Why you should get a healthy tan this summer
Spring is here again (unless you are from Duluth or Tahoe-you'll have to wait until next month), and that means it's time for me to commence my annual attack against the dermatologists, sunscreen racketeers, and eyeshade peddlers.
Let's put it right up front so there's no confusion: (1) The sun does not cause melanoma or any other form of fatal cancer. Dermatologists warn that it does, but they have no scientific basis for the assertion. The sun is your friend, but like any good thing, using a little self-control makes it even better. (2) Sunscreen, like kibble for your dog, is detrimental to good health and should be avoided. (3) Sunglasses are also bad for your health unless you wear the full-spectrum variety. The sun does not cause cataracts or other visual problems. The infrared rays from incandescent light bulbs are probably the main cause of cataracts. Use full-spectrum fluorescent lights in your home and office.
The past president of the American Academy of Dermatology said, "Sunscreens are an essential weapon in the fight against skin cancer." That is pure bunkum, and there is no scientific justification for such a statement.
Malignant melanoma is the type of skin cancer everyone worries about. The dermatologists imply that excess sunlight causes this disease. They don't exactly say it, because they know it is not a proven fact, but they imply it. The REAL fact is, it is more likely that a lack of adequate sunlight is a strong factor in the development of melanoma.
Sunscreen won't prevent wrinkles
There's also an interesting parallel between the dramatic rise in melanoma and the use of sun-blocking oils. Of course, an association doesn't necessarily mean a 100 percent cause-and-effect relationship. For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of refrigeration in the past 70 years and there has been a dramatic decrease in basic knowledge accumulated during 12 years of basic education in our schools. But it's hardly likely that this dumbing down of America is due to refrigeration.
Even so, the case against sunscreens isn't just hysterical banter. It is based on some scientific suppositions and a lot of obvious geographic evidence related to geographical areas inhabited by humans and the amount of natural sun exposure they receive.
Sunscreens filter out ultraviolet B rays, which cause tanning. But they do not filter UV A rays efficiently, and those are the rays believed to contribute to skin wrinkling and damage. The so-called sun protection factor (SPF) may be anywhere from 8 to 45, but all it's doing is preventing you from getting a tan, not from getting those bothersome wrinkles. Why hasn't someone mentioned this before? Well, the sunscreen industry is a huge business and it doesn't want you to know about it.
You need sunlight
Kenneth Klein, a New Jersey chemist, makes his living making formulations for the sunscreen industry. He has written chapters in graduate-level chemistry textbooks on sunscreens. When reporter Rebecca Ephraim, RD, asked him about the concerns mentioned above, he replied: "A tan is the body's response to being damaged. Do you know what you call people who sunbathe without sunscreen? Fools!" He says sunscreens are "very safe" and that consumers should not be misled by "unfounded fears."
Well, Kenneth, there are all sorts of fools in this world, and that includes people in the laboratories making useless concoctions for corporations to sell to an uninformed public.
A reasonable amount of sunscreen-free natural sun exposure -not tanning beds, which carry risks of their own-is essential to your health. That's how your body gets the vitamin D it needs to stay healthy-not from fortified "milk" (if you can even call it that after all the processing it has gone through). Kenneth is correct that your skin's pigment is a good indicator of how much sun you've gotten. But a tan doesn't imply too much sun. Just the opposite, actually.
Actions to take:
(1) A good rule of thumb is to stay in the sun until your skin gets just slightly pink, then head back inside. This is a good daily routine to adopt to ensure that your vitamin D levels stay where they need to be.
(2) I have lived in the tropics for a considerable amount of my life and make sure to get my sun ration every day. Call me a fool, but I've never had a problem with skin cancer or any of the other media-hyped diseases supposedly "caused" by the sun. Don't let the anti-sun propagandists scare you away from doing what's really healthy. They're driven by the almighty dollar-not by your health.
"Some Scream About Sunscreen" Conscious Choice magazine, 6/00
"The essential nutrient you need more of-and how to get it absolutely free," Nutrition & Healing newsletter 2003; 10(11): 1-4