Summer means different things to different people depending on their geographical location. In the tropics, where the sun is at its zenith, people dread the scorching sun and prefer to beat the heat through time- tested methods or by simply resting indoors.
In the cooler zones, especially in the west, summer is welcomed for its feel-good warmth and for the outdoor activity that it triggers. It is a time for ice cream sodas and picnics, for flip-flops and barbecues. It is also a time for many to shed their clothes and revel in the sun to acquire, what is now called, a 'bronzed look'.
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In the ancient times, sun worship was part of daily life, and acquiring a tan was not considered a bad idea. The ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and Sumerians revered the Sun as the natural source of energy and engaged in Sun Worship.
During this ritual, it was natural for them to bare their bodies before the sun; this resulted in a tanned skin - a norm among those early people.
'Hide' & Class
But as time evolved, tanning was considered denigrating, as it was equated to the working folks and therefore a nice thing to be avoided. Pale skin was equated to dignity and class; the more the melanin, the greater was the fall from atop a socially-high ladder.
But now, the fashion concept has come a full circle. The bronzed look is in vogue, is considered chic and classy, and the sun- bathers are going about their job in full swing!
Tanning: Means & Methods
Some people like to sunbathe in the privacy of their own space while others prefer seaside or public spaces like parks.
Some sunbathe in partial nudity, while others like to go the 'dare all, bare all' way,to bask in the nude,in order to aquirae an evenly - tanned look.
The present tan -crazed generation can work on their tan, all round the year with the help of tanning devices. A tanning bed, is an equipment that emits UV radiation to artificially create a tan. This is generally used for cosmetic purposes.
A tanning booth is another device, which is similar to the tanning bed, but which is more potent. Here the individual stands during his exposure to the UV rays. There are several tanning parlors that do a roaring business, catering to public demand.
There is a hitch to this perfect scenario. The intensity of radiation, being emitted from the tanning beds, is greater when compared to normal sunlight. This requires people to curtail their exposure to shorter spells.
In addition, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that according to a Swedish study, women between 18-30 years, who frequented tanning parlors for more than 10 times a year, were seven times more prone to develop melanoma compared to women who did not visit tanning salons.
Suntan vs Sunburn
Sun tanning is a natural physiological response of the skin cells, called 'melanocytes', when exposed to the UV rays in the sunlight. During this response, the pigment melanin is produced.
Melanin production usually takes some time, as the melanocytes take time to get activated. Melanin gets accumulated and, in about a week's time, develops a protective layer.
The above fact is more applicable to the members of the 'white' race. Dark-skinned individuals are less sensitive to the sun, as melanin is already present in their skin in varying degrees.
Tanning should be carried out sensibly as overt tanning could cause basal cell cancer, melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma besides speeding up ageing.
If a fair-skinned person, who does not have a tan, gets exposed to the sun for long , then he is likely to get sun burned. The manifestations during sunburn are the body's way of coping with the UV damage. The following happens during a sunburn-
• Skin becomes red and painful (erythema)
• Blisters may be formed
• DNA damage
UVB (280 -315nm)
• Triggers increased production of melanin
• Causes cancer (besides melanoma),
• Causes aging- related wrinkles.
• Produces Vitamin D
• Can be controlled by Sunscreens
UVA (315 -400 nm)
• Also called 'Black Light'
• Present throughout the day
• Triggers the release of pre-existing melanin
• Brings abut the oxidation of melanin to produce the tan
• Causes Melanoma
• Sunscreens are less effective
• Adequate clothing can protect against this radiation
Why do we need sunlight?
From prehistoric times, the sun has been looked upon as the universal sustainer of all lives. The benefits of the sun are multiple of which a few relating to health are listed below-
• The sun prompts the skin to produce Vitamin D, an essential vitamin. Vitamin D deficiency in children results in the inappropriate use of calcium. This results in rickets which is charecterized by malformed bones and 'bowlegs'.
• Vitamin D deficiency can also cause vitamin Osteomalacia, a malady affecting the bones,resulting in pain and an inability to carry weight.
• According to a recent research, adequate exposure to the sun during childhood can help prevent the onset of multiple sclerosis later on in life.
• Treatment for diseases like vitiligo and psoriasis involves exposure to sunlight or UV radiation
• Insufficiency of vitamin D is known to cause many cancer deaths
However 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure, two times per week will provide adequate vitamin D. Experts are of the opinion that our normal food which involves milk and other dairy products provide us with the required amount of Vitamin D. Cod Liver oil and vitamin D fortified milk are easily available supplements.
Why should we Seek the Shade?
However, there are certain facts that the revelers should keep in mind. Excessive exposure to UV rays in the sunlight, or artificial sources may cause serious harm.
• Rashes, erythema and edema and are some of the symptoms of over exposure to the sun.
• The damage may accumulate over time and may result in the development of skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma.
Dodging the Sun
Excessive sun exposure must be conscientiously avoided, at all cost. Some of the tested and proven techniques to prevent sun damage are listed below-
• Try to avoid direct exposure to the sun from 10 am to 4 pm
• Wear protective long-sleeved cotton clothes,
• Wear protective accessories like sunglasses and hat, if you are going to be out in the sun for long.
• If you have a sensitive skin, it would be better to carry an umbrella
• Make sure you drink plenty of water, or other fluids, while outdoors
• Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen generously, 20 minutes before you step out doors. Sunscreens come with a sun protection factor. If you are OK in the sun for about 20 minutes, then a sunscreen with SPF 20 will allow you to face the sun for 20x20 = 400 minutes.
• Re-apply the sunscreen, at least after every two hours
Dr. REEJA THARU/L