It's that time of year again. Spring is upon us, and summer — when sun exposure is at its peak — is just around the corner. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this is a high-risk time of year for developing skin damage that can lead to melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
A brand new study funded by the Academy, in conjunction with the Skin Cancer Foundation, estimates as many as 40 million Americans will exceed the maximum recommended level of sun exposure this summer, resulting in tens of thousands of additional skin cancer cases in coming years.
To ward off what they refer to as "a calamity of enormous proportions," the two organizations have developed a national emergency sun protection plan, which is slated to take effect on June 1.
Skin Cancer Prevention Goes Mandatory
I've been a long-time critic of the dermatology profession for taking such a one-sided view of sun exposure, as mounting evidence reveals sun exposure tends to be protective against not only melanoma, but also a wide range of internal cancers and other diseases, including heart disease.
To circumvent this kind of critique, the U.S. government has now decided to step in and, siding with the American Academy of Dermatology, a multi-layered plan of action is being rolled out in coming weeks and months.
As you may recall, in July 2014, the interim U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak issued a "Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,"1,2 in which he declared UV radiation harmful and said sun exposure should be avoided altogether.
According to the Assistant Secretary for Health: "It's important to shatter the myth that tanned skin is a sign of health. And a 'base' tan is not a "safe" tan. Tanned skin is damaged skin."
In light of the most recent study, the U.S. government has decided thatrecommending complete abstinence from all UV exposure is not enough.
Enforcement is needed to protect and preserve public health, and a new agency is therefore being set up to ensure the message is being properly disseminated and enforced.
Compliance Deadlines for Federal and Private Buildings
All United States federal and state government building exits as of June 1, 2016 are to be equipped with clearly visible signs stating that, "Exiting these premises without proper UV coverage will result in skin cancer." Privately owned buildings must be equipped with melanoma warning signs as of June 1, 2017.
To start, certified sun-avoidance compliance officers will only be stationed at federal buildings in particularly sun-soaked states, including Florida and Arizona, to ensure those entering and exiting the building are wearing UV prevention-compliant attire.
Eventually, compliance officers are expected to be stationed at every state and federal building across the U.S., and while not mandatory, the interim Cancer Protection task force does recommend private businesses consider employing certified Anti-Cancer Compliance Personnel as a proactive healthcare measure.
The Message Is Simple: Sun = Cancer
The scientific literature shows a broad array of skin health benefits from UV radiation, including blue light for the treatment of acne,3 and smoothing of fine wrinkles with non-thermal blue and near infrared.4,5
However, according to the task force assigned to create the new federally funded Cancer Protection Agency, UV exposure is the only established source of skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.
Added support for this stance came from a recent Swedish study,6 which found that while women with "active sunlight exposure habits" have a lower overall mortality rate than women who avoid sun exposure, they do have a greater risk of skin cancer.
So far, recommendations to avoid sun exposure have failed to result in complete avoidance, and this, they say, is the real reason why melanoma cases still occur. It's important to note that 100 percent avoidance will be the rule for everyone, regardless of your skin type.
When questioned about this philosophy and asked why no consideration for skin type and color is taken into account, Dr. Henry Lim, who sits on the Skin Cancer Foundation's Photobiology committee, replied that such information is "irrelevant" because vitamin D supplements can address deficiency.
"We want to make it simple as a public health message — as to what the public should reasonably be able to absorb and understand. To fine tune it is just too complicated..."
Lim's sentiment is echoed by Washington D.C. dermatologist Dr. Evan Moon, who said:
"Sun exposure has absolutely no benefits beyond the photosynthesis of plants. But humans are not plants. It's quite simple; for people, the sun is a dangerous risk factor to be avoided at all costs. End of story.
For years, I've struggled to comprehend why people like Dr. Mercola insist on complicating the matter by bringing up research by dissenting sun worshippers who conveniently always find some sort of benefit.
I believe the implementation of this federal sun avoidance mandate, which includes the use of compliant UV prevention systems, will finally address this avoidable cancer risk once and for all, and in coming years, melanoma will be effectively eradicated."
UV Prevention System Causes Uproar in Fashion Industry
While the sun avoidance mandate has managed to fly below the mainstream radar, leaked photos and documents describing the proposed UV prevention system have caused uproar within the fashion industry.
In this photo, I personally model a first-generation prototype of the full system, with a (so far) voluntary addition of a portable air purification mask. The goggles come in clear or tinted versions, both of which filter 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays. The mask is a bonus as it helps filter out air pollution that the World Health Association has recently shown to be linked to 1 in 4 deaths.
A well-known fashion designer who spoke out under conditions of anonymity has reportedly stated: "I don't know what the [bleep] I'm going to do with this. It's an absolute mess. Widespread implementation of this garb poses a serious threat to the industry as a whole. Fashion week will never be the same again."
Food Manufacturers to Tackle Vitamin D Deficiency Concerns
To tackle the public health concern of widespread vitamin D deficiency, a number of food companies have vowed to fortify more foods with vitamin D. Sodas, chips, and candy are prime targets, as these foods are the most frequently consumed, thereby virtually guaranteeing the elimination of vitamin D deficiency among most age groups.
Companies are also lobbying for the addition of fortified junk foods to public programs such as school lunches and the Meals on Wheels program, to ensure vitamin D sufficiency among minorities and those with restricted financial means to buy junk food. According to one industry analyst:
"Fortifying junk foods with vitamin D is a brilliant market strategy amid sagging sales resulting from the misguided notion that unprocessed foods are somehow 'healthier' than processed ones. The fact that you cannot add vitamin D to an apple or a head of lettuce, but you can add it to a candy bar reveals the depth of this fallacy.
When combined with total sun abstinence, vitamin D-enriched soda and snack bars will virtually guarantee the eradication of skin cancer, not to mention other diseases associated with vitamin D insufficiency."
Tax Breaks for Residential Sunscreen Showers
While impenetrable UV protection suits will be offered for free to government employees, and private employers will be able to provide them at reduced prices, some self-employed and unemployed individuals may face compliance challenges due to cost.
According to the IRS, the basic UV prevention system, which includes a full paper-weight suit and UV protection goggles, will qualify for a standard deduction on your 2016 taxes. Home owners who opt to install a sunscreen shower will also qualify for a tax break.
The sunscreen shower will allow for a full and even coating of UVA and UVB protective lotion, and may be used in lieu of the basic UV prevention suit — a loophole sure to please clothing designers as much as it will upset the makeup industry.
Draft guidance from the interim Cancer Protection task force on the proper application of sunscreen notes you should coat all exposed skin areas. Care should be taken at the scalp line, where hair may be thin, and on, in, and around exposed ears. For convenience and ease of smartphone use, gloves are recommended rather than coating your hands with the requisite 0.5 mm layer of sunscreen.
Proposed Amendment to Uniform Time Act
In related news, an amendment has been proposed to the Uniform Time Act of 1966, which would permanently replace daylight savings time with shift to nighttime work hours. Instead of setting our clocks backwards one hour this fall, and forward again next spring, clocks would be shifted backward one hour each fall and spring, until work hours have shifted fully into the nighttime. The full 12-hour shift into night work and life would take six years.
The amendment is the brainchild of the Cancer Protection task force, and grew out of concerns that full compliance with sun avoidance may be difficult to maintain long-term. As noted by task force chairman David Putz:
"As long as people work and move about during the daytime, the impulse to go out in the sun, no matter how illogical or risky, will always exist — both by choice and by necessity. Making nightshift work the national standard is the most effective way to resolve this problem."
According to a recent report8 on the global prevalence of myopia, half of the world's population will be nearsighted by 2050, courtesy of increased screen time and decreased time outdoors. As noted by optometrist Dr. Eric Perez:9
"When you're outdoors, you tend to look at more objects in the distance, exercising that part of your vision. There's also research that shows natural sunlight triggers the release of dopamine in your retina, which also helps prevent myopia."
Shifting to nighttime living and work will likely speed up the development of myopia, scientists warn. According Putz, such research needs to be taken into consideration, which is why the amendment also includes a clause requiring the U.S. government to invest heavily in laser eye surgeries to compensate for the deterioration in eyesight.
Eradicating Melanoma Through Sun Avoidance — Reality or Fiction?
The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation are both very serious about sun avoidance. In their view, UV exposure — either by sunlight or sun lamps — is an avoidable skin cancer risk and nothing more, and people of all skin colors should shield themselves from UV light at all costs, all the time; no exceptions.
In response to allegations that they're putting people's health at risk by promoting vitamin D deficiency, their response is that vitamin D supplementation will take care of the problem. Make no mistake about it, the dermatology profession maintains the stance that sunlight has no value for health, and all sun-kissed skin is damaged skin, and that preventing skin damage is the most important factor when considering sun exposure.
Fortunately, today is April 1, and this is our annual April Fool's article. So mandatory UV prevention systems like full-body suits and sunscreen showers are not yet in the pipeline. But who knows what the future will bring, should these misguided recommendations get pushed to the extreme. In the meantime, have a Happy April Fool's Day! Now, go outside, and enjoy the rays of the sun — while you still can.