Sunscreens, sunblocks, sun-tan lotions and moisturizers - the stores are full of them. Hundreds of types, brands and chemical formulations all working from the same premise: The sun's rays are
poison. Block them out! This attitude is on the extreme side and is brought about by the rise in skin cancer Despite the devastating press about the sun s harmful effects, the sun oilers important
and vital health benefits, and to protect ourselves from the potential downside, just a few common-sense rules are required - then one does not have to walk on the beach slathered head to fool
in creamy white curds of zinc oxide.
First of all take a breather from all the anti-sun rhetoric; otherwise, you will never get a clear picture of the situation. To ask an obvious (hut not often asked) question: "How safe is the
sunscreen you're using?" Could the sunscreen used - to reduce the amount and intensity of those cancer-causing rays actually be causing cancer itself* Well, you might want lo lake another breath
here because in some cases the answer to the last question could be "Yes" Many sunscreen preparations contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), a common ultraviolet B (UVB) sun-blocking agent. In
and of itself PABA should be relatively safe. Some research has shown though that this ingredient can be chemically altered by the sun's radiation into a carcinogenic chemical. Holy irony. Batman!
Those Ocean Lotions
Many of the lotions on the market designed for afternoons at the beach block out the UVB rays but do less of a job (if any) blocking out ultraviolet A (UVA) wavelengths. The sun protection factor
(SPF) rating on the bottle of lotion refers only to the product s ability to block out the UVB rays. However, the UVA wavelengths make up 90 to 95 percent of ultraviolet light. So the higher SPF
number could lure a sunbather into a false sense of security, thereby causing exposure to an even higher load of UVA radiation - not a good situation because the I VA light rays are mosl associated
with malignant melanoma.
What then should you use to block out the UVA rays? Yes, full-spectrum blockers arc one option, but how *iull" are they really? Titanium oxide-based blockers and other types block out about
one-half the UVA rays, but the purported benefit of these products to prevent skin cancer is a presumption as this benefit has yet to be scientifically substantiated.
Here is a radical suggestion some doctors are proposing to get healthy protection from both UVA and UVB rays: Get a tan, but sensibly of course. No burning of the skin ever! Get out of the sun as
soon as you redden, and build up your tan slowly day by day.
Another benefit lo getting a safe tan is getting vitamin D. No one gives this vitamin much thought any more since every canon and bag of milk is fortified with it Vitamin D is also added to other
commercially prepared foods. The problem of getting enough vitamin I), though, is not so simple. For one thing, excess buildup of vitamin D in the body is toxic. When vitamin D is taken as a dietary
supplement, without a prescription, treatment taken by mouth is actually unregulated even though the bottle lists a recommended daily amount. However, when exposed to sunlight, your body will
manufacture the amount of vitamin D it needs and no more. When ingesting vitamin D, there is no cutoff mechanism at all. Excess vitamin D can result in weakness, excess calcium in the blood,
calcification of body tissue, development of atherosclerosis, kidney stones and elevated cholesterol. Active vitamin D, which is made in your skin when it is exposed to sunlight, offers important
health benefits, which will be discussed later.
Excessive and prolonged exposure to the sun will obviously damage and age your skin. However, sensible, gradual and slow tanning for short periods, backed up by dietary antioxidants to prevent free
radicals caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays, is the way to go. Vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, alpha lipoic acid, selenium and coenzyme Q10 are all such antioxidants that will help protect the body
and skin from damage.
There are three types of skin cancer: squamous (surface or superficial); basal cell (affecting the bottom layer of skin); and melanoma (deep in the pigment-producing cells), which is the most serious.
In the last few decades the incidence of these cancers has increased tremendously, and so have the use of UVB sunblockers. Research has shown that exposing laboratory mice to sunlight (i.e. both UVA
and UVB rays) produced squamous cancer (the least serious form) in 80 percent of the exposed animals; while of those mice exposed to UVB rays only, 17 percent developed this type of cancer. UVA
radiation, the light rays most of the sunblockers do not address, is the real culprit in squamous cell cancer. UVB rays, even in high doses, by themselves did not produce the serious melanoma skin
Aside from the faulty design of the majority of sunblockers, a real no-no is tanning beds. The beds' "safe-tanning" UVA radiation is, in fact, not safe.
Using the Sun to Fight Skin Cancer
The active form of vitamin D is produced by unprotected skin being exposed to UVB rays. Research has shown that active vitamin D can suppress the growth and spread of malignant melanoma cells. This
is why the lowest incidence of cancer is near the equator and why, as you move toward more sunless climes, the incidence of cancer increases. Active vitamin D inhibits cancer growth in the breast
tissue as well as in the colon and prostate.
Active, sun-produced vitamin D is a powerful anticancer element. The trick is to get this vitamin's benefits while escaping skin damage. Short exposure to the sun a few minutes a day, without using
sunblock, can accomplish this feat.
Other benefits of natural sunlight include a general increase in metabolism as well as increases in thyroid production, testosterone and growth hormone. Epinephrine and norepinephrine levels also
rise. The production of natural vitamin D by the action of sunlight on skin is a gen-eral tonic. Vitamin D depletion, on the other hand, can lead to poor glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia and
The Sunlight-MS Connection
Every year about 8,000 adults in the US are stricken by multiple sclerosis (MS). This disease attacks the nerves and muscles, and though there is no cure at present, more is being learned about how
MS proceeds. Undoubtedly there is a genetic predisposition to MS in some people, but curiously, many who have the genetic propensity do not come down with the disease. The latter fact has motivated
researchers to look for a possible environmental trigger.
The sunlight-MS connection was first suspected when studies on MS revealed a startling geographic pattern. Similar to cancer, MS was found to be nearly non-existent near the equator, but the incidence
of MS climbed sharply as you moved further away from the equator toward either pole into less sun-intense areas. Even in studies where groups of people of the same ethnoracial background were compared,
such as in Switzerland, the incidence of MS was found to be much higher among those in the country's lower region than in the higher altitude where the intensity of the UV rays was greater. Could
active vitamin D be the key?
In 1997, at the University of Wisconsin, researcher C.E. Hayes used mice to prove that MS could be prevented with active vitamin D. It should be reiterated that active vitamin D is not anything that
is available in a pill - only from the sun's action on skin.
If you have avoided all exposure to sunlight, an initial dip in your immune system will occur when you begin sunning yourself. This dip is why some people who have the herpes simplex virus experience
skin eruptions from being out in the sun; however, after regular, safe, short doses of sunlight, the immune response returns to normal after a few months along with all the benefits of sunlight, which
then can be utilized.
Remember: Never allow your skin to burn! Cover yourself up if your skin reddens. Be careful when getting sun-exposed if you are taking medication as some drugs sensitize the skin, making it more
vulnerable than usual. Check with your doctor or pharmacist whether or not whatever you are taking can make your skin unusually sensitive to sunlight. Here is a list of some medications known to do
Medications That Make You Sensitive To Sunlight
(tetracycline and sulfa-families)
antiseptic agents containing halogen
heart rhythm medication
If you are taking any of these medications, limit your exposure to sun to two minutes a side, just as if you were starting out in the sun for the first time. Keep your skin free of lotions, soap,
cosmetics and even perfume - some of their ingredients might promote burning, and the oil in some of those products, when exposed to UV light, could form lipid peroxides that are carcinogenic. Apply a
moisturizer after you sunbathe.
The bad press the sun has been getting has been a function of our limited and incremental knowledge about the sun's effects on us. At every stage we are quick to think we have the whole picture of this
topic but we don't. At the first hint of a possible downside to sun exposure, we throw in the towel and claim any exposure to the sun is bad. We later discover that nature is amazingly and maddeningly
complex. Sometimes achieving good health is simply a matter of knowing when to turn over - the skill to balance caution with opportunity.