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Bad Things That Are Actually Good For You: Tanning?! [New research says Vitamin D deficiency may be deadlier than skin cancer]

Posted Aug 04 2011 12:28am

This pic was taken during our photoshoot for an upcoming Shape Magazine slide show (Hint: Hip Hop is involved! Sooo fun!! Shh!). My first thought when I saw it was – and I’m just going to say this because I know you’re thinking it – “Huh, Al and I look like Turbo Jennie’s sex slaves!” (Which, for the record, was not what we were going for with this shot but whatever.) My second thought was, “Hello Casper!” Our photographer actually captioned it, “The 3 bears of skin tone.” Har har. (And my third thought was check out Jennie’s bufftastic arm!!)

“It’s official. You are the whitest person on the planet,” a friend greeted me as I showed up for Turbo Jennie’s annual outdoor birthday TurboKick extravaganza the other night.

As I stood there, already sweating so profusely in the 98 degree weather* that my shorts looked as if I’d peed myself, another Gym Buddy agreed, “Yeah, when you got here, the first thing I saw coming out of your car was your legs and I was like ‘Hey, there’s Charlotte!’”

They’re right of course. I’m so pale that I forgot my costume one year for Halloween and everyone just assumed I was Wednesday Addams.

But new research out about the advantages – yes, I wrote advanatages – of suntanning is making me rethink this milky white business. Not that I can do anything about it, mind you, but I like to rethink things I have no control over. Super fun! Anyhow, researchers found that the health problems that come from vitamin D deficiency – everything from an increased risk of Autism for a baby being carried by a deficient mother to many types of cancer – far outweigh the risk of sun cancer. Says one researcher, “ a spate of studies strongly indicating that vitamin D is the most powerful anticancer agent ever known.” Do you hear that? A whole spate of studies! According to this same article, the majority of people are terribly deficient.

John Cannell, MD, executive director of the Vitamin D Council, a nonprofit educational corporation, says, “everyone knows that there is an explosion of childhood cases of autism, asthma, and autoimmune disease. It all began when we took our children out of the Sun. Starting twenty-five years ago, a perfect storm of three events has changed how much sunlight children get. First came the scare of childhood sexual predators in the early eighties, then the fear of skin cancer, and finally the Nintendo and video game craze. Nowadays, kids do not play outdoors. Playgrounds are empty. You’re a bad mother if you let your child run around. And it’s almost a social services offense if your kid gets a sunburn. Never before have children’s brains had to develop in the absence of vitamin D.”

First the advice was to avoid the sun at all costs whether by UV-blocking sunscreen or clothing or both and now they’re saying that it’s more important to get your vitamin D from the sun? Frankly, neither scenario bodes well for white girls like me.

Being ultra pale has some advantages. First, I can rock a retro dress like nobody’s business (not that I have much occasion to get all Dita Von Teese’d up but whatever, I make my own occasion!) Second, I never have to worry about buying reflective gear – all I have to do is wear shorts and I’m set. Third, people can use the word “porcelain” and my name in the same sentence without it involving a frat house, a keg and a carpet stain.

The problem comes when I’m not dressing for a garden party or a midnight run. You know, like, the rest of my life. Let’s be honest: tan is in right now. Certainly ivory white skin has had its time in the sun (har!) in past generations so I’m not begrudging the bronzed folk their turn. But a tan is definitely this season’s must-have accessory. Not only, as every magazine will tell you, does it make you look thinner (question: does that mean being white makes me look fatter?) but a golden glow makes you look healthier, shows muscle definition better, camouflages cellulite and looks better in casual clothes.

What’s a (really) white girl to do?

From a medical standpoint, I could – and do, thanks to my seasonal affective disorder – take D3 supplements. Cannell advises 5,000 mg a day. I’ve been taking 1,000. But I’m a little leery of upping it so drastically on the basis of one, albeit very compelling, article. Also, says Cannell, “Some of my colleagues think D3 supplements are enough. But that supposes we know everything. I suspect that we do not know everything. Natural sunlight has to be the preferred route whenever possible.” I have to agree with him there that natural anything is always superior to man’s manufactured version.

I really don’t want to get skin cancer though. It runs in my family and it’s ugly stuff. Plus there’s the whole premature aging and wrinkles business. From an aesthetics standpoint I could self-tan. This is not as much fun as it sounds. In my mind that phrase conjures pictures of having the ability to change my skin color at will, like a chameleon super power. In reality it involves spreading a bunch of foul-smelling goo all over my body. And it must be all over my body because seriously what is the point of having tan legs if my arms, face and chest are white? The next problem is that self-tanning is an under appreciated art form. You have to smooth it on just right, making sure to use even strokes and skipping your knees and ankles so that you don’t end up with streaks or orange spots. I always admire girls who can do it and do it right. I suppose I could always pay for a spray tan but that comes down to the real reason I don’t self-tan: you have to maintain it. The definition of futility is spending your entire life literally painting your skin a different color than the one you were born with. To wit:

Was that really necessary?

At the risk of sounding like a Dove commercial, the only real solution in my book is for people to be comfortable with the skin they’re in. Are you naturally brown, ebony or any shade in between? Rejoice! Flaunt it! Be proud of that your skin is beautiful without having to do a thing to it. Heaven knows it’s taken society long enough to get to this point. But the flip side is also being able to embrace your epidermis if it is milky, light-n-freckled or downright fish belly. That and getting outside in the sunlight on a regular basis for long enough (but not too long!).

You know what though? I like my skin the way it is. It’s me. I dig it.

Do you have “a flaw” that you actually love? What do you think about this new vitamin D/tanning research?


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