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

Advertisements

DARK CHOCOLATE, A WELCOME SAVIOUR

DARK CHOCOLATE, A WELCOME SAVIOUR

SKIN HEALTH: One of our fans – Hannah McDonald – happened across this great excerpt from the August edition of Cosmopolitan magazine: Sugar is a well-known detriment to the health of our skin except, interestingly, in the case of dark chocolate! Wrongly thought to aggravate acne, dark chocolate with at least 60% cacao helps skin stay hydrated and protects it from sun damage. Get munching babes!
— PS: stay tuned for more food related posts regarding skin protection!

UV RAYS

UV RAYS

“Spring is here! 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!”

An 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!

A perfect tip on this sweltering day!

TANOREXIA

There could be no clearer sign indicative of the prevalence of tanning as an issue in our culture than the admission of the word ‘tanorexia’ into the Oxford dictionary:

noun

[mass noun] informal – blend of ‘tan’ and ‘anorexia’

  • An obsessive desire to acquire and maintain a suntan, by natural or artificial methods: “she is one of a growing number of teenagers thought to be suffering from tanorexia”

And the worst part is, it’s was coined way back in the ’80s.

The condition has drawn much attention as of late thanks to Patricia Krentcil, a mum in the US who last year was “accused of letting her 5-year-old daughter go in a tanning booth.” According to this Huffington Post article, ‘the owner of the tanning salon that Krentcil reportedly frequented said that she ‘tanned about 20 times a month, and about five days a week.’ Excessive tanning can be considered a form of addiction in certain sufferers who may require psychological assistance to overcome it. In fact, a 2010 study in the journal Archives of Dermatology indicated that despite every one of their interviewees (who were college aged tanning bed users) knowing about the risks of skin cancer as a result of tanning, 98% of them said that this knowledge didn’t deter them.

Thanks to mainstream media, tanorexia, like anorexia, has been born out of a culture that relishes in the scrutinising of body image and sets very restrictive guidelines on how people should look in order to appear attractive. The worst part is that many sufferers resort to solariums to try to achieve a ‘natural’ tan, but according to the Skin Cancer Foundation: indoor tanning is particularly dangerous with users being 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.

With Tumblr pages dedicated to showcasing examples, and blogs intended to help answer your question of whether you are a suffer; tanorexia is clearly a real issue born out of a mindset we know dates back centuries. Thankfully though, the likening of a tanning obsession to the serious health condition anorexia, of which many are now well educated on, highlights that at least people are starting to become aware of the severity and implications of tanning, especially as a result of excessive sun exposure. Sites such as these tanorexia tumblr pages are fantastic in that they are sparking a dialogue, particularly young people, about the unattractive side of looking overly tanned.

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 12.50.30 PM

While I do not in any way vindicate the ridiculing of anyone, especially if they have a real problem such as an addiction, the particular condition of tanorexia has been born out of a social stigma that is just unnecessary and it needs to be spoken about as a negative health issue. Thankfully, people are starting to take note. The more people are exposed to the unattractive side of tanning, the less likely it is that they will pursue the look.

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]

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>