Archive for Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ideas on suntanning come full circle

July 10, 2008

Recently there has been a great deal of publicity about vitamin D deficiency among Americans of all ages. It seems that one of the reasons for the problem is that Americans are using sunscreen and, quite simply, aren't getting enough beneficial rays. Of course, the latter is happening because too much sun can lead to skin cancer and hasten the aging process.

Our ideas about suntanning have come full circle in the past century. In the late 19th and early 20th century suntanning was held in low esteem. Pale skin was a sign of beauty and refinement. Only ruffians such as outdoor workers had sun-tanned skin. Old timers believe that "lily white" skin was certainly a sign of beauty.

If you look at the pictures from that era, you never see anyone with a short-sleeved shirt. It would be decades before short sleeves would catch on. Due to the unusual modesty of the times, dresses drug on the ground and swimsuits were voluminous and rarely revealed an ankle. Hats were worn and, in short, there was very little way to get much sun.

All of this started changing around the time of World War I. For some reason, it was thought that bronzed skin was a sign of both good health and sexuality. Swimsuits started becoming skimpier in the 1920s and it wasn't long before anyone with pale skin was thought of as being unhealthy. People spent countless summer hours lounging under the sun.

By the time I was a teenager in the 1950s, the worship of bronze skin was at its height. All of us can remember when people actually bragged about the depth of their tan. Movie stars were always bronzed and we were all trying to have that deep, supposedly healthy, bronze look.

That was a problem for me, however. Since I had reddish brown hair and very fair skin, I rarely tanned. I got freckles, however, and pain. Anytime I was exposed to the sun for very long, I didn't get a beautiful tan, I got a painful red burn. I soon learned to always wear a T-shirt for protection against the rays.

Probably the first, painful burn I got was due to trying to be macho. I was 18 at the time and I made the mistake of spending a day sans a shirt. What happened was that Kansas University was conducting an archeological dig nearby and needed some volunteers to help. When my buddies and I checked it out, we found several very attractive coeds working on the project.

Of course, we volunteered and were accepted. Like all of the other guys, I pulled off my shirt and spent a very hot and sunny day shoveling and hauling dirt. As might be expected, the girls had very little interest in us and what most of us got was lunch and a good workout. In my case, however, I got something more - a very, very bad sunburn. In fact, it was a couple of days before I could wear a shirt again. I couldn't lean back without my back letting me know how stupid I was. I couldn't even sleep since rolling over was a real challenge to my pain level. Then, I vowed to be more careful and I did fine for a time.

However to prove that I'm not always a fast learner, I had one more bout with a serious sunburn. We took a trip to the Ozarks when the girls were little. It was a very hot day and our car wasn't air conditioned. We arrived at the motel and I spent the day frolicking in the swimming pool and had lots of fun. Well, that is, until my back reminded me that I shouldn't get in the sun so much.

That was the final straw and now I am very careful. And, yes, I always use sunscreen. In my case, I always wear a shirt and hat when I work outside and try to remember to always apply sunscreen. If I don't, I know there will be a price to pay.

Incidentally, sunscreen is a fairly new product. It seems that it was developed during World War II when soldiers were suffering from serious sunburns in the South Pacific. Now, there are sunscreens which can really protect skin during outdoor fun times. Certainly, there are those who love to tan, but many are now using sunless tanning lotions for bronze skin rather than rays. Others try to be very careful about the amount of rays they absorb. In general, there is much more concern about skin care now than when I was young. Check any pharmacy and you'll find shelves of sunscreen and you'll find a huge supply of products aimed at protecting skin and allowing a bit of a healthy appearing tan.

I am sure that the lack of vitamin D does cause health problems and I plan to do something about it. In my case, however, I won't be outside sunbathing, I will be taking a nice, safe vitamin supplement.

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