The commonly held assumption that both applying sunscreen and staying out of the sun act as a protection against melanoma has not stood up to recent studies reported in a dermatological journal. Dr John Cannell a leading authority on sun exposure and vitamin D shed additional light on what several previous studies had already confirmed: that appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent some cancers. Strangely, (or perhaps naturally!) sun exposure, which has been demonised for decades, has actually been found to decrease incidence of melanoma.
How can this be? While experts are still recommending caution and common sense when going out in the sun, the blocking of the sun’s beneficial rays has been shown to cause a decrease in the body’s production of vitamin D, a potent anti-cancer agent. The research shows that a low level of vitamin D is a major risk factor for melanoma.
Also coming to light is the fact that many of the unnatural chemicals used to create some sunscreens, are in themselves damaging to the body and likely to promote cancer themselves. This, coupled with a decrease of natural Omega 3 oils and a sharp increase in Omega 6 oils (fatty fried food) in our diet has been shown by many researchers to be heavily implicated in a dramatic increase in some cancers that we have seen in the last 30 years.
The best sunscreen is functional, protective clothing, followed by the more natural sunscreens which simply have zinc oxide as a blocker, suspended in beneficial natural plant extracts. These sunscreens and some great outdoor clothes have evolved over the last few years to be quite functional and effectiveat avoiding excess exposure, and definitely less damaging for your skin.
The Vitamin D Factor
Vitamin D is formed in your skin by exposure to sunlight. The vitamin D then goes to the genes in your skin where it helps to prevent the abnormalities that excess ultraviolet light can cause. Avoiding the sun too much, living and working indoors, or completely covering up with sunscreen can leave you without this built-in cancer protection.
Vitamin D does not have just a slight impact on cancer risk, it can cut your risk by as much as 60% by increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells, reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells and reducing the growth rate of new blood vessels that can feed dormant tumours.
Rays that Harm and Rays that Heal
So it seems that having a little bit of sun, just the way that Nature designed, may be a good thing. But what about those UVA/UVB rays, and when is the best time to get your vitamin D exposure?
UVB is the beneficial vitamin D producing ultraviolet radiation whilst UVA is considered the bad guy.
- UVA penetrates the skin deeply thus causing more damage.
- UVA is constant during all daylight hours throughout the entire year, which explains why you can get sunburned on a cloudy day, and if you are already sunburned, that the sun still stings even just before sunset.
- Beneficial UVB rays are found in greatest concentration between 10 AM and 2 PM (the time that we were told to stay out of the sun)
- Unprotected exposure during this time for around 15 minutes on a good percentage of skin has been shown to dramatically increase protective vitamin D levels.
It is still very important not to get burned, as our bodies naturally tell us, through pain, that this is not a good thing, but planning to get some regulated exposure to the sun is certainly a very natural way to boost vitamin D levels and enhance your health.
I absolutely love a good body surf, and generally spend one or two weeks at Stradbroke Island each Christmas, recharging the batteries, getting into Nature and reliving the fishing and surfing passions of my boyhood. By wearing a longsleeved surf shirt and long board shorts I have been able to limit the use of natural sunscreen to just my face, neck, the back of my hands and lower legs. This contrasts dramatically to my memories of standing on the beach in a pair of speedos, and being smothered top to bottom in UV Cream by my mother.
Finding That Balance
So it seems that getting out and about and enjoying a bit of sunshine can not only make you feel good, but also can help your health long-term. Around 15 minutes of exposure between 10 AM and 2 PM can provide adequate quantities of vitamin D to maintain and promote health and protect against melanoma. It is now fairly clear that complete avoidance of the sun is nearly a guarantee that you will suffer some form of health complications in the future.