To Sun or not To Sun; That is the Question#?!
By Dr. Tim Fargo, Chiropractor
In these days of apprehension, concern, and even paranoia, about sun exposure and its potential risk, it is difficult to know how to walk the line between what is beneficial and what is detrimental. Certainly humans, for untold millennia, have been out in the sun, and have evolved the means of dealing with sun exposure. Were that not the case, our species would have been burned up long ago. Our skin has the ability to darken with sun exposure because of a pigment called “melanin”. If we had a lifetime of sun exposure and had an opportunity to gradually become acclimated, then quite likely we would not have problems with skin cancer. It is also a distinct possibility that our ancestors never lived long enough to have skin cancer from sun exposure. Many of them managed to reproduce and then died at an early age of infection and trauma. As a side note, life expectancy figures can be misleading because prehistoric man and even populations from a couple hundred years ago had very high infant mortality which tended to skew the total life expectancy figures. Nonetheless, it is fair to say that our ancestors from, say, Paleolithic times may not have lived longer than 30 or 40 years.
We are caught, then, between knowing that there are substantial benefits to sun exposure, and also knowing that excessive exposure can cause damage. One thing that sun exposure does is it causes your body to produce vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 may well be as close to a nutritional panacea as any one isolated vitamin could be. Vitamin D3 aids with calcium absorption and thus has an impact on bone mass and preventing osteoporosis. It also has well-recognized benefits for mental health, immune function, and tissue repair. In Minnesota, because we are in the frigid north during the winter months, we do not get enough vitamin D from sun exposure. In the spring, we emerge from our enforced hibernation and splurge on sun exposure. If you are of European descent (white) you are especially susceptible to being injured by sun exposure. If you are of African, South American, or Native American descent, you may be somewhat less susceptible, but you still have to be careful. Here are some tips to help you walk the line between healthy and detrimental sun exposure.
- Wear sunglasses when you are out in full sun. Sun exposure causes accelerated damage to the lens of the eye which results in cataracts.
- Wear hats to shade both the eyes and provide some shade for the face and neck. Sun exposure does accelerate aging of the skin and will make you look more wrinkled more quickly.
- Avoid getting burned at all costs. What this means is that, particularly in the early part of the summer, wear sunscreen with sufficient SPF, somewhere between 30 and 50, whenever you go out. There is some dispute as to whether continuing to use sunscreen when you have a base tan is necessary, but most dermatologists would tell you to wear it regardless.
- Limit your time in the sun to minimize the risk of being sunburned.
- Wear protective clothing, like long-sleeved shirt and pants, when circumstances require you to be out in the sun for prolonged periods. I know this may sound counterintuitive because it’s hot out, but one has to balance costs and benefits.
- If you’re in the water, or outdoors with exposed skin for longer periods of time, don’t forget to reapply sunscreen.
- If, like me, you have areas of your body, like the top of your head, that no longer have sufficient hair to shield your skin from the sun, then do not neglect to either wear a hat or use sunscreen on those delicate parts too.
One final note, and one that is relevant to my own personal circumstances, please make sure you see a dermatologist every year or two to have your skin checked. This is especially important as we get older because skin damage is cumulative over time, and the older you get, the greater the likelihood that malignant changes may occur as a result of sun exposure. I recently had a dermatology evaluation during which they found a couple of suspicious spots which turned out to be basal cell cancer. I am having surgery in August to remove these spots. Fortunately, I do not have melanoma, which is an extremely malignant form of cancer that spreads to other parts of the body quite easily. Early detection is critically important in preventing skin cancer from becoming a life-threatening circumstance. Enjoy your time in the sun, and do so wisely. I hope this information helps you.
If you would like to read more healthy habits check out our many posts on living healthy and/or give us a call at Chiropractic health & Wellness in Edina. We offer drug-free alternatives to resolving aches and pains in your body as well as helping you maintain a healthy weight, or managing your food allergies.