Posted by: cg00n | June 20, 2014

The Living Sunlights


Sun and Skin Survival Special

‘Tis the sunshine season, although much of the Northern hemisphere may be in some doubt about this.  The summer solstice is upon us.  For many this is a time to frolic in the great outdoors in as near an au naturel state as the law permits.  For me it is a time to cover up and slap on the sunscreen.  For those of you with fair complexions, Nordic skin and especially red hair, mine might be a good example to follow.

Melanoma rates have been rising steadily for at least a decade  in the US, Canada, the UK,  and especially in Australia.  There appear to be two primary reasons for this.  The first is that the time we spend outdoors we wear fewer clothes than we used to.  If you look at pictures of people on holiday 100 years ago, almost all are wearing hats, the bathing suits leave everything to the imagination, parasols are not uncommon, and pale, white skin was considered a mark of high social standing.   The kids on the beach are wearing (more or less) street clothes and hats.

By 50 years ago a lot had changed.  Bathing suits were much more common and a good deal more revealing.  Hats and parasols were much less common, although the middle-aged and elderly still kept a lot of their skin under wraps.  In Europe, as post- World War II austerity wore off, a lot more people could afford to take vacations in France, Italy, or Spain where the summer sun beats down much more strongly than in Northern Europe.  In Canada the destinations tended to be The Caribbean, Florida, California, Mexico, Hawaii.

Reveling in the  outdoors with the sun on your skin was supposed to be good you.  Indeed, it is, up to a point (don’t get me started about the bugs, though) but there is a reason that those with a genetic history of living in the tropics tend to have darker skin than others.  Us gwai lo people have evolved to produce more vitamin D from less ultra-violet light, but this ability comes at a cost: our skin can be overwhelmed easily by the more intense sunshine at lower latitudes, and the damage can be very serious.

The second reason skin cancer is on the rise is that having a tan is now considered desirable, or even beautiful. The more of your skin you can bronze and the quicker you can do it, the better.  Not everyone can afford to spend all the time in sunny places to obtain a natural tan, which has led to the proliferation of tanning beds.  It turns out getting a tan this way is even worse than too much solar exposure and may even be addictive.  Figuring this out involved quite a lot of research, and there are clearly many people who dispute the results, or simply ignore them.

There is also a great deal of confusion over the use of sunscreen.  SPF values don’t apply to UVA, so they are not a very reliable guide to what products work best, and some people feel that the sunscreen ingredients are toxic (or at least highly suspicious) to the extent that one is better off not using them.  Sunscreen is quite safe and may be  a very good thing to do for your skin.

Our children are, in many ways, the most vulnerable when it comes to melanoma risk.  Not that they are likely to get it when they are young (although it does happen) but the skin damage lasts a lifetime and greatly increases the risk of melanoma later in life, which is why we are seeing so much more now.  They need to be  dressed appropriately, slathered in sunscreen, and when they are old enough taught how to take appropriate precautions.  Such precautions include not using tanning beds.  Many jurisdictions now forbid their use by minors, but this is a recent development.  Quite a lot of damage has already been done.

Having said all of that, getting outside is good for healthtrees and flowers and chirping birds all promote healthy states of mind.  I love being outdoors (except for the bugs).  Avoiding excess sun does not mean cowering in a basement until the autumn equinox.  I wear a hat, long sleeves, long pants and (horror of horrors!) socks with my sandals, and I use sunscreen on the bits of me that still see the sun:  my nose, forehead, ears, and hands.  This is probably overkill for most people.  Please pardon my paranoia:  UV can  encourage melanoma to spread.

 The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a good summary of how to take care of your skin for the summer.

Melanoma can strike anyone, young or old, sun worshiper or not.  It is worth knowing how to spot the bad spots. To find out how much you know, try this quiz. I really hope none of you ever have occasion to worry, but prevention is easy.  A cure may prove quite elusive.


  • My recent PET scan reveals no unexpected melanoma activity.  It ain’t gone, but it is under control for now.
  • My recent tissue pathology report on the suspicious lump on my right breastbone indicates that it is benign.
  • Adrienne has run up a lot of travel bills for her treatment.  If you are feeling flush with cash, please consider helping her out.

News Roundup

Ah, the hell with it!  I’m going boating 🙂  Have a great summer, all of you!

Full Summer Survival Gear


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