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Summer sun: find a sensible balance

With temperatures starting to sizzle, sun exposure’s back on our radar. But for all our slipping, slapping and slopping, it’s worth reminding ourselves that sunlight is good for us — and, it seems, in more ways than just vitamin D.

By now we probably all have our sun routines down pat, whether it’s hats and long sleeves, staying in the shade, or the same Ella Bache foundation we’ve used for 30 years.

Or maybe you’ve been a sun-worshipper forever and the first whiff of warm weather brings back memories of basting yourself in coconut-scented tanning oil. The odd BCC isn’t going to deter you from reviving your bronzed inner beach girl every summer.

Whatever your approach is, it’s important not to let well-worn habits get in the way of sensible sun exposure.

You might’ve seen a recent feature in the Sydney and Melbourne papers on skin cancer and the sun. It pointed out that big studies on the capacity of vitamin D supplements to prevent disease have been underwhelming. 

We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Any time we hang too much expectation on a single nutrient we’re likely to be disappointed. They’re meant to work in synergy with others, not perform miracles on their own.

Apparently, close to 60% of Australian women in the southern states are low in vitamin D in winter. In summer it’s just over 40%. 

If any country was going to have decent levels of vitamin D, you’d think it’d be ours. As we know, Queensland is the sun cancer capital of the world.

But after decades of campaigns about sun cancer, the truth is that the relationship between melanoma and sun exposure isn’t as straight forward as we’ve been led to believe. And it gets more complicated when we add sunscreen to that mix. 

Which country do you think has the most deaths from melanoma? In spite of Queensland’s soaring credentials, it’s actually not Australia. We’re second.

We’d expect first place to go to somewhere seriously sunny. Believe it or not, that honour belongs to… New Zealand. 

Norway comes third.

As I said, not so straight forward.

We’re also realising that sun exposure has benefits beyond vitamin D. 

For example, there seems to be a connection between more sun and less risk of multiple sclerosis.

The sun also appears to boost our immunity and lower our blood pressure. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between how much sun we get and how long we live. 

So all this UV is a mixed blessing.

Medical authorities say we don’t need to cover up until the UV index is over 3. In Brisbane right now, that happens by 7.30 in the morning.

By mid-morning it’s often around 11 and it’s up to 13 in the middle of the day. It doesn’t drop back to apparently safe exposure levels again until about 4.00pm.

A SunSmart app has been designed to help us work out when to cover up depending on how dark or fair our skin is, but by now we probably know our own skin pretty well.

Each of us needs to find that balance between not getting burnt and not covering up so much that we miss out on the considerable benefits of the sun.

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018 | Rhonda Anderson