunbathing. Dr. George H. Taylor, Dr. Dio Lewis and Dr. James C. Jackson were their associates. Dr. Taylor made good use sunbathing in effectively treating scrofula; Lewis used it in the treatment of dyspepsia, neuralgia and rheumatism; and Dr. Jackson gave hundreds of his patient’s sunbaths every clear day throughout the summer. The experience of all of the hygienists in their use of sunbathing was so successful that all the questions of doubt in regards to sunbathing were removed. Thorwald Madsen went further in showing that disease, and especially infectious disease, occured most frequently during the seasons where people get the least sunshine. Bronchitis, bronchi-pneumonia,tonsillitis, and Diphtheria, just to name a few all peak in the winter season and fall into insignificance during July and August. He showed that February was the month most conducive to the development of disease; September was the best month from the standpoint of public health.

Not much has changed. Heliotherapy has also been used for the treatment of severe wounds, such as those experienced in world wars even; Bernhard of Samden, an old surgeon practiced this to cure the wounds of German soldiers in World War I. The results were remarkable.

The history of heliotherapy alone provides us with ample evidence to its beneficial effectiveness a how effective sunbathing is in remedying certain diseases, chief of which is tuberculosis. However, to ensure you sunbathe only to receive benefits and not do yourself any harm in the process, it's not as simple as just going out and laying in the sun. There are precautions you need to take, and in this guide, sun cream/block isn't going to be one of them.

Hanson et al. (2006), found that the amount of harmful reactive oxygen species was measured in untreated and in sunscreen-treated skin. In the first 20 minutes the film of sunscreen had a protective effect and the number of ROS species was smaller. After 60 minutes, however, the amount of absorbed sunscreen was so high that the amount of ROS was higher in the sunscreen-treated skin than in the untreated skin.

Here are some links for further reading on sunblock and sun cream:
Potential health risks of sunscreen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Within this guide, we must consider that moderation is the key. Old, fair skinned and those in bad health should only spend a small amount of time in the sun, in order to work towards the desired effect on the body, much less time than someone who is young and darker skinned. Working up on your sun exposure can take time and needs to be done progressively, adding a few more minutes each session. Sticking to this routine will keep you from getting sun burn. You need to work your way up and let your body get used to the sun. The recommendations for the first time sunbed user is 2 minutes, with natural sunlight I'd recommend the first timer to begin with 5 minutes the first day, 10 minutes the second day and so on, with the aim of working up to an hour or so per session.

The best time to sunbathe in summer is in the morning, around 10am, when the sun is not as severe as in the afternoons. The sunshine in the afternoons are mainly infrared rays which don't do nearly as much good as ultraviolet rays. From 10am - noon is the best time to catch some rays, as the sun is in full shine.

Sunbaths can also be taken in the winter times as well. Dr A. Rollier, M.D., director of the Institute of Heliotherapy at Leysin, Switzerland is most well known for this. At Rollier's institute the patients are given sunbaths in the winter as well as in the summer, in the mountain regions there is a greater brilliance of the sun at higher altitudes. The use of sunshine in winter time increases the body's resistance to the cold. Pigmented skin regulates itself more effectively to the warm summer weather also. In the winter, the skin will generally feel warm even if it's exposed to cold air; whearas in the summer the pigmented skin radiates heat more rapidly and in hot weather it is cooler than the unpigmented skin.

Now, the rules are the opposite in winter as they are for summer, for sunbathing. The mornings are too cold to sunbathe, even for a few minutes, so the optimum time to take in some rays is at mid-day. The beneficial rays do not shine until later on during the day. The snow acts as a good reflector too. Do not assume that just because the air is cold that the sun is not affecting you, do not spend too long in the sun.

As well as sun creams and sunblocks, sunglasses are also not necessary and it's preferable that they're not used whilst sunbathing. Instead you should close your eyes and let the beneficial lights seep in through your eyelids. Sun glasses are cool for an accessory and checking out womens' breasts unquestioned and when driving, but not when sunbathing.


  • Gary OakGary Oak Regular
    edited May 2011
    What are some general benefits? I know you said that it helps treat wounds and diseases, but what about people with generally healthy lives?
  • NegrophobeNegrophobe Regular
    edited May 2011
    The skin is primarily benefited by sunbathing. Well-tanned skin is firm and strong and at the same time possesses a soft, velvety texture. It is good for cutting down the number of pimples and blemishes of all kinds (although genetics of course plays a major part). The sun smoothens the skin and removes small wrinkles. It is a prerequisite to greater beauty.

    The sun is valuable as a catalytic agent which creates changes in the chemistry of the blood. Calcium and phosphorus in the blood varies to the amount of sunshine the body gets. The greater the amount of sunshine, the greater the amounts of calcium and phosphorus which are made available for the body. It also helps all forms of anemia.
  • ducklipsducklips Regular
    edited May 2011
    I have heard that sunbathing also helps raise serotonin levels and in general makes you happier and feel good. is this true? (not to forget Vit. D and the benefits of that.)
  • thewandererthewanderer Regular
    edited May 2011
    Phototherapy, or using different types of light rather than just sunlight, has it's uses as well. Red light specifically can greatly accelerate the healing process.
  • edited June 2011
    Is there a heliotherapeutic treatment for solar keratosis?
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