UV-What?

“For a six billion-year-old star, the sun is certainly in the news a lot…mainly because it is still a source of uncertainty and confusion to many of us.” – skincancer.org, 2013


UV

[Photo courtesy of tv.libertytv.com]

One of the most important parts of any social movement is the facts and information that form its foundations and validate its purpose. So while it’s easy enough to sit here and say, “we all must protect our skin from the sun” and “sunburn and tanning isn’t good for us”, all the non-believers could just as easily turn around as ask, why? So today I will provide my ‘why.’

Essentially, the skin-damaging element of the sun that effects us when we are exposed to it is something called Ultra Violet rays (UV). UV has been idenitfied by the World Health Organisation as being the main cause of nonmelanoma skin cancers, while also significantly contributing to the development of the most deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. But one of the most interesting things about our knowledge of UV rays is that it is far from complete. In fact, scientists are constantly making new discoveries and developing new health guidelines and forms of protection as new information comes to light (no pun intended).  The Skin Cancer Foundation include a very clear outline of what UV is:

“UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye. These wavelengths are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC.” [skincancer.org, 2013]

Much of the confusion stems from our understanding (or lack of) UVA – which are long-wave ultraviolet rays; and UVB – which are shortwave rays. Initially it was thought that only UVB was of a concern to the health of our skin, however scientists are becoming increasingly convinced that UVA rays, which make up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches earth, is actually doing more damage to our skin despite being less intense than UVB. This is because they are far more prevalent, they are relatively equal in intensity to UVB during the hours of daylight, they penetrate our skin more deeply than UVB, they can penetrate clouds and glass, and they are still able to cause damage to the layer of our skin where most cancers occur. However, both forms of UV are capable of causing serious damage to us, even by suppressing our immune system, which reduces our ability to fight all kinds of disease.

But UVA is of particular interest to us at Shun the Sun because it is UVA that causes us to tan. We have spoken extensively in previous posts how damaging tanning is to our skin and how some people go about achieving that seemingly all important bronzed glow; but if people knew exactly what was going on to their skin when they lay out in the sun then maybe they would think twice about the supposed beauty of being tanned:

A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA.

Tanning literally penetrates our cells, disfiguring our DNA – the stuff that makes up our very being. Scary? We think so.

— Key facts primarily sourced from the Skin Cancer Foundation: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb

LOVE THE SKIN YOU’RE IN

As OLAY advertisements have drilled into us all, we must love the skin we have and with that love comes a real sense of respect and desire to protect it from exposure and damage. This is an issue, however, that a lot of people grapple with, who don’t embrace their natural skin colour and go to great lengths to modify it in reflection of certain trends often (as we’ve heard a million times) fuelled by the media and its representation of ‘beautiful people.’ And I’m not just talking about the Western perception of tanned being more beautiful because the opposite exists in many Asian cultures where young girls in particular take drastic measures to bleach their skin paler (as this is considered a sign of wealth there).

I want to look at one of the government’s more recent skin protection campaigns ‘The Dark Side of Tanning.’ Rather than just spruiking the importance of sun protection, for first time the issue of tanning as a culturally accepted and almost glorified act of beauty therapy is acknowledged in the various advertisements put out to the Australian public; including:


But, at the end of the day, this was still is a scare campaign and admittedly, it hasn’t drilled into me its message as much as OLAY’s ‘Love the skin you’re in’ ad did, which actively promoted a more positive outlook on the benefits of natural, healthy looking skin. Despite addressing an undoubtedly serious issue regarding our health that can realistically lead to death,  just recognising this acceptance of tanning habits in our culture isn’t enough. We need to change how people view tanning not just for health benefits but for beauty reasons – because that’s what a lot of people sadly care about more. But it IS beautiful to be pale or freckly or latino or dark skinned, whatever you are born with is likely to suit you best. And this is why I love Olay’s message, even if they are really just trying to sell me their face creams.

A REAL ROASTING

Roastings

“While tanning oils themselves aren’t harmful to the human body, it’s what they are used for that can cause some serious problems.” – http://www.livestrong.com/article/252239-what-are-the-dangers-of-tanning-oil/#ixzz2fycKu4sl

On this 32 degree day I’m sitting in the shade on the steps along the beach at Manly, watching scores of people rubbing tanning oil onto their skin to ‘help’ them tan. Isn’t it scary that it’s exactly the same thing your mum does to the roast chicken or turkey to achieve that tough, brown skin? And indeed, tough brown skin is what you’ll get after prolonged use of tanning aids such as oils and sun beds. Aside from the serious health risks such as cancer, which I have already extensively outlined, there are some real aesthetic downsides to it too. While a tan might make you look good temporarily, the look of them barely lasts beyond Autumn, but I can guarantee the effects do:

“In addition to the risk of skin cancer, tanning excessively contributes to ageing quickly. Tans may cover cellulite and give the appearance of clear skin; however, the skin actually looks worse once the tan fades. Premature wrinkling is an enormous side of effect of tanning.” – http://www.ehow.com/about_5465473_tanning-oil-dangers.html#ixzz2fydiwA3m

With all the horrendous side effects associated with trying to achieve a natural tan, it’s any wonder why people are still resorting to such lengths. And according to recent reports, the health effects of fake tans look to be just as serious. By definition, fake tan is “[a] lotions, sprays, creams, mousses and combined moisturiser and fake tan products contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical or vegetable dye that temporarily stains the skin, giving a tanned appearance. The dye interacts and binds with the dead skin cells located in the upper layer of the skin. The colour comes off when the dead skin cells flake off – approximately 1 week after application.” http://www.cancer.org.au/content/pdf/CancerControlPolicy/PositionStatements/PS-Fake_tans_August_2007.pdf
They contain a range of different chemicals like carcinogens, nano particles and DHA, some of which have been linked with contributing to serious health issues including hormone disruptions leading to birth defects, infertility and breast cancer, genetic mutation, DNA damage, and irritation of the skin and lungs. While some of these chemicals like nano particles do have some other useful functions, scientists’ lack of knowledge on the behaviour of these particles on a small scale means we should be very cautious as consumers.

Secondly, as Australia’s Cancer Council points out in its ‘Position Statement‘ for fake tan, there seems to be a misconception that fake tan acts to provide UV protection for our skin for the duration of the ‘tan’:

“Some people who use fake tans mistakenly believe that a tan will provide them with protection against UV radiation. As a result, they may not take sun protection measures, putting them at greater risk of skin cancer.” – http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/causes-of-skin-cancer.html

While it is undeniably more beneficial (health wise) for the tan-obsessed to use any number of alternative skin products that achieve a bronzed look in a much safer way, the sheer volume of these products available indicates the real underlying societal issue – that people need to be tanned, no matter what. Indeed, the Cancer Council’s number one recommendation in relation to fake tan is:

  1. “Cancer Council does not promote the perception that tanned skin is more desirable than pale skin”

Whether its real tan or fake tan, you’ll likely end up either with health problems and wrinkles or streaky orange legs that smell a little like urine. There are plenty of skin products available in supermarkets and at beauty stores that are designed to moisturise and enrich our natural skin, giving it a healthy glow no matter what colour. A few of my favourites include:

  • Palmers Olive Butter lotion: http://www.palmersaustralia.com/products/body-care/olive-butter-formula-lotion-250ml/
  • L’Occitane Verbena Harvest body lotion: http://shop.davidjones.com.au/djs/en/davidjones/beauty/bath–body—hair/verbena-harvest-body-lotion-250ml
  • Kiehl’s Creme De Corps: http://www.kiehls.com.au/travel/travel-ready-formulas/creme-de-corps?gclid=CLCR-I7B6LkCFcpfpQod5WMAPw

[Photo courtesy of steamykitchen.com]

Don’t forget, even if its not hot, if the UV level is 3 or above, you need to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide!

Don’t forget, even if its not hot, if the UV level is 3 or above, you need to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide!

Spring is here! Another awesome tip from Cancer Council Australia – Many people take note of the time of day where the UV is highest in order to maximise the colour they gain to their skin when lying outside. Instead, plan activities where you can enjoy the weather without exposing yourself to the harm of the sun. Anything from lunching at an outdoor restaurant, to climbing the Harbour Bridge! Resist those wrinkles youngsters, there’s way cooler things to do than tan that wont leave you rottenly raisin-ed by 30!

To set the record straight – ban the tan.

Considering the prevalence of skin cancer and skin related diseases in our country, and the fact that they are mostly a direct result of excessive sun exposure; I would argue that the Australian government does an “okay” job of raising awareness of the issue across the general population. Undeniably, most people are familiar with some of the more prominent campaigns over recent years that sought to educate on the dangers of sun exposure. This includes the infamous  ‘Slip Slop Slap‘ slogan and accompanying television advertisement launched in 1981 – which has now been altered to include ‘Seek’ and ‘Slide’, sadly to the detriment of the “ring” slogan – which came about at a time when knowledge of the link between UV radiation and skin cancer was only just beginning to surface and become widely known. It remains one of the most successful health campaigns in our country’s history; however, since then, there really hasn’t been much in the way of ‘groundbreaking society changing’ campaigns since, most likely because everyone now knows of the dangers and links to sun exposure and cancer. So the job is really only half done.

It is inexplicable and irresponsible that with skin cancer rates continuing to rise, despite this abundance of information and advice available to Australians, that more is not being done to curb the trend. Awareness is clearly not enough, so I say the government is only doing an “okay” job of addressing this issue for the key fact that they seem to be failing to target the real core of the issue, or at least what I perceive it to be. There is a blatantly obvious stigma among Australians, particularly young people (and it is when you are young that you do the most significant and long lasting damage to your skin), that being tanned is more attractive. This is what needs to be changed. It will be hard as it is truly engrained in many Western societies, a remnant of social class categorisation from centuries ago, that is doing so much harm to the health of our society. Admittedly, the more recent ‘The Dark Side of Tanning – There’s nothing healthy about a tan‘ campaign by the NSW government scraped the surface of the issue, at least in identifying its existence. But again, this is not enough. There needs to be a real and proactive push for this change, for us to get amongst young people, through education and involvement, to change this attitude. Fashion magazines/idols/role models could and should all play a part because at the end of the day, they are what help drive superficial trends anyway.

So this is where Shun the Sun comes in. This is what sets it apart from just being a ‘sun protection awareness’ campaign. I want to go deeper, I want to try to change society’s deeply engrained views of tanning, to really achieve a change that will finally see a dip in skin cancer rates.

Lets start from the beginning.

“A tan is not a sign of good health or wellbeing, despite many Australians referring to a ‘healthy tan’. Almost half of Australian adults still hold the misguided belief that a tan looks healthy.” – Cancer Council Australia

This sentiment, scary as it sounds, is exactly the issue that I’m trying to address, if not adamantly tackle. I could count on two hands the number of people I know how have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer – although thankfully know of no fatalities. But I dare say that this is unusual and in Australian society, will become more so. Take my Dad’s fiancé, a personal example that I regularly draw on: one long-term ex-boyfriends from her youth was a strapping young Spanish boy with naturally dark olive skin, yet he was always meticulous about staying out of the sun and, if forced to be exposed to its harsh rays, would always cover up. He died of melanoma in his late 20s. Yet I look at so many of my friends who, at the sign of any sunshine, rush outdoors to the nearest area of unobstructed rays and lie. Often without sunscreen, always without protective clothing, never with a hat; only sheltered by their sunglasses (you’d look uncool without your shades, dah). And all to achieve that desired ‘I’ve just come back from the Bahamas’ look, all year round. Lets be real, no one (who I know anyway) can afford weekly trips to the Caribbean and frankly, I’m finding myself wonder more and more, why would you want to? When you look at Australia’s skin cancer stats it’s really, really, frightening:

Every year, in Australia:

  • Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
  • Between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
  • The incidence of skin cancer is 2-3 times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.
  • Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70

[Cancer Council Australia, 2013]

We have a hot, harsh climate that we cant avoid at least a minimal level of exposure to through the carrying out of our daily lives; why then do we so many of us, particularly the youngsters, feel the need to bake ourselves at every other opportunity we get? It’s a social stigma that I find really interesting, not least because of its roots that date back centuries where initially pale skin was considered more beautiful and a sign of wealth. This trend changed along with the advance of industry technology so that pale skin was deemed a sign of poverty.

My focus, however, is the attitudes of Australian youth because, as I mentioned, it is something that is quite strikingly noticeable in my own life and experiences. Plus, the fact that it is young people who are particularly subscribing to this trend is most definitely reflected in this stat:

“Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years.”
[Cancer Council Australia, 2013]

So here I am, ready to make a stand against ‘fans of tans’, hoping to encourage the embrace of natural skin tones of all shades.

Cancer Council Australia, 2013, accessed September 11, 2013 <http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer.html>