Cosmetic salesladies think I’m nuts. I walk in there, pale, and demand SPF-free day cream and make up. For some reason, everything has to have at least an SPF 15 in it. To prevent sun damage and skin cancer. Yesterday I downloaded 2 sun advisor apps, Lancomes and Niveas. Nivea had me on factor 15 in Holland, Lancome insisted I use factor 30. Factor 30 works really well, it prevents me from tanning further than a certain level on holiday in South-Africa in summer. In my own experience that is. Yes, the sun can be damaging, but I am convinced that this panic and over use of SPF is even more damaging… mostly to those of us who don’t have skin type 1 or 2.
The reason I started wondering about this was that the past winter, I used a BB cream with SPF 35 from Estee Lauder. I didn’t think about it too much. I had a sickly winter. And my skin suffered from lack of UV, it has never been as ‘fragile’ as it was at the end if the winter. My eczema, which I only have issues with during winter, was worse than normal. I was ghostly pale and sickly looking despite feeling just fine. I never had that little pigment in my face in my life, and suddenly I got freckles from short sun bed exposure. I never had freckles in my life! I grew up in South-Africa, had a strong skin that tanned easily and rarely got sunburnt despite only using SPF ‘when nessecary’, we considered SPF 30 to be reserved for extreme sun situations. I used the sun bed at the gym to get some relief from the eczema; it worked. Of course it does, I only have eczema when my skin is at it’s lightest. It took me 2 years out of South-Africa to get really pale. Depsite having dark blonde hair (brown if I’m off the pill) and dark blue eyes my skin doesn’t behave like Northern European skin. When I tan, I tan brown and not golden. My tan lasts for a long time. Interestingly, seemingly ‘rosacea’ symptoms also decrease when my skin has a pigmentation leven in which I don’t look anaemic or get freckles.
So, I reasearched the matter a bit.
Apparently… it seems like I’m right.
Melanoma risk increases with sun exposure, in those already susceptable. There is no news on what actually is associated with UV-exposure, the relation with UV exposure and eye problems are not clear. Solar keratosis, squamous cell skin cancer (SCC) and basal cell skin cancer (BCC) are related to sun damage, not sun exposure. Sun damage increases with susceptible skin types (light) and intermittent sun exposure (tourists?).
Getting too little sun, due to absolute or relative lack of exposure, is a factor contributing to vitamin D deficiency, leading to a number of health issues. Vitamin D is vital for bones (osteoporosis, rickets). Furthermore, lack of vitamin D has been associated with hyperparathyreoidism, risk of TB,some types of cancer and some immune disorders. UV exposure (but, not to damage-level) seems to work relatively protective against Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer, colorectal, ovarian, bladder and a few other cancers. Please take into account a certain level of incertainty in these results, but the evidence seem strong enough to estimate that insufficient UVB doses is costing America 10-15 billion dollars per year. Getting too little sunlight and thus too little vitamin D has also been related to higher blood pressure, ischaemic vascular disease (heart attacks and stroke), diabetes, and theoretically maternal vitamin D deficiency can be linked to an increased risk of schizophrenia in the child. Sun exposure has a positive influence on mood.
I do not believe cosmetic industries’ claim that sunscreen does not interfere with UV absorbion and subsequent vitamin D production: the whole idea of sunscreen is to keep the UV rays off your skin. Not all of these issues seem to be directly related to vitamin D, some have only been linked to UV exposure. Supplements don’t supplement sun.
Interestingly, Euro Africans are considered medium-skinned by the WHO! Fair enough, not all of them… I could also find no data supporting the claim that South-Africa has the highest rate of skin cancer after Australia. Supposedly 20 000 new cases of skin cancer (including AIDS-related) are diagnosed in South-Africa per year, on a population of 50 million. Holland has 35 000 diagnoses per year, on a population of 17 million, the US has 3.5million new cancers in 2 million people (out of 316million inhabitants). Now this is not a statistically brilliant calculation but… A South African has a chance of 0.0004% of getting skin cancer this year. A Dutchman has a chance of 0.002%. An American? 0.006%. Even if ALL of South-Africa’s skin cancer patients are part of the roughly 10% of South Africans identifying themselves as white, the risk is still lower than for an American. Roughly.
All in all, this seems to carefully support my vision that UV exposure is like many other things: you NEED it, but too much is damaging. Darker skin needs more sunlight than fair skin, as the higher melanin levels in darker skin (the pigment) works as an SPF. And the whole SPF craze is just that: a panic reaction to increased skin cancer rates, most likely caused by stupidity rather than the sun itself. Get enough sun to be healthy, but take care not to overdo it, this causes damage. And I will continue with what works wonders for my own skin: using sunscreen to prevent sunburn, not to prevent UV rays from touching my skin.