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Sun Exposure: Back to Articles
by Lauren Feder, M.D.

Excerpt from  Natural Baby and Childcare 

We are all aware of the links between sun exposure and skin cancer, and more people are making sunscreens, hats, and other protective clothing a regular habit. Media and health campaigns in recent years have convinced many of the necessity of applying sunscreen prior to any sun exposure, and in fact, many people wear sunscreen all year round in an effort to protect against skin cancer. But emerging research suggests that the chemicals in standard sunscreens may increase the risk of cancer, and that some exposure to the sun is beneficial.

The radiation from the sun contains both visible and invisible rays. The latter, called ultraviolet (UV) light, can increase the risk of skin cancer when an individual is exposed for prolonged periods and at high doses. People can be exposed to UV rays on cloudy days as well as on a sunny one. UV light is divided into ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA provides most of the sun rays and are longer and penetrate deeper into the skin's layers. UVA rays are known to cause leathery skin and wrinkles. UVB rays are shorter, and only reach the superficial layers of the skin and are responsible for sunburns and skin cancers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) distinguishes sunscreens on two main factors, the sun protection factor (SPF) and UVA and UVB protective actions. An SPF 30 means that it takes 30 times longer to burn with the sunscreen than if you were in the sun without sunscreen.

In an article on sun exposure in the British Medical Journal, the writers concluded that sun exposure without sunscreen was sensible in moderation. Every body needs sun to maintain good health: vitamin D is made in the body through exposure to the sun, and the sun may be helpful in treating depression, alleviating Seasonal Affect Disorder, and protecting against certain cancers and diseases like multiple sclerosis.

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