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Sun protection ' getting the balance right




New research has come to light suggesting we need to take another look at a sadly neglected vitamin and consider a new approach to how we address the whole sun protection issue.


The forgotten vitamin


Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that supports our immune system. Somehow, in the past couple of decades everyone seems to have forgotten about this vital molecule. Through the excessive emphasis on preventing skin cancer through sunscreen, we have probably hindered our body from accessing the necessary levels of vitamin D.


Now experts are suggesting that the pendulum needs to swing to a more balanced approach that allows us to access vitamin D, while still taking the necessary measures to protect our skin from potential sun damage.


New bodies of research both in Australia and the US suggests that just like vitamin A, vitamin D is a vital link in the body's innate ability to prevent cancers from starting up. It is actually a little frightening to realise that lack of vitamin D may have a hand in the higher incidences of all kinds of cancers including breast, bowel and even skin cancer.


Many people know that vitamin D is important for bones and teeth and may cause severe deformities in children suffering from a condition called rickets, but few seem to realise it is such an important molecule in the general health of people.


Let the sunshine in


According to Dr Ernest Richard Eiselen, medical adviser to leading skincare brand Environ, the latest research findings indicate that excessive sun protection can also lead to possible negative consequences through inadequate Vitamin D synthesis, which is also important in defending the body against cancer.


“The numbers of melanomas and other skin cancers are ironically still rising today,” states Dr Eiselen, “in spite of an anti-tan culture and very widespread use of predominantly UVB-absorbing sunscreens. Most of these sunscreens carry the now well-known SPF ratings and people proudly use these, while they go out to enjoy sunny weather.


“The campaigns to reduce the incidence of skin cancer have not been successful and the really troubling part is that no one seems to be able or willing to explain why they have failed. The anti-tan culture has been a positive development, but the use of ill-conceived sunscreens has not.”
Perhaps looking at some basic available facts will help shed some light on where the current approaches have failed and this is exactly where the role of vitamins comes in.


Bolstering the immune systems


It is a known fact that Vitamin A induces transcription of protective proteins in a cancer-suppressing gene called p53. The name of this gene is not important here, but we know that vitamin D may well have a similar action over and above other specific effects, which inhibit the growth of a variety of cancers. Vitamin D helps to cause the programmed death of cancer cells directly and this includes the cells of non-melanoma skin cancers.Suppressor genes prevent so-called oncogenes or cancer-causing genes from becoming active and promoting cancer formation.


Both these vitamins stimulate healthy cells to specialise to their best potential, which is the exact opposite behaviour found in cells undergoing cancerous changes. Vitamin D bolsters the immune system against infections like influenza and pneumonia and has many other direct and indirect positive functions in the human immune system.


Skin cancer risk


A little simple logic then suggests that if people lack sufficient quantities of vitamins A and D, the risk of oncogenes becoming active and causing cancer will increase. Additionally, the fact that UVA light is not sufficiently screened out by most commercially available protective lotions (even those with high SPF rating), and it becomes obvious that the damage caused by excess free radicals and UVA light will lead to an increase in skin cancers.


To make matters worse, the SPF rating on sunscreens refers to ultraviolet B screening only. Ultraviolet B is the exact light spectrum required activating vitamin D3. In another ironic twist, burning of the skin is the only real warning we get when we have had too much sun exposure. The high SPF UVB screens thus leaving us without an important warning sign of over-exposure.
Adding these positive and negative factors together, it seems clear that there should be an urgent need to reconsider the approach the world has developed to deal sensibly with sun exposure.


So whats the solution?


Here is what the experts recommend:






  1. Ten to 15 minutes of direct sun exposure to face, neck and arms between 10am and 1.30pm on a daily basis are recommended to help produce sufficient quantities of Vitamin D.
  2. After this time, apply an appropriate sunscreen product and comfortable protective clothing.
  3. At night, apply a Vitamin A serum with other antioxidants to the skin to restore the Vitamin A storehouse in the skin and to mop up any excessive free radicals accumulated during the day.


These three steps form a solid unit that helps to ensure the critical production and preservation of Vitamins A and D, while protecting and promoting the delicate cell health of the skin.


It is always important to think of the balances required in almost everything we do in life. Equally, we can predict that when practicing any excesses that they will ultimately lead to problems.


Tina Viney is from the Aesthetics Practitioners Advisory Network.




November, 2009




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