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Link Between The Sun and Skin Cancer

Updated on April 10, 2013

Sunlight meter to measure your exposure

For a number of years now, scientists have been identifying a correlation between skin cancer and our exposure to the sun. They have put two and two together and got five, or four in some cases.

It is a well-known medical fact that too much exposure to the sun causes skin damage. We don’t need someone with a PhD in quantum physics to tell us that. We can see with our own eyes when someone is sunburnt, and their skin is bright red, or is blistered, or is peeling thanks to sun exposure.

I am Scottish first and British second, and anyone reading here who knows about the British climate, knows that two consecutive days of sunshine was probably summer.

The first opportunity we get during good weather, we are out there in the garden or the local public park, stripping off and drawing in those precious rays. The sun is actually very good for us. It allows our bodies to absorb vitamin D, which is not absorbed through dietary food, and makes us feel better with the release of serotonin to our brains.

Sun Lamp Treatment

People with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) are actually treated with sunshine in the form of a sunlamp for their disorder. It works too! But then we should have known that, because next time the sun shines on the UK, have a good look at the faces around you. Don’t you see the laughter in their eyes even if it doesn’t always show in their expressions?

Where I come from in Glasgow, for a while I used to REALLY look at the people around me, the people on the street, and a sorrier bunch I have yet to see. But come a Saturday night when they cast their day-to-day worries aside a better bunch of folk you could never meet. That is the power of alcohol of course, and this article is about sunshine, not moonshine.

When I was a child, and summers were long and sunny and we spent most of it on the beach, we were again protected against sunshine because of the hours spent in the freezing Atlantic waters off the west coast of Scotland. Even when the sun shone all day, which in my memory it did, the cold water offset any chance of skin damage.

Yet now, hospitals are full of skin cancer patients?

Foreign Holidays in the Sun

Two things changed.

One was that people could afford to go abroad, and have you ever seen a Brit abroad? God they are embarrassing! Their whole holiday depends on sunshine, even if they were never actually sober enough to emerge before 3pm. Then their lives revolve around the swimming pool and what nationality has most of the poolside sun beds. They are extremely indignant if someone moved the towel they so carefully placed over a sun bed before they went to bed at 7am.

Really, apart from the cheap foreign drink, their main reason for being there is to get a ‘tan’ that they can show off when they get home. "Look, I’ve got a suntan! Want to see my white bits?"

Then things moved one step further in this direction. Many people, obviously, were not content with the suntan they got on holiday, and either wanted one before they went, or wanted to keep their tan when they got home, and the TANNING SALON was born.

Tanning Salons

Now, instead of their natural two days of sunshine, or 14 if they could afford to go abroad, people could have a tan ALL the TIME, with weekly or twice-weekly tanning appointments at the salon.

And skin cancer rates started rising...

As the nation got richer (this is before the credit crisis obviously), people started taking their families on more than one holiday a year...some people could afford up to six holidays a year and wasted no time in telling you all about them. In fact, taking your family on multiple holidays a year became a status symbol, and you were OBLIGED to talk about them, in detail. This is the new “better than the Jones’s” situation. How many times you could take your family on holiday to the sun became the new Beckham. Before Beckham became Beckham of course.

And of course on that holiday you were obliged to get as tanned as possible, or burnt, whichever came first.

I hope the medical people have talked some sense into those people, but if not, please read on to see what living in the sun really means.

Sunny Places

Here in Spain, the sun shines something like 300 days of the year. Maybe more. In fact, you can get sick of seeing the sun and hope for a cloudy day or two.

That asides, living here in Spain stops your fascination with the sun and “getting a tan”. There is no rush. If the sun is not here today, it will be here tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.

If you live here without air conditioning, as I do, you learn to realise that sun exposure during the day will make you feel warmer at night. And when the night time temperatures don’t fall below 40 C, your bedroom is already sticky hot and sleep is nigh on impossible, the last thing you want is an even hotter body.

Look around you, the Spanish are never burnt. Some of their young males may be browned to the point that you think they are not Spanish but Moroccan, or from a North African country where people are not white to start off with.

These are the guys who work in the sun all day – construction workers mostly, and even they take a siesta in the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest.

The Spanish people are white!

I’m not bringing race or colour into this. It’s a fact, the Spanish are a white race but with dark hair and skin that would turn brown in a flash, unlike ours.

They KNOW it is better to avoid the sun, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Heated skin does not keep you cool at night. Air conditioning does, but dries your throat out and can leave you feeling ill, apart from being as expensive as running full gas central heating in your house in the UK in the depth of winter.

skin cancer
skin cancer

Have a Siesta

Heated damaged skin is best avoided, and Spanish cities and towns fall silent between 2 – 5pm as the Spanish head home and stay home, out of the sun, until the worst of the day’s heat has passed.

Another thing I have noticed about the human skin is that years ago my skin would go red or brown or whatever when exposed to rays, whether or not I chose to wear sunscreen cream was irrelevant. Now the slightest exposure dries the surface of my skin out no end.

The knowledge I have gained from that tells me that sun moisturiser is not necessary among the young (because I hardly ever used it in ALL my life) but is necessary when you get older.

The sun in moderation is GOOD for you. Moderation can be the equivalent of a month a year, or more (NOT all at once). Moderation is NOT going to tanning salons several times a week, every week. These people that go must be absolutely skipping with happiness, but they aren’t, are they? They are too busy looking at other peoples’ tans and feeling envious because someone else has a slightly deeper shade of brown than theirs. Everybody’s skin tone is different. Some people do go darker easily. Others come out in freckles instead. Learn to live with what you have.

Please, all you sun worshippers, heed the doctors! Heed the statistics. Look at your sun exposure and limit it. Put your own limits on. Don’t become a victim. Skin cancer is not nice and can and does kill.


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    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      Again remember the emphasis is on too much sun. The sun itself never caused this problem before it became fashionable to get a tan and that only really started somewhere in the last 30 years. I also like the points you made on your hub about the sunny days of summer being few and far between in the UK ans so people rush out to get the rays where they can (in fact I think I mentioned something similar),to a certain extent that was OK but add a family holiday or two in the sun on top of this and it's overexposure.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      Thanks Izzy - I think the message needs to get out about this and it is really important. I have lots of thoughts about sun damage and I will probably put them into writing at some stage. I am still shocked that it can cause such serious problems to someone's health.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      I am sorry to hear about your friend :(

      I don't understand why the press (which lets face it is government controlled anyway) don't organise a concerted effort to discourage tanning, the way they did against cigarette smoking.

    • 2uesday profile image

      2uesday 7 years ago

      Recently my attention has been drawn to how serious this can be by knowing a person who is having treatment for cancer caused through sun damage.

      It is upsetting to think that the 'fashion' to be 'tanned and bronzed' is to be thought of as being beautiful, which means the number of cases can only rise in the future. Thanks for this Izzy.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      You wonder what is the matter with these people? They are crazy or what? Unfortunately there are far too many people like this.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      I am so glad you reminded people about skin cancer!

    • green tea-cher profile image

      green tea-cher 7 years ago

      You are absolutely right IzzyM. If we enjoyed the sun in moderation we would be perfectly fine. The tanning beds have become a real problem especially when clients hop from one salon to another so they can get more tanning minutes than one salon will allow. The end result, if not skin cancer, is horribly "leathered" skin and in extreme situations, death, in cases where the radiation has affected the internal organs. Great Hub!

    • profile image

      WildIris 7 years ago

      Great Hub IzzyM, and a good reminder, now that summer is here, to moderate sun exposure. Skin cancer kills young and old alike.

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      But isn't it strange how we have this THING about getting a tan? Some of us take it a step too far, so its no wonder skin cancer is on the increase. I haven't been out in the sun at all this year - you can tell which one I am in a crowd - I'm the only white one lol

    • expats profile image

      expats 7 years ago from UK

      Very good hub, Izzy. So true you can always recognise the Brits by their red bodies. Unfortunately we still live in a society where a tan and good health are viewed as many as going together. Yet, that's often the furthest from the truth. The natives are the clever ones, they know too much sun isn't good.