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Disease Prevention

Everything in Moderation, Including the Sun

The universal condemnation of sun exposure is getting a bit old, it's time to lose the alarmist mentality and put the benefits and risks of sun exposure into perspective.

"There is an unbelievable amount of misinformation circulating about sun care these days. Most of it falls into the category of something we call 'sun scare' — a full culture of twisted truths designed to trick you into thinking that the most natural resource on our planet, sunshine, is nothing but bad for you," says Joseph Levy, executive director of the International Smart Tan Network, a Michigan-based association. "It's gone on too long now and it may be doing more harm than good."

Consider, in the past year alone we've seen:

  • The May 1999 publication of a 16-year independent epidemiological study showing women who receive regular sun exposure throughout their lives are up to 40 percent less likely to contract breast cancer.
  • Undisputed acknowledgment in the scientific community that the relationship between sun exposure and melanoma skin cancer is not simply linear. Melanoma is more common in indoor workers than it is in outdoor workers — those who get regular sunlight get it less than those who only get intermittent exposure.
  • Deep concern in the scientific community that broad anti-tanning messages may hurt the credibility of those who teach sun abstinence as an absolute. As more research points to positive effects of sun exposure, and other research challenges theories about the risks, some in the scientific community feel sun care messages need to be targeted specifically to high-risk groups, not simply to the population as a whole.

What does it all mean? "The stage is set for a new era in sun care — an era based on knowing your skin type, understanding your constitutive risks, using sunscreen appropriately instead of overusing it and planning your active lifestyle accordingly," Levy says.

Tanners and non-tanners need to understand how to maximize the benefits of regular sun exposure while minimizing the risks. The bottom line for everyone is simply this, never ever sunburn!

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing