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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Avoid the sun?

One misconception about sun exposure I want to address is the notion that we should avoid the sun altogether. True, we don’t want to ever overexpose ourselves to the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation, but humans require sunlight in order to thrive, grow, and feel nourished.

We would not exist without sunlight (as evidenced by history). The sun heats our planet and makes things grow. It stimulates certain vitamins (namely vitamin D) in our bodies and generally makes us feel good. There are studies showing that people who live in areas with little sunshine at certain times of the year have a higher incidence of depression. There is even a name for this depressed state; its called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

We are meant to be outside. It’s overexposure and unprotected sun exposure that should always be avoided, but not sunshine altogether. There’s nothing like a bright, sunshiny day to lift our spirits and motivate us to get things doneor to just relax and feel good.

Many people are sun worshipers. Their faces show the effects of long-term, excessive sun exposure. Unfortunately, it seems that for every delight there is also an inevitable detriment. If you love to be out in the sun, at least one of the prices you’ll have to pay will be wrinkles (probably premature), and of course the potential for skin cancer. This is especially true if your sun exposure is unprotected exposure—a potentially deadly sin.


Genetics, as with all things, play a big part in how sunlight will affect you as an individual. I know several clients who were lifeguards as teenagers and have been sun worshipers ever since, yet somehow they haven’t had to pay the price (not yet, anyway). Their skin has not prematurely aged, and they show no signs of cancer or any precancerous growths. Warning: these few individuals are exceptions! Genetically they have some kind of miraculous sun-protecting genes that have allowed them to avoid the damage caused by excessive sun exposure.

Most of us are not so lucky. If you were someone who was out by the pool putting baby oil all over your body while lemon juice soaked in your hair, take heart. You are in the majority. Back in the 1960s, ’70s, and even the ’80s, suntanning was the cool thing to do. Evidence of this can be found in several books published up until the mid-’80s on how to get a golden tan. There was still an attitude of acceptance about getting a deep, dark tan, but in the very next decade we found out how painfully wrong we were to indulge in this activity. It’s a matter of “When you know better, you do better.”

Unfortunately, that saying is not true for everybody. A lot of people, especially teens, still believe a tan is cool. You’d think with all the information available to the public, people would realize the dangers of tanning and take precautions to ensure their safety and their skins’ health. But we were all teenagers once, and that is not how we were, and it’s not how teens are today. And actually a lot of adults can be found at the beach, lying out by the pool, and in tanning beds across the country. I’d like to think that when we do find out what is better for our health, we incorporate that knowledge into our daily lives, but this is not always the case. The old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink is still true today.

I am not advocating avoiding sun exposure completely. What I am saying is be prepared; have sunscreen, hats, and try to avoid over exposing your skin when you are out. Even if you haven’t had a lot of sun exposure in your lifetime, and especially if you have, I highly recommend seeing a dermatologist for a full-body mole exam by at least age 40.


For additional articles about sun, sunscreen, and skin cancer, see: