Soak­ing up sun has its de­fend­ers

Nat­u­ral health fans doubt warn­ings, worry about chem­i­cals

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY JOE SCHA­EF­FER

An­other sum­mer has faded away, and all that’s left is a dim­ming glow from time spent frol­ick­ing in the sun. How many rays did you soak up this year? Did you get a tan?

That’s a hot topic. Der­ma­tol­o­gists are more stri­dent than ever in warn­ing against the dam­age caused by the sun, go­ing so far as to en­cour­age us­ing sun­screen year­round.

Prac­ti­tion­ers in the nat­u­ral health move­ment, how­ever, are say­ing we need to re­think how we pro­tect our­selves.

“There’s no ques­tion that sun ex­po­sure causes skin can­cer,” says Dr. Michael Todd, ed­u­ca­tional spokesman for the Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion.

“The pat­tern I see over and over is hav­ing pa­tients in their 30s, 40s, early 50s say­ing how stupid they were when they were teens or in their 20s: ‘I thought I was so cool, putting the baby oil or io­dine all over me in the sun, and tanning like crazy,’ “ he says.

The Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion is per­haps the most adamant or­ga­ni­za­tion against “un­pro­tected” sun ex­po­sure. Among its year-round sun safety tips are us­ing sun­screen with an SPF of 15 or higher ev­ery day, reap­ply­ing it ev­ery two hours af­ter swim­ming or ex­ces­sive sweat­ing, ex­am­in­ing your skin once a month and see­ing a doc­tor once a year for a skin care exam.

And yes, the foun­da­tion re­ally does mean ev­ery day. The lat­est edi­tion of the Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion Jour­nal has a Sun Safety Cal­en­dar that de­scribes all the rea­sons peo­ple need to wear sun­screen year-round.

So, does Dr. Todd wear sun­screen ev­ery day, as his foun­da­tion im­plores us all to do?

“No. A lot of my pa­tients do. It’s weigh­ing the risks,” he says. “If I go to the beach, I do. If I go in to the of­fice, I don’t. It’s about weigh­ing your risks.”

On the other side of the coin, the nat­u­ral health move­ment, most ev­i­dent in the or­ganic boom seen in su­per­mar­kets all over the coun­try, has many widely known fig­ures who in­sist that open ex­po­sure to the sun not only is not danger­ous but is nec­es­sary for op­ti­mum health.

Dr. Joseph Mer­cola, who runs the pop­u­lar mer­cola.com Web site, which claims 1.4 mil­lion sub­scribers, says he starts his work­day in the wee hours of the morn­ing just so he can get out in the mid­day sun ev­ery day. He claims vi­ta­min D de­fi­ciency from lack of sun­light is one of the lead­ing health prob­lems in Amer­ica and that the sun’s ul­tra­vi­o­let B (UVB) rays must be present for the body to ab­sorb Vi­ta­min D.

To Dr. Mer­cola, the hottest part of the day is the health­i­est part of the day. Scores of his fel­low al­ter­na­tive health prac­ti­tion­ers make sim­i­lar claims.

Krispin Sul­li­van, a clin­i­cal nu­tri­tion­ist based out­side Los An­ge­les, has spent the past decade study­ing the sun and its ef­fects on hu­mans and is au­thor of the provoca­tively ti­tled book “Naked at Noon: Un­der­stand­ing the Im­por­tance of Sun­light and Vi­ta­min D.”

“First of all, very few peo­ple die of skin can­cer.” Ms. Sul­li­van says. “Melanoma is treated, but it is es­sen­tially a very rare can­cer. Most skin can­cers der­ma­tol­o­gists are talk­ing about are very mi­nor can­cers that are burned off.

“The bet­ter ques­tion is: Will you get skin can­cer?”

To her, it’s not a sim­ple ques­tion of too much sun.

“It de­pends on your ge­net­ics; it de­pends on the color of your skin, where you live now; it de­pends on whether you have a nat­u­ral source of vi­ta­min A in your diet like liver once or twice a week, the con­tent of vi­ta­min C in your diet. Skin lev­els are low­ered by ex­po­sure to UV light, and if you’re re­plen­ished, your skin is able to re­pair it­self.”

“Naked at Noon” makes the ar­gu­ment that nutri­tion can strengthen one’s abil­ity to han­dle the sun. In the book, Ms. Sul­li­van laments the de­cline of all those healthy foods com­mon in Amer­i­can homes not so long ago:

“Let’s as­sume na­ture in­tended us to get some sun­light. Be­fore 1955, but­ter, cream and whole milk, daily, and liver once a week were com­monly served in many Amer­i­can homes. In 1909, the per-capita in­take of but­ter was 17 pounds per per­son per year. By 1945, this had dropped to 11 pounds per per­son per year and by 1970 a fur­ther drop to 5 pounds per per­son per year.”

Dr. Todd says he does not be­lieve in us­ing diet as a means of sun pro­tec­tion.

“There are so many fac­tors that can play a role. Diet, an­tiox­i­dants can help, but im­mune sys­tems evolve over time,” he says. “I don’t pro­mote [diet] as a first line; the first line is pro­tect your­self.”

Dr. Todd says he isn’t against be­ing in the sun, he is against be­ing out there without pro­tec­tion. As for those wor­ried about vi­ta­min D de­fi­cien­cies, he main­tains that they can ab­sorb all the vi­ta­min D they need ev­ery day while still wear­ing sun­screen.

Ms. Sul­li­van dis­agrees about the causes of skin can­cer.

“Ex­ces­sive ex­po­sure to sun­light will dam­age hu­man skin. [. . .] How­ever, the in­crease in in­ci­dence in skin can­cer doesn’t have ev­ery­thing to do with sun ex­po­sure or ozone lay­ers or any­thing else.”

She tells the story of a woman liv­ing in Aus­tralia who had to have 50 or more small skin can­cers or pre­can­cer­ous le­sions re­moved from her skin ev­ery year.

“Fifty or more lit­tle spots ev­ery year,” Ms. Sul­li­van says. “And she had to use sun­screen, and she had to stay out of the sun, and it drove her crazy. She ate well, she had a de­cent diet.”

The woman then heard Linda Chae, a de­vel­oper of or­ganic and toxin-free cos­met­ics, speak about how the chem­i­cals we put on our skin — cos­met­ics, cleansers, soaps and sham­poos — de­stroy the stra­tum corneum, the skin’s nat­u­ral pro­tec­tion against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.

“Our an­ces­tors did not bathe ev­ery day like we do,” Ms. Sul­li­van says, “and they cer­tainly did not use de­ter­gent soap. Those are all new in­ven­tions, th­ese are all new to ev­ery­body. [. . .] And when you’re us­ing dif­fer­ent soaps and ex­fo­liants or what­ever, it strips off and de­stroys the stra­tum corneum. And when you de­stroy the stra­tum corneum, then UVA and UVB both do pro­found dam­age to the skin.

“So for a year, this woman washed only with wa­ter. [. . .] Within one year’s time, she went back, and she had no skin dam­age what­so­ever, and she had been spending more time in the sun than ever be­fore. And to this day, she has not had it be­cause she quit strip­ping off the top layer of her skin.”

To Ms. Sul­li­van, the woman’s story rings true. “Naked at Noon” cites a detailed work by pro­fes­sor Ron­ald Marks of the Uni­ver­sity of Wales and two as­so­ci­ates ti­tled “The Es­sen­tial Stra­tum Corneum,” pub­lished in 2002. In it, the au­thors write:

“Even amongst both physi­cians and bi­ol­o­gists, the stra­tum corneum [. . . ] has been a much un­der­val­ued struc­ture and der­ma­tol­o­gists have not, un­til quite re­cently, thought of this mem­brane as be­ing of ma­jor im­por­tance. The rea­sons for this mis­per­cep­tion are, first, that rou­tine his­to­log­i­cal prepa­ra­tions de­form and dis­tort the stra­tum corneum so that ap­pears wispy and in­signif­i­cant. Se­condly, there has been [a] paucity of tech­niques that can af­ford an ac­cu­rate view of this horny struc­ture.”

To Ms. Sul­li­van, there is noth­ing wispy or in­signif­i­cant about this lay­er­ing.

“It is our cov­er­ing. It’s our skin. It’s the thing be­tween us and the sun, us and pol­lu­tion and us and chem­i­cals, and we take it off ev­ery day with chem­i­cals that we put on our skin. So it plays a huge role in skin can­cer.”

BLOOMBERG NEWS

How I spent my sum­mer va­ca­tion: Darly Or tega of New York ap­plies sun­screen on her son Sa­ba­tian. Der­ma­tol­o­gists and oth­ers con­cerned about skin can­cer would ap­plaud, but nat­u­ral health ad­vo­cates tout sun ben­e­fits.

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