There is some debate going on within the scientific and medical community these days, and somewhat inflated by the media, regarding the health risks of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin, most notably on its ability to add to the risks of developing skin cancer due to overexposure to the sun. The general consensus on the answer to this question, however, like many things, is yes, there are risks, but no, you should not overcompensate for those risks either. Here is why.:

Sunlight & Vitamin D

Unlike plants, animals are not solar powered in the sense that we do not convert light energy into bioelectricity and cell respiration through photosynthesis, as plants do. However, we do absorb UV radiation on our skin and convert that into some nutrients in the form of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D is an essential steroid responsible for increasing the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, as well as many other biological functions, from reinforcing and strengthening bones through calcification to building the body’s immune system through synthesis of antibodies. Vitamin D is also the reason for variations in human skin color, as human beings evolved to adapt to variations in UV levels across the surface of the Earth. Melanin is a naturally occurring pigment that blocks UV radiation, protecting the skin from overexposure. This is why people with paler skin are at greater risk of overexposure in the form of sunburn and an increased risk of skin cancer, whilst people with darker skin are similarly at risk of underexposure in the form of vitamin D deficiency in regions where sunlight is less intense, which can cause problems such as in the immune system and in bone development.

Sunbathing Benefits & Risks

When it comes to sunlight, it is all in the dose, and nothing is totally devoid of risk. If one has a garden, then this is an ideal place to expose yourself to sunlight, and so long as you have access to a decent fence supplier St. Louis based or anywhere else, then you can even give yourself the privacy necessary to sunbathe in the nude and iron out those tan lines if so inclined. However, it is important to protect oneself whilst doing this. It is difficult to quantify how much is too much, as that depends on skin tone, UV levels at the time and the level of sunscreen used. One good policy is to layer sunscreen across vulnerable areas, for example, by applying a based layer of factor 20, and then a secondary layer of factor 50 over the ears, the nose and the back of the neck. Depending on intensity, as a general rule of thumb, one should not spend more than 20 minutes to an hour in the direct sun if totally unprotected. Sunbeds are a means of focusing controlled blasts of UV radiation. These are equivalently safe in moderation, but under a far more potent dose and an intensely short and controlled timeframe. Some tanning oils also claim to increase melanin production in the skin; however, these do so by attracting UV radiation to tan the skin faster, and this increases the risks.

What About the Big C?

Skin cancer is caused by forcing the skin to repair itself due to repeated damage. This is largely avoidable by tanning the skin very gradually, and not inducing sunburn forcing the skin to have to regenerate. Any actual damage to the skin increases the risk factors, and there are no means of eliminating that risk entirely. Moreover, to do so risks vitamin D depletion, which would lead to more problems than it would solve.

Image credit: Etienne Girardet via unsplash

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