Summer is here so let’s get you prepared with some information on sunlight. The sun is bad for us, correct? If we’re sending our children out to play we must apply strong sunscreen. If we get too much sun we will get skin cancer!
Now let me tell you, all of these things are incorrect and can actually lead you to skin cancer! If you have not let your pasty white legs see the light of day in years, I have good news for you (and everyone else around you who has actually seen them).
First, we need to understand the difference between UVA and vitamin D producing UVB sun rays. Although both cause tanning and burning, and UVB does so more rapidly, UVA rays are more damaging because they penetrate the skin deeper and cause more photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancer (melanoma). The “experts” that tell you to stay out of the sun fail to mention
that regular and safe exposure to UVB from either the sun or certain tanning beds actually allows vitamin D to be formed in your skin. Vitamin D is extremely important because it directly regulates the genes in your skin that actually prevent up to 16 types of cancer! Sunlight can produce up to 20,000 units of vitamin D in one short exposure. In comparison, it is recommended that people avoiding the sun should be taking 5,000 units of vitamin D per day. That is the equivalent of 50 glasses of milk or ten supplement tablets each day.
And a good level of sun exposure actually helps to prevent skin cancer. Many studies have shown that melanoma occurrence decreases with greater sun exposure but can be increased by using sunscreens. A February 2005 BBC news report discussed a research study that found patients WITH melanoma who also had higher levels of sun exposure were less likely to die and were less prone to an aggressive tumor type than other melanoma patients. In fact, recent research has shown an epidemic of skin cancer in INDOOR workers! Since 1940, increased rates of melanoma are due to indoor workers being exposed to UVA light coming through windows but missing out on good UVB exposure and subsequently having much lower vitamin D levels. You will be reducing the benefits of this natural cancer protection by avoiding the sun, getting only minimal exposure, or putting sunscreen on in heavy doses every time you go out.
With this evidence, you can see how sunscreens and sun avoidance might not necessarily be the best thing for you. But there should be questions rolling around in your head now, such as: “What time of the day is my best chance to get UVB rays?” “How do I know how much sun is enough?” “Are you saying all sunscreens are bad?”
The midday sun is best! UVA rays that cause more long-term damage are constant throughout the entire daylight hours while UVB rays are low in the morning and evening but highest at midday. The optimum time to get the cancer-fighting vitamin D production is between the hours of 10 am to 2 pm, since that is when you will need the shortest period of exposure.
How long should you stay out in the sun? As my father would always say, “Everything in moderation.” You must be careful about the length of your sun exposure. This means you only need enough sun each day to turn your skin the lightest shade of pink. This may only be a few minutes for some of you. For example, fair-skinned people can get these benefits in only 10-20 minutes. Inversely proportional, the darker your skin the longer exposure you will need to optimize your vitamin D levels. Once you have reached this color, your body will not make any additional vitamin D and any additional exposure will only cause harm and damage to your skin.
When you do use a sunscreen, you should use one that contains non-toxic chemicals that block BOTH UVA and UVB rays. The two best ingredients that block UVB and the more damaging UVA rays are titanium and zinc oxide. These two ingredients have been used safely for the last 75 years.
Now you are armed with good information on how to use the sun properly this summer.