Monday, August 27, 2012

Sun Safe

In my lifetime we’ve gone from a tan being the ultimate goal of every summer holiday, and a sign of health and beauty, to having a suspicious love/hate relationship with the sun. Yes we love sunny days, yes we need sun to make the plants grow, but let’s keep it off our skin in case it gives us skin cancer, let’s slather ourselves with strong chemical sun-screens at all times before going outside, let’s protect our eyes with wrap-around sunglasses.

It seems that this devotion to sunscreen has back-fired. Current research suggests that incidences of skin cancer have increased since the general white population took to using sunscreen from the mid 70s onwards. Not only that but some kids are so well protected from the sun that they are suffering from vitamin D deficiency. We need the UV rays in the sun to help our bodies make its own vitamin D. Apparently we also need to absorb full spectrum daylight through our eyes for good health. So sunglasses and filtered prescription sunglasses are having a negative effect.

Living in sunny South Africa we have always been dutifully on the sunscreen bandwagon. Our kids have fair skin, summers here are hot and burny. We’d be bad parents if we didn’t surely? This article has me thinking seriously about re-defining our sun strategies. Perhaps we should reserve the use of sunscreen just for days at the beach rather than for every day going to school? And I should definitely look for a physical sun block instead of a chemical sunscreen. And a new face cream for myself without the chemical SPF ingredients. If you’re interested go and read the article – I’m not going to try and summarize it here, as there’s a lot of information and long scientific names for me to get wrong!

Another article on our need for full spectrum sunlight has me taking off my glasses to go and sit outside in the winter sun for a while, baring my arms to soak up a little vitamin D. This second article on the work of John Nash Ott is based on anecdotal evidence due to the impossibility of getting funding for a controlled scientific study, who’s going to fund a study proving that you can get healthier from free sunlight after all? But it makes sense to me. There are many examples of cancers that slowed their growth or healed once the patient was regularly exposed to full spectrum sunlight.

I guess what it all comes down to is getting some fresh air every day outside in the sunshine, being sensible about how long you stay in the sun and not messing around with artificial chemicals, UV filters and all the rest. Chucking the kids off the computers to go and play outside and build up a natural tan gradually, going for a walk instead of switching on the television... all those usual healthy common sense things, that our parents urged on us when we were kids, and not a quick fix pill in sight.

Are you a sun lover or a shade seeker? Do you use sunscreen all the time or just occasionally?


  1. I don't usually use sunscreen unless I have to be out in full sun during the "bad" hours of noon to 4pm. I had people in the states ask me which vitamin D pill I took? I take the sun pill :) An early morning walk a day with my dog, hanging clothes out to dry in the sun, walking to the bakery...voilà, that's how I get my vitamin D.

  2. I fear the sun, but hate sunscreen. I usually just cover up or seek shade, using sunscreen only for all-day outdoor times. Same on my kids.

    The girls are half Costa Rican, of course, so they may have a greater natural resistance even though they look quite fair. I don't think they've ever really had bad sunburns like I did (we all did) from time to time growing up.

    I remember hearing at one point that it was those bad burns that had the worst long-term impact, although that was years and years ago and the thinking may have changed by now (I didn't read the articles).

  3. Interesting about the Vitamin D pills, Meredith. I guess if you protect yourself too much from the sun that is what you have to do - pay for an artificial version of what you could get for free!

    Jennifer, I agree about bad burns causing the long term damage. The articles were recommending building up a natural tan slowly and gradually without risking bad sunburns.

  4. I have always been a sun-lover and am lucky to have a fairly olive skin that tans easily. But yes, I do wear sunscreen, if only on my decolletage which is seriously not improved by yet more sun (although I think the damage is largely done there...). Hard to get enough sun here in the UK in the winter months - I miss S Africa and its free, year-round supply!

  5. I've never used sunscreen in my life but then living on Merseyside there's not a great deal of it around. :-0 Seriously, I think a sensible approach like you have outlined (only using screen for the beach, seeking physical ones rather than chemical ones and allowing some Vitamin D absorbtion, etc) is the way to go.

    I didn't know about the eyes. I wonder if ordinary glasses (I've worn seriously thick lenses all day every day nearly all my life) reduce the benefical effects of the sun or if its only shaded ones. Sounds like more research is definitely necessary.

    A really interesting post, Kit, thanks.

  6. Dude... megasunscreen user, here. With English, Scottish, and Irish ancestors, I'm practially see-through!

    Come to my place and check out the latest place I wore sunscreen!



Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!