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TBT: Keep on the Sunny Side

The science on striking a healthy balance between absorbing sunshine and avoiding sunshine remains confusing. Before re-posting my old opinion below from ye olde turn-of-the-century, I had to remove all the links to my sources because they're all dead by now. Last year, I read some interesting articles on this issue called "Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?" and "No, Sunscreen is NOT the New Margarine." Neither of them can provide a clear answer to how much sun a person should get, and I suspect that the answer is both individualized and complicated.

I've given up on asking doctors about this in person. When I've asked for their personal opinions on the controversy, most of them have given me a blank stare, followed by a mumbling of, "Current guidelines are..." I even started seeing a dermatologist for annual skin cancer screenings, as recommended by every popular women's magazine I've ever seen in a medical waiting room. My dermatologist, who moved to Michigan from L.A., acted consistently bemused as to why a very obvious non-tanner such as myself would want her to examine my pasty, naked hide. It was embarrassing, so I came out and asked her, "Aren't I supposed to get annual checks?" She shrugged and said in a bored tone, "You can if you want to."

I doubt I'll find a straight answer, because it seems obvious by now that nobody knows. However, there are some things I feel certain about: that sunburns are always bad, that moderate amounts of sunshine on naked skin feels good, and that spending time outdoors is very healthy, whether in the shade or the sun. I still do not tan. I still don't wear sunscreen every single day either, and when I do, I choose the kinds that don't kill coral reefs. I keep an eye on my moles and weird spots.

Happy summer, folks. Take care of your skin and get any new skin features that don't go away on their own checked out, because skin cancer is common and much more treatable when caught early. Meanwhile, don't let sun avoidance keep you cloistered inside. Enjoy the rest of the summer outdoors for the good of your immune system, sleep cycles, mental health and acuity, mood, heart, lungs, and bones.

Keep on the Sunny Side

Good news! The hottest health supplement is free, abundant, and intensely pleasurable.

Thy heart created all, this teeming earth,
Its people, herds, creatures that go afoot,
Creatures that fly in air, both land and sea,
Thou didst create them all within thy heart.
Men and their fates are thine, in all their stations,
Their many languages, their many colors,
All thine, and we who from the midst of peoples,
Thou madest different, Master of the Choice.
And lo, I find thee also in my heart,I, Khu enAten, find thee and adoreO thou, whose dawn is life, whose setting, death,In the great dawn, then lift up me, thy son.

-last three stanzas of a poem from 2000 BCE, when the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton established devotion to Ra, the god of the sun

Several years ago, Mr. G and I read a report from Canadian researchers who found that pretty much everyone living above a certain latitude (including us in Michigan) is Vitamin D deficient.

Remember the Easter Blizzard of 2008? Good thing we stocked up on Firewood and Seasonal Affective Disorder prescription light boxes...

For most of the year, we simply don't get enough direct sunshine for our skin to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to heart damage, brittle bones, rickets, and a sharp increase in the risk of internal cancers.

Help! Vitamin D deficiency is SCARY! My pal here fled Michigan's Northerly latitude for Arizona, where he will never have to suffer from the rickets.

In fact, people are much more likely to die of internal cancer related to Vitamin D deficiency than we are to die of skin cancer. Not getting enough sunshine is more dangerous than not protecting our skin from UV rays. Since Americans started to slather sunscreen on our children diligently, a bunch of our children are being born with or developing rickets!

People with darker skin are more at risk than people with light skin. It takes more time for dark skin to absorb enough sunshine to make enough Vitamin D. Pasty folks like me probably only need 10 minutes of basking a day, but dark-skinned people need more.

Miss Moppett needs more D to live as a creature of the night.

People can get some Vitamin D from foods and supplements, but our bodies need the sun to get optimal D levels. It is vital that human beings get direct sun on large portions of the skin, with no sunscreen. Deep tans and burns are still bad, so sunscreen is good if we're going to be outside for a long time. But living like a vampire makes us more likely to die of cancer, not less.

The zombie look is all fun and games until somebody gets rectal cancer.

What useful knowledge! So, logically, Mr. G and I changed our lifestyles immediately. We stopped using sunscreen, except on our faces and hands (which receive a disproportionate amount of UV rays), and began to intentionally expose our pale, cave-cricket-like bodies to the sun as much as possible. During the fall and winter, we take Vitamin D supplements.

It helps if you have a privacy fence or some family property in the wilderness where you can play outside in minimal clothing.

Sadly, the rest of the United States is taking a long time to react to Canada's findings. I noticed that on television and in magazines, experts kept pushing sunscreen and harping on the dangers of UV rays. Rarely was Vitamin D mentioned, and if it was, the "experts" perpetuated the old debunked idea that tiny amounts of sun (like walking by a window in your house) was enough and sunscreen should always be used outdoors. Not true!

Just now, LiveScience is reporting, "Lack of Vitamin D in Children 'Shocking.'" OK, I think the slowness of the U.S. to get with the program is way more shocking, but hey, what can you expect? I don't fully understand why American doctors have largely ignored this very interesting, surprising, and important information. Does it have something to do with sunscreen manufacturers' lobbyist groups? Medical practices wanting to keep us sickly for more business? Sounds crazy, but I wouldn't be surprised.

So send those children outside! The glow from the TV won't do the job. And put on your bikini to work in the backyard. Showing that skin is healthy!

I love learning that enjoyable things are also good for you. Especially when those enjoyable, healthy things are FREE!

In Good Health has a good article on the health benefits of sunshine. UV rays (in the correct dose, of course) improve mood, sleep cycles, mental alertness and clarity, autoimmune health, heart health, and bone density.

Let the sun shine!


  1. The humor you infuse into a serious, serious situation is priceless.

    I remember talking about Vitamin D deficiency in The Mitten while huddling around the Sun Box. Recently when it was on CBS I was like ::Duh. Doesn't everyone know this?::

    Sadly, no I guess everone does not know about this!

    Obviously I have made a ton of changes to my life since then, but I high doses of sunshine that I am getting here not only help me to create Vitamin D to avoid lots of kinds of cancers but it also has a lot to do with my sunnier dispositon.

    Let in the sunshine indeed!

  2. I'm getting my vitamins this weekend! We're heading up to Wolverine to strip down and float along the river with a cooler of beer. Just like God intended.

  3. Wolverine, Michigan.

    I'm only a little scared for you!

  4. We'll be up there with a barnful of Italian Mafia/West Virginia Hills relatives. Plus, the funeral will take place at the base of the largest crucifix in the world. They've got my back against any bears, gas-huffing woodbillies, or werewolves we might encounter, so don't worry too much!

  5. I am working on a means of capturing sunshine in a time-release capsule. Last week, the data for my sunshine in pill form was submitted to the FDA for approval.

    Until it's released, I recommend Vitamin D fortified milk.

    Hmm... I just thought of something ... a pill form! Genius! Soon we'll be able to take milk orally!
    I recommend drinking something to wash down the pill... Maybe liquified Oreos?


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