3 important facts you need to know before you visit your doctor!
Over the years, we’ve all heard the warnings: Avoid the sun. Wear protective clothing when you venture out. Slather on sunscreen. Wear a hat. Stay out of the sun from 10 to 2. Or is it 9 to 3? 8 to 4? Or should you just live under a rock? Sometimes, it seems as if doctors—and especially, skin doctors (dermatologists)—would be happiest if they knew you lived like a vampire, never venturing outside at all except under cover of darkness.
It’s all about concerns over rising rates of skin cancer around the world. Sunlight is a natural source of ultraviolet radiation, of course, and that’s both good and bad. Too much can age your skin prematurely, and may raise your risk of developing skin cancer. The two most common forms of skin cancer are relatively treatable. But the third—melanoma—can be deadly. So there’s some cause for concern. But there’s also evidence that we may be taking all this sun-avoidance advice too far. That’s not just my personal opinion. It’s the theme of a new scientific consensus paper published recently in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health.”
Sunlight is composed of infrared radiation, which we experience as heat; visible light, which we perceive as light to see by; and ultraviolet light, which is invisible, and more energetic than other wavelengths. UV can damage skin, to be sure. But it drives the production of all-important vitamin D beneath the surface of the skin, too. And that’s decidedly good. UV kills fungus and bacteria, and that can also be good. Sunlight feels good on your face and skin after a long, dark winter. Surely, we’ve all experienced the pleasure of turning our faces into the sun after a long period of darkness and cold. The drive to bask in sunlight is deeply ingrained, and it may have to do with more than just vitamin D production.
We used to think that vitamin D was important for maintaining strong bones—and little else. Rickets is an old-fashioned disease few modern Americans have even heard of. That’s because we figured out about a century ago that the childhood weak-bone disease is related to too little vitamin D. So we started adding synthetic vitamin D to milk and other products. And rickets cases plummeted. It was one of the great success stories of the modern age of nutrition.
But today, many Americans continue to go through life with dangerously low vitamin D levels. Many factors are at play, but avoidance of sun exposure is undoubtedly an important one. According to a bold new manifesto, it’s time to rethink our aversion to sunlight. It’s not just about vitamin D, which we now know plays multiple, crucial roles in our health. It’s also about some other, overlooked benefits of sunlight exposure, say the authors of a new paper.
"Humans have adapted to sun exposure over many thousands of years and derive numerous physiological benefits from UV exposure in addition to vitamin D," said Carole Baggerly, executive director of GrassrootsHealth and co-author of the paper. "These benefits far outweigh those derived from vitamin D intake by supplements, and therefore sun avoidance being recommended by the US Surgeon General and others is unnecessarily putting Americans at risk."
Ask your doctor these 3 important questions:
1) Is melanoma the only skin cancer to worry about?
2) Are the chemicals in the sunscreen worse than going without sunscreen?
3) If using a daily sunscreen on the face enough protection against the non peak hours of the day?
Carole A. Baggerly, Raphael E. Cuomo, Christine B. French, Cedric F. Garland, Edward D. Gorham, William B. Grant, Robert P. Heaney, Michael F. Holick, Bruce W. Hollis, Sharon L. McDonnell, Mary Pittaway, Paul Seaton, Carol L. Wagner, Alexander Wunsch. Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2015; 34 (4): 359 DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2015.1039866