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A little bit of sun is beneficial but too much sun is harmful
The sun emits ultraviolet radiation (UV). This is different from the visible light and heat that it also emits.
UV radiation can be used by the skin to make vitamin D, which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. Fifteen minutes of casual sun exposure to the hands and face 2 to 3 times a week is sufficient. Anything beyond this and the body just breaks down the extra vitamin D made. So you don't need prolonged sunbathing to make your vitamin D, and you certainly don’t need to tan! If normal levels are built up in the summer, there will be enough to last through the winter.
On the other hand, too much UV radiation is harmful to the skin. It is thought that 4 out of 5 skin cancers are related to sun exposure, ie they would not have happened if it was not for the sun. Intermittent burning is the worst form of damage to the skin. However, long-term sun overexposure that does not cause burning is also harmful.
Apart from increasing the risk of skin cancers, the sun also causes skin ageing, with loss of the skin’s elasticity, deep wrinkles, sagging cheeks and pigmentation.
The ‘tanned is beautiful’ message is now outdated. Injudicious sun exposure has been incontrovertibly linked to skin cancer and to photoageing and there is nothing beautiful about either of these.
Check out the American Academy of Dermatology updated position statement on vitamin D (July 16, 2009) and the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2010.
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