Sun Safety and the Importance of Vitamin D

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By Emily Holler

In Australia we’ve had the ‘slip, slop, slap’ mantra drummed into us all our lives and it’s no wonder with such alarming statistics relating to skin cancer:

  • Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 70
  • Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australians
  • Skin cancers account for approximately 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers 
  • The incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times higher than those found in the US and the UK

We have been endlessly warned to be cautious about overexposure to sun as it can result in the skin becoming burnt and damaged. Cancer Council statistics indicate that 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend. Direct sunlight isn’t the only reason for this as UV radiation can still be high on cloudy days and in some cases sunburn can be worse as people may have a false sense of safety when there’s no direct sun exposure.

There is no doubt that we should be taking care of our precious skin and avoiding damage from sunburn. However there are increasing conflicts emerging in relation to commonly accepted approaches to managing or avoiding skin cancer. For one thing there are concerns about the toxicity of sunscreen, with an emergence of chemical free options available on the market today. Interestingly, the incidence of skin cancer has risen by 1800 percent since the 1930s. This statistic gives a strong indication that sun is not the only issue. Could increasing levels of environmental toxicity and inadequate nutrition be playing a part in this alarming increase?

One of the concerns surrounding sun avoidance and excessive of sunscreen is that we are extremely reliant on Vitamin D and the implications of deficiencies in this vitamin can potentially be as alarming as the problems we’re attempting to avoid by using it. A study published in the journal of Neurology found that moderate and severe vitamin D deficiency in older adults, was linked to a significant increase in the risk of dementia. A study published in May 2014 in the journal Clinical Cancer Research found a link between low vitamin D and prostate cancer in men, and a review published in October 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism suggested that those with vitamin D deficiency were twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. There have also been numerous studies done which show a distinct correlation between low vitamin D levels and heart disease. 

Ironically, vitamin D is one of the supplements proven to help fight cancer. The very thing you derive from sun exposure is useful in combatting the disease. Therefore it becomes as clear as day that we shouldn’t be practicing total avoidance. Particularly when you consider the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD—a condition more commonly found in regions with decreased sunlight such as those far north or south of the equator. SAD is associated with depression, low energy and difficulty concentrating.

With most things in life and in health, it’s important to walk the middle path. Exposure to sunlight is something nature intended us to have, so we should be mindful of this necessity and ensure that we get our daily dose. However we should be careful not to overexpose ourselves when the sun is at its most extreme during the high UV hours when there is an increased risk of sunburn. Summer is almost upon us so it’s a good time to become conscious of caring for our precious skin while being sure to make the most of the long hot days by getting a small, regular dose of sun exposure when the UV is low.

If you do make the mistake of overdoing it and find yourself blistered and raw, here are our top tips for recovering quickly:

1. Rehydrate

Burning causes dryness, which requires hydration to resolve. Lots of clean water, herbal teas and juices can support the body in recovery.

2. Aloe Vera

The aloe vera plant has incredible healing properties and is very soothing to sunburn. The raw plant gives the best results however there are a number of extracts on the market also. Choose a preservative free option where possible.

3. Coconut oil

Coconut oil naturally has mild sun protection properties but it is not safe to rely on this as a sunscreen in the heat of the day. If the burn has already occurred however, the oil works wonders in rehydrating the skin to reduce severity.

4. Essential oils

Peppermint and lavender oil are both very effective at relieving discomfort from sunburn. For maximum impact mix the oils with aloe vera juice, coconut oil and a little water. The perfect after-sun remedy.

5. Apple Cider Vinegar

Is there anything that ACV isn’t good for? Add a cup to a cool bath and soak or mix with clean water and dispense using a spray bottle. 

Keep your skin safe and protected whilst ensuring you get a moderate and healthy dose of sunlight this summer and you will be the epitome of Byron Bay wellness.