Sunshine and Health: the Burning Issues

If we’re honest, we all covet the skins of those beautiful natural-looking tanned bodies that have us covering our white bits with shame wishing there was an emergency sun-bed nearby so we could play catch-up.

Yes, summer is (theoretically) here, and many of us will be seeking some sunshine to ensure those newly-toned muscles we’ve been developing look even more appealing at our next Hip Hop Workout®.

Yet, many sun worshippers will have a nagging fear at the back of our minds: are those rays we’re soaking up actually doing us harm? Even the most flippant among us are picking up scare stories about increased skin cancer risk, accelerated ageing and sun creams that aren’t as protective as they claim to be.

What’s all the Fuss?

The fuss is about the ultra-violet (UV) radiation that comes from the sun; specifically, it is about the 3% of that radiation that actually manages to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere (thanks partly to our old friend the Ozone layer).

Most of the UV radiation we are exposed to is known as long-wave UV, or UVA. While this is the least dangerous form of ultra-violet, it does have the ability to alter chemical bonds deep within our body. This can lead to collagen destruction (ageing the skin), Vitamin A destruction and the creation of harmful chemicals that can damage DNA in the skin. This indirect DNA damage increases the risk of skin cancers.

Then we have our old friend, medium-wave or UVB radiation. This directly damages DNA, causing our skin to produce melanin in an attempt to soak up the rays and protect itself from damage. Melanin is responsible for that all-important tan and when our skin stops producing it – we burn, putting us at greater risk of skin cancer.

It’s Not all Bad News

Before you give up sunbathing altogether as a bad idea, researchers in the US and Norway (not renowned for its sunshine) have found evidence to support what we would all like to believe – UVB might be doing us far more good than harm.

Their study found that Australians (definitely spoiled in the sun stakes) produced over three times more Vitamin D than people living north of the equator; they also found that incidences of internal cancers were lower and those who did contract cancer were less likely to die of it. Not only does the sun produce Vitamin D, it is the primary source of this important nutrient.

To the relief of sunbathers worldwide, these researchers concluded that the small increase in mainly non-lethal skin cancers was outweighed by the increased protection against more dangerous internal cancers. Of course, you should still be responsible and avoid getting burnt, so don’t forget the sun block.

Some Facts About Sun Cream

Before you do your packing, it is worth being aware that the SPF rating on your sun block only applies to UVB radiation. This means you could be absorbing lots of UVA radiation without even knowing about it. Broad-spectrum sun protection should shield you from some UVA, but different products vary widely in exactly how much is kept out.

The Boots star system rates the percentage of UVA protection compared to UVB protection, but be careful! As this is a ratio, a three star, high SPF product could provide more UVA protection than a five star, low SPF product.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for information only and does not constitute advice. For an expert opinion, consult with your GP or a trusted healthcare expert.

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