This past Tuesday the Surgeon General released a warning concerning the effects of UV exposure on human skin and it’s relationship to the growing epidemic of skin cancer in America. Sweet! The Surgeon General has my back and might help me rub some sunscreen on it too.
To me, this was a major win for my goals of teaching sun awareness and sun safety. However, I was amazed and a bit annoyed at the amount of backlash this public call to action received. Some quotes included, “this makes no sense,” “sunscreen is worse for you than tanning,” “oh yeah, we don’t need Vitamin D… whatever.” I couldn’t believe it. Knowing the devastation this disease has caused for those living with it or surviving it. Knowing how you never again get to live in ignorant bliss, but instead assume every ache, pain or blemish is cancer and sometimes finding out it is… again. The countless blood draws, cat-scans, MRIs and full body exams. The ongoing time and financial demands to see 2-3 different doctors 2-4 times a year just to make sure you aren’t sick again. The pain in my friends voices when they share that another one of their friends caught it too late and were gone too fast. How can people be against a simple lesson in sun safety?
And that is all it was folks, a call to action to the American public to realize that skin cancer is a real cancer.
Skin cancer is on the rise. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Skin cancer greatly affects quality of life, and it can be disfiguring and deadly. Skin cancer creates substantial health care costs for individuals, families, and the nation. The number of Americans who have had skin cancer at some point in the last three decades is estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined. And here’s the kicker…. MOST skin cancer cases were preventable.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir, or you wouldn’t be reading my blog. Here is where I need your help. Here is where it is your turn to pass along the sunscreen or a little sun safety knowledge. Those of us with a wiser “Sunality” need to break the ignorance around sun exposure and tanning. There are an estimated 9,000 people who die every year from skin cancer and maybe if they had sought shade, or worn a UPF shirt, or put on a little sunscreen a little more often, or never had laid in that tanning bed, then they wouldn’t be gone.
And the Vitamin D argument for tanning is just plain wrong. YES, Vitamin D is absolutely proving to be one of the most important vitamins we process through our body, but most humans can get enough Vitamin D in a healthy diet or a supplement. Those of us with fair skin only need 5-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to soak up enough Vitamin D for the day. Of course that time grows proportionally with a darker pigment of skin tone, but in general no more than 30-45 minutes in the sun is needed for anyone to soak up the appropriate amount of Vitamin D.
In The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer Executive Summary , it is stated that, “The relationship between outdoor UV exposure, vitamin D, and human health is complex. The amount of outdoor sun exposure needed for meaningful vitamin D production depends on many factors, including time of day, time of year, latitude, altitude, weather conditions, a person’s skin type, amount of skin exposed to the sun, other individual circumstances, and reflective surfaces, such as snow, water, and sand. Adequate vitamin D can be obtained safely through food and dietary supplements without the risks associated with overexposure to UV radiation.”
So there you have it: just embrace the pale and eat your way to a healthy level of Vitamin D.
For more on Vitamin D: Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board; 2010.