It seems like despite all the media buzz about the sunscreen, a lot of people are still confused when it comes to the harms and benefits of the sun, that’s why I’ve decided to once again clear things out.
As mentioned above there’re some reasons why the exposure of our bodies to the sun is inevitable. UVB radiation is one of the few sources of vitamin D, which is essential to the health of our bones (among other things). At the same time according to Australian Cancer Council (the country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the in the world) excessive levels of sun radiation are strongly linked to the increased risk of getting skin cancer (in Australia between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun). Which means that we’re balancing on a fine line between avoiding cancer and maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D.
The overlooked and misinterpreted fact is that most people probably achieve adequate vitamin D levels through the UVB exposure they receive during typical day-to-day outdoor activities, like biking to work, or waiting for a bus, or going for a walk with a dog. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t need to dedicate any special time or effort to sunbathing. Moreover there is evidence to suggest that prolonged sun exposure does not cause vitamin D levels to continue to increase. So unfortunately there’s no medical reasoning behind spending 10 days of your vacation frying yourself on the beach. To tell the complete truth, you’ll probably do yourself more damage than good.
It has been estimated that fair skinned people can achieve adequate vitamin D levels in summer by exposing the face, arms and hands to only a few minutes of sunlight. In winter when UV radiation levels are less intense, maintenance of vitamin D levels may require two-three hours of sunlight exposure.
Of course I’m not suggesting here that you should lock yourself in for all summer and only go out for a few minutes’ walk around the block. I’m only trying to emphasise how important it is to take protective measures against excessive sun exposure. Here are the most important of them:
- Always wear some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- To protect your yes, face, head, neck and ears – wear a hat and sunglasses.
- Stay in the shade.
- Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense.
and most importantly of all
- Don’t ever leave home without broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen.
Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Apply sunscreen liberally – at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen resulting in only 50-80% of the protection stated on the product.
Remember that sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun or to achieve a suntan. We’ve been brainwashed for so many years about tanned skin looking healthier, which according to the numerous cancer research is completely the opposite of the truth. So in case you have a strong desire to change your skin colour, it is actually much safer to use a fake tanning product in preference to UV radiation: direct sunlight or solarium. Just don’t forget that while fake tan stains the skin a darker colour, it does not provide protection against UV radiation per se.
And the last thing: I hope I don’t need to remind you that solariums emit UV radiation levels up to six times higher than the midday summer sun. This type of exposure can significantly increases the risk of developing melanoma. So even if you’re not yet ready to cancel your two weeks beach vacation in Greece, at least throw away your solarium card and forget that word forever.
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