Love the Sun, Ditch the Sunburn
Mom and I were talking the other day about getting sunlight on your skin to make vitamin D, while not getting so much sun as to get a sunburn. Your body makes something like 10,000 IU of vitamin D from just 10 minutes of midday sun exposure -- assuming a decent amount of uncovered, non-sunblocked skin is exposed -- so it’s pretty easy to get enough D without getting burned. But then mom brought up an interesting question: why is it that, as kids, we were able to play outside in the sun all day with no sunblock and not get sunburned, whereas today, just an hour of sun will often cause a sunburn?
One theory is that ozone depletion, which has led to more ultraviolet light reaching Earth’s surface, is the cause of the increased sunburn incidence, but there doesn’t seem to be much solid evidence for that. It makes sense and I think it’s a factor, but probably not the whole story.
A few days after this conversation, Mark Sisson wrote a piece on natural sunburn prevention in his usual thorough and well-referenced style. It turns out that avoiding the sun, avoiding saturated fat, and loading up on omega-6 fats (e.g. vegetable oils) all increase the likelihood of getting a sunburn when you do get a rare bit of sun exposure. Of course those three things are all recommended by the US government, and by now I’m well beyond the point where I’m surprised that US government recommendations actually cause harm rather than helping.
I didn’t realize this until I read Mark’s article, but since I switched to a more primal/paleo diet earlier this year, I’ve been able to get a lot more sun exposure without getting sunburned. Last year, after hearing Steve Gibson’s comments on vitamin D and then deciding to go out and get some midday sun a few times per week, I could only get about 20 minutes before starting to burn, as I discovered one day when I tried to push it up to 30 minutes. But this year, although I again started at 20 minutes, I have since pushed it up to about 45 minutes and I’m not getting burned at all. The only difference is that this year, with my new way of eating, I’m consuming much less frankenfood like vegetable oil, and much more natural saturated fat.
Be sure to read Mark’s whole article on the topic for more natural ways to prevent sunburn, and don’t miss the comments, which are full of people reporting a complete lack of sunburn since having gone primal.
And if you’re worried about skin cancer, then you should seek the sun, not avoid it. Sun exposure protects against skin cancer, as long as it’s not overexposure.