Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stay away from the Light!

Remember those seventies films where everyone (except black people) had bronze skin? I'm convinced it was Cary Grant who started it, I mean what guy couldn't do with a bit more of Cary Grant's looks and charm? Where did he get his bronze skin from? I doubt it was from growing up in Bristol.

Too bad he had to go and die from skin cancer in his early 50s!!!!

Actually, Cary Grant died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the ripe old age of 82 but if that hadn't gotten him skin cancer surely would have, because he existed in a primordial backwards era when people didn't use sunscreen. It is hard to imagine such things in our enlightened age but yes it is really true. Men also wore a suit and tie whilst swimming (women weren't supposed to swim at all), and everyone drove giant convertibles without seat belts. It was a barbaric age to say the least.

Fortunately, we now have sunscreen. Thanks to technology, we can go on vacation and lay in the sun all day long even if lily white, and we will be protected from the Sun's death rays by SPF 5000. SPF stands for Sun death ray Protection Factor. So how's that working out?

Not so great.

Since 1972, rates of malignant melanoma have roughly doubled for women and tripled for men.

The current party line of the medical establishment is that no one should ever go out in the sun without sunscreen. Ever! There's the question of vitamin D, and the party line is, don't worry about vitamin D, just avoid the sun at all costs, ok maybe take a pill or something and make sure to eat right and of course DON'T EXPOSE YOURSELF TO THE SUN EVER WITHOUT SUNBLOCK!

Here's a typical quote from Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
A neglected but critical point is that the true, optimal level of 25(OH)D for musculoskeletal health, cancer prevention, or any of the other claimed benefits is irrelevant to the proven value of sun protection. Whatever this optimal level, ample vitamin D can be obtained from diet, supplements, and incidental sun exposure (45–48). Intentional unprotected sun exposure to increase vitamin D photosynthesis is not only unnecessary but also inefficient for populations at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency (29-31).
The proven value of sun protection? Have you seen the graph, lady? The aisles of drugstores are crammed with sunblock nowadays and malignant melanoma has tripled since '72 for men. Tripled!! Here's a chart from the American Cancer Society.

1/1500 back in 1935 and now 1/75? Didn't more people actually spend time working in the sun back then? Sure there are confounding factors, like increased lifespan, but come on, that's an insane rise. Some of it could be attributed to an increase in leisure time. Certainly more people play golf these days. But it still is an insane rise. Especially since the American Academy of Dermatology has been pushing sunblock for years, they even have a picture of SPF 50 on their front page. Not to mention the tanning tax.

It's almost as if the harder the so-called experts push something like sunblock the worse the results in the general population. The experts push harder, the general public worsens, so who is to blame? The general public for being lazy and self-indulgent, of course. Sound familiar?

What's going on here?

The medical literature is mixed, mostly because they often compare apples and oranges. There's this study, for example, that shows that SPF corresponded to a delay of skin tumors in mice, although, "almost all of the UV-irradiated mice developed skin tumors". Do mice need sunlight like humans? Are they evolved to be exposed to sunlight? Last I heard, mice are nocturnal, they are covered in fur and they produce their own vitamin D.

This Swedish study compared people who always use and never use sunscreen. What is really interesting is the people who always used sunscreen but still got burned were at a 60% higher risk than the never users, but the people who always used sunscreen but never got burned were at a 120% higher risk. I suspect that the people who never got burned were using stronger sunblock and spending more time in the sun. Or they were just lying. The study mentions that the never use sunscreeners were exposed to less sun and that brings us to the heart of the matter.

One problem with sunscreen is that has a Peltzman effect. When risky behavior gets perceived as safer, people tend to engage in more of it and offset the added safety. People will bake themselves on vacations but use plenty of sunblock. If they didn't have the sunblock they wouldn't be able to lay in the sun for eight hours and enjoy their two weeks in Acapulco, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology they are safe, right? Wrong.

Then there's the that fact that sunblock is composed of a bunch of crazy chemicals and it get's absorbed, up to 10 percent of it through the skin. Yummy. Yeah, it's not just nicotine patches that absorb through the skin. So don't put anything on your skin you wouldn't want to put in your mouth.

And perhaps the biggest problem with sunscreen is that it blocks production of vitamin D in by the body in quantities that it sees fit, along with five to ten other chemicals according to Dr. Michael Holick.

Getting some sun seems to be hardwired into us and this makes sense given that we need the sunlight to make vitamin D and perhaps some other chemicals. But our ancestors didn't have the ability to transport themselves to a sunny clime for a couple after spending the whole year inside their cave making wall paintings. They were out in the sunlight every day, hunting and gathering, gathering and hunting, and later on farming and herding. Modern living pretty much makes that impossible but we can try and make up for it as much as possible. Eat lunch outside, get some sun on the weekends. If you are dark skinned and live in a temperate cloudy place, you need to try even harder. The important thing is consistency not duration. Sunburns are a bad, bad thing and should be avoided at all costs.

It seems that the healthiest way to enjoy a sunny vacation would be to try to build up decent base tan, going to a tanning salon if necesary, then get as much sun as you can on the actual vacation without getting burned or using sunscreen. This will be less sun than a person slathering SPF 5000 on themselves can handle, but it will also be a lot better for your skin. And your body will store all that fat soluble vitamin D (and possibly other chemicals) for the coming winter.

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