For many decades, the message about sun exposure has been unambiguous: cover yourself in the afternoon sun, wear sunscreen with a high protection factor and avoid sunburn at all costs.
A whole series of public health campaigns warn of the deadly risk of skin cancer due to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun … not to mention the fact that they give you wrinkles.
Gone are the days when sun-burned children roamed the beaches of the country from May to September.
In fact, during this Easter vacation, if your child omits the SPF 50 and gets burned, you can be guilty of neglect by parents, according to the watchdog of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who mentions it as a red flag doctors should pay attention to children, besides bruising and be persistent unwashed.
Gone are the days when sun-burned children roamed the beaches of the country from May to September (stock image)
There is no doubt that the ‘sun-safe’ message does not exist for nothing. The incidence of skin cancer in the UK has increased tenfold since the 1970s – driven by Britons looking for a sun holiday.
Today, more than 260,000 new cases of the disease are diagnosed in Britain every year, resulting in more than 2,400 deaths.
But the message about sun safety is getting through: in a study published last year, 88 percent of Britons said they adhered to the recommendations, while global sales of lotions, creams and sprays are up against the sun and are almost expected Will reach £ 19 billion by 2024.
Indeed, many everyday cosmetic products now contain sunscreens.
But has our newly found obsession to protect ourselves against UV damage entailed costs? The answer, according to increasing evidence, is a possible yes. Some studies indeed show that people with high sun exposure live longer than sun avoiders.
In a study published last year, 88 percent of Britons said they were trying to stick to the recommendations, while global sales of lotions, creams and sprays against the sun are rising and are expected to reach nearly £ 20 billion by 2024
And a wealth of new research offers an explanation for this mystery. It lies in the unprecedented benefits of sun exposure for our heart, bones, and the ability to fight disease.
Some experts even warn about the use of SPF and come up with “the new margarine” – a reference to the national switch from butter to vegetable fats in the 1990s. Since then, it has been found that trans fats in many margarines are more harmful than saturated fat in butter.
So are public health campaigns about sun protection wrong?
SUNLIGHT CAN BE SO HEAT WARMING
There is an increasing awareness of the health benefits of sun exposure coupled with the production of essential vitamin D, a hormone produced by the skin when exposed to specific types of ultraviolet rays called UVB in the sun. People need a good dose every day to keep bones and teeth strong and muscles robust.
Without vitamin D to help the bones absorb nutrients from food, there is an increased risk of malformations, wastage of diseases and bone disorders such as rickets and osteoporosis. Although it is possible to get vitamin D from foods such as eggs, fatty fish and cheese, sun exposure is by far the most efficient method.
Why you might need a bottle of sunscreen a day
Sunscreen has different strengths and blocks different degrees of the sun’s rays, depending on the SPF number, a measure of the ability of a sunscreen to prevent sunburn.
The UVB rays of the sun are the main cause of sunburn, so screens must protect against this.
“Most people don’t use sunscreens properly and underestimate how many and how often,” says Professor Antony Young of King’s College London.
“For an average woman who spends a day at the beach, you need a 100 ml bottle of sunscreen every day, enough for three full-body applications with the right thickness to get the labeled SPF protection.”
Studies show that skin exposure to these rays produces a higher amount and quality of vitamin D than food sources and multivitamins. But almost half of the British population has low levels, according to the National Diet and Nutritional Survey 2018, with black, Asian and ethnic minority groups most at risk because dark skin produces much less vitamin D than lighter skin.
To make matters worse, the UK is at a northern latitude, meaning that UVB rays do not land on the ground for six months of the year. During this period, between September and April, we rely on reserves built up during the summer months.
The problem is so widespread that earlier this year the British Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition instructed every Briton to take a daily vitamin D supplement during the winter. But newer research suggests further benefits of sunbathing – it will help to maintain healthy blood pressure and heart health.
For years, experts have wondered why populations with a lot of sun exposure – which are closer to the equator – have lower blood pressure than people who live further away. And why people with lighter skin and higher sun exposure do not have shorter lives despite an increased risk of skin cancer.
Australians live two years longer than people in England and three years longer than Scots, despite the double risk of skin cancer.
One explanation could be that exposure to sunlight can play an important role in lowering blood pressure, according to Richard Weller, a dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh.
He said: “So far we only have exposure to sunlight linked to vitamin D, but it has a greater impact than that. People have been around for 200,000 years and almost all of our existence has lived outside. It is only in the last 200 years, since the industrial revolution, that we have spent most of our time indoors. This is not normal.’
High blood pressure is now the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
An explanation could be that exposure to sunlight can play an important role in lowering blood pressure, according to Richard Weller (photo), a dermatologist consultant at the University of Edinburgh
In the winter we rely on reserves built up during the summer months. So widespread is the problem that earlier this year the British Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition instructed every Briton to take a daily vitamin D supplement during the winter
In a 2014 research article, Dr. Weller showed how the skin produces nitric oxide in the presence of UVA light – a type of UV radiation that reaches the earth throughout the year. “Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator, causing blood vessels to dilate,” he explains.
In one study, the skin of 24 healthy people was exposed to UVA light from tanning lamps for 20 minutes. Later they were under the lights but with filters that simulated SPF 25 to block the UVA. Only when the skin was fully exposed to UVA did researchers see the blood pressure lowering effect and changed levels of nitric oxide in the bloodstream. “If you look at the average blood pressure of people in Great Britain, it is lower in the summer than in the winter,” says Dr. Weller.
Sunscreens could be developed that protect the skin and allow the synthesis of vitamin D and nitric oxide, he suggests.
CAN LIGHTHOUSE ALSO HELP HELP TREAT MS?
UV light can also have a wide range of effects in the body, thereby regulating the body’s immune system. Scott Byrne, an immunologist at the University of Sydney, has investigated these effects. He says: “When sunlight hits the skin, it causes the production of various chemicals that affect the immune system throughout the body.”
In particular, cells in the skin, called keratinocytes, help to control the immune system and suppress “overactive” immune responses.
Now researchers are investigating how UV light can help prevent or limit autoimmune diseases in people, including multiple sclerosis (MS) – in which the immune system engages and attacks healthy nerve cells, leading to a large number of problems. MS is more common in countries with less sunlight.
“We have known for a long time that the association between sunlight exposure and MS is fairly strong,” he says. “In our animal models of MS, we can demonstrate a clear link between UV and suppression of the disease,” says Dr. Byrne.
And professor Antony Young of King’s College London says that UV radiation is likely to have a profound effect in ways we don’t understand. “It would not be surprising if they had been used by evolution to achieve some benefits.”
However, he insists on caution. “There is only one proven benefit of UV radiation and that is vitamin D synthesis linked to bone health. There is more work to do to show the other potential benefits. “
Nobody argues for the disposal of sunscreen, but Dr. Weller is an expert who calls for a more nuanced approach, striking a balance between sun exposure for heart health and sun avoidance to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
“In Australia they are starting to moderate their health message, but the UK is lagging behind with its strong focus on skin cancer alone.”
Otherwise, he says, people should use common sense and avoid burning, which is the most important risk factor for deadly malignant skin cancer.
How long do you have to stay in the sun without protection?
So how long can you safely go out in the afternoon sun without SPF?
A clue can be found in the research by endocrinologist Professor Michael Holick, as described in his book The Vitamin D Solution.
The image shows the number of minutes needed in the sun for people with different skin colors to produce a daily “dose” of vitamin D, depending on where you are in the world and the season
The figure shows the number of minutes the sun needs for people with different skin colors to produce a daily ‘dose’ of vitamin D, depending on where you are in the world and the season – factors that determine how strong it is sunlight is.
After you have had your dose, apply sunscreen to minimize skin damage. This is based on 25 percent of the skin being exposed, but the more skin is exposed to the sun, the better.