July 23, 2014 by Dr. Sana Keller
Since we’re in the midst of summer, have you found yourself gasping when you realize that the sun is shining on your ‘un-sunscreened’ arms and legs? TV commercials and magazine ads would lead one to believe that there is never a safe moment to step outside into the sunshine ‘un-sunscreened.’ Seriously, how did all of us survive as kids without our mothers standing at the door just waiting to spray or slather us down with the white, beachy-smelling sunscreen before we stepped foot outside?
Sunscreen marketers are over the top in promoting sunscreen for every occasion, including ‘seven outdoor conditions’, a ‘Men’s line’ of sunscreen, one sheer enough for outdoor weddings, an ultra-sheer dry touch formula…the list goes on…and include comments such as “Wear sunscreen every day all year round” from well-known celebrities. And with the Skin Cancer Foundation recommending people 6 months or older using an ounce of sunscreen daily, it’s easy to realize the potential millions of $$ to be made from the more than 100 billion ounces annually–and that’s just in the US.
Sam Shuster, dermatologist and honorary consultant at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in the UK explains that melanoma is related to ethnicity rather than pigmentation and in 75% of cases occurs on relatively unexposed sites, especially on the feet of Africans. Melanoma occurrence decreases with greater sun exposure and can be increased by sunscreens, while sun bed exposure has a small inconsistent effect. Therefore, he concludes, any causative effect of ultraviolet light on melanoma can only be minimal. In addition, he points out that it is difficult to create melanomas in laboratory experiments with ultraviolet light, suggesting that UV has little impact. He acknowledges that the sun is responsible for some skin cancers, like basal and squamous cell, yet also makes an interesting observation: “If sun were important, we would expect sunscreen to decrease the incidence of melanoma over the years as more and more people are using sunscreen. But that hasn’t happened. Melanoma has actually increased.”
Amy Huber, board-certified dermatologist and member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the two most common non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell and squamous cell cancer are directly correlated with sun accumulation over many years. Indeed, the most common locations for them are sun-exposed areas, however melanoma is different. The sun exposure pattern believed to result in melanoma is that of brief, intense exposure–a blistering sunburn–rather than years of tanning.
Gregory Daniels, University of California-San Diego cancer specialist, reminds us that 95% of skin cancers are non-melanomas, which are easy to spot and do not easily spread. These are more benign cancers caused by UV rays from the sun. But Dr. Daniels says there is no direct connection between getting a lot of sun and getting melanoma. He, too, points out that as the incidence of melanoma has risen it has also paralleled a change in behavior that’s going on all across the world — the fact that more people are working indoors.
Although the reported number of new cases of melanoma in the US has been reportedly increasing for more than 30 years, a landmark study in the British Journal of Dermatology (6/2009) suggests this apparent increase is a result of non-cancerous lesions being misclassified as ‘stage 1 melanoma’ meaning that minimal, non-cancerous lesions are being diagnosed as melanoma, which can alter cancer statistics. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (7/2012) found that 90% of melanoma excisions end up NOT being melanoma at all. In other words, people are being diagnosed with melanoma even when they have only a minimal, non-cancerous lesion, and these diagnoses are significantly skewing cancer statistics.
The British Medical Journal (7/2008) reported “There is solid descriptive, quantitative, and mechanistic proof that ultraviolet rays cause the main skin cancers (basal and squamous). They develop in pale, sun exposed skin, are related to degree of exposure and latitude, are fewer with avoidance and protection, are readily produced experimentally, and are the overwhelmingly predominant tumor in xeroderma pigmentosum, where DNA repair of ultraviolet light damage is impaired. None of these is found with melanoma.”
The Lancet (One of the world’s leading medical journals-2/2004) reported “Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a decreased risk of melanoma compared with indoor workers, suggesting that chronic sunlight exposure can have a protective effect.”
An additional point to consider: Guidelines for sunscreen use were originally developed for people living in areas with a high ultraviolet index, such as Northern Australia, thus bringing into question the applicability of the same guidelines to low ultraviolet index areas, such as much of Europe and North America.
After looking at current studies and scientific evidence…it appears that there is NO NEED to be scared sunless–rather there IS a need for Sensible Sun Exposure. Sensible sun exposure practices (found in C. Kresser’s report) include:
- Spending about half the amount of time in the sun that it takes to turn your skin pink…
- Taking into account the time of day you’re in the sun, as well as the latitude and season…
- Never allowing your skin to burn…
- Using a SAFE sunscreen to prevent burn when in the sun for longer periods of time…
- Using protective clothing and a hat with infants (due to toxic chemicals in sunscreen) as well as avoiding mid-day sun exposure.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit environmental research organization, estimates that 75% of sunscreens contain potentially harmful ingredients, such as retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen and hormone disruptor, which emphasize the need to choose sunscreens carefully. Products with zinc, Avobenzone (3%), and Mexoryl SX are safer ingredients. EWG’s site keeps an updated list of safer sunscreen options. The EWG also recommends avoiding sunscreens with greater than SPF 50.
This post doesn’t even touch on the numerous benefits of Vitamin D absorption through the skin. That deserves its own post. Coming soon! As well, this post doesn’t touch on the many healthy lifestyle choices that minimize risk of developing cancer, including melanoma. Cancer prevention info is scattered throughout my blogs–with additional posts planned for the future (Search under the Category ‘Prevention’).
Yes, sunshine is part of a healthy lifestyle—Enjoy your summer…and enjoy the sun…in a sensible and smart way. I look forward to your questions and comments!
Sana Keller, MS, RN, CNC, MH, HHP Healthy Lifestyle Coach and Certified Nutritional Consultant http://www.healthunlimited.biz
Site used for reference: Sensible Sun Exposure by Dr. Mercola
Photo credits: perfectformuladiet.com, ispot.tv, womensmovement.com, ovations.blogspot.com, funny-pictures.picphotos.net