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Shedding Some Light on Sunlight
by Mad Dog


Back in the good old days, defined as the years when saying ďParis is hotĒ referred to the romantic European capital in the summer, sunlight was good for you. 
Iím sitting in the sun feeling very conflicted. Itís not because Iím goofing off when I should be working. After all, I have my laptop balanced on my knees and Iím writing, so Iím enjoying the sun and being productive at the same time, which is one of the best kinds of multitasking I can think of. And the least confusing. No, the problem Iím having is that I canít figure out if Iím being good to myself by being in the sun or not. Where I once thought getting sun was good for me, I later had it drummed into my head that it was evil and I would turn into a pile of wrinkles and carcinoma if I wasnít bundled up like a 2-year-old heading out into a blizzard. Now it turns out sunlight may actually prevent cancer. Yes, I said prevent it. I havenít been this confused since Elton John got married.

   Back in the good old days, defined as the years when saying ďParis is hotĒ referred to the romantic European capital in the summer, sunlight was good for you. It was necessary for the bodyís manufacturing of vitamin D, gave you a healthy looking glow, warmed you down to the bones, and put you in a good mood. Suntan lotion was baby oil which you slathered on your body like a well basted Thanksgiving turkey. If you were afraid you were going to burn you put thick, gooey white zinc oxide on specific body parts the way life guards did with their noses, a sure tip-off that they were either playing the scarecrow in a community theater production of the Wizard of Oz or they were Professional Sun People. Sunscreen was for sissies, beach umbrellas were for grandparents, and tan lines were something to be proud of.


The porcelain look was back in, George Hamilton was out, and inventors with a sense of humor developed spray-on tans which let you step into a booth, turn around while being sprayed with orange dye, and understand what it feels like to be an old junker at Earl Scheib.
   Somewhere around the time our parents were beginning to look like dried apple dolls well before their time, scientists decided that the sun really wasnít so good for us after all. They said it causes wrinkles, icky sun spots, and skin cancer. Talk about a buzzkill. They recommended not going out into the sunlight without wearing SPF 200 sunscreen, a burqa, a big floppy hat that makes you look like Katherine Hepburn, and an umbrella with a UV blocking rating of infinity. Actually they preferred that we didnít see sunlight at all and probably had recommendations on how to make sure we didnít get a moonburn, but luckily we were good and didnít have to hear it. Suddenly the porcelain look was back in, George Hamilton was out, and inventors with a sense of humor developed spray-on tans which let you step into a booth, turn around while being sprayed with orange dye, and understand what it feels like to be an old junker at Earl Scheib.

   Now it turns out that not only isnít the sun bad for you, itís actually good for you again. Go figure. The reason for this revelation is that, just as in fashion, science goes retro every once in a while. No, scientists arenít wearing bell bottoms and leisure suits, even though that would be a step up from their usual attire. Whatís happened is that theyíve rediscovered the glory of vitamin D. Four recent studies have found that vitamin D helps protect against lymphoma and cancers of the prostate, lungs, colon, and yes, even the skin. And the best way to get vitamin D is still through sunlight. Thatís right, the same sunlight that causes skin cancer can protect against it. Donít feel bad, Iím confused too.


It seems to me though that if the sun causes and prevents skin cancer at the same time, the two should effectively cancel each other out, making sunlight skin cancer neutral.
   So now the thinking is that we should get 15Ė20 minutes of unprotected sun every day. I guess after that weíre supposed to go back into ultraprotection donít-let-any-rays-touch-your-body mode. It seems to me though that if the sun causes and prevents skin cancer at the same time, the two should effectively cancel each other out, making sunlight skin cancer neutral. Then all we have to do is decide whether itís worth spending our golden years looking like a mahogany shar-pei in return for warding off other cancers.

   Now you understand why Iím so conflicted. See, I like the sun. The sun is my friend. I donít worship it, but then Iím not much at worshipping. Except, of course, at the feet of my girlfriend who would kill me if I didnít say this. I guess the best way to put it is that I couldnít live in a place that doesnít get a lot of sunshine. The idea of living in grayness for months on end, or god forbid 21 hours a day of darkness, would push me over the edge like a native Finn impaling himself on a reindeerís antlers. So I guess Iíll play it safe and take the 15 free and clear sun minutes the doctors are allowing me and be happy. And to think, for a while there I thought I wouldnít have to smell like cheap sunscreen again.

©2005 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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