Suntan and Sunburn


   Prolonged exposure of the unprotected skin to the sun's rays results in severe and painful burning, prostration and even death. Necessary and useful as is sunshine, it is a powerful chemical agent against which the body must protect itself to avoid serious damage. It .is estimated that the "normal," unprotected skin can endure fifty minutes of sunbathing without burn, but this estimate must not be taken too literally. First, we must ask: What is a normal skin? Next we must take into account the time and place for sunbathing. Is it to be taken at the shore or in the lowlands or on the mountains? Is it to be taken in the early morning or at noonday?

   The body is well-equipped with defenses against the sun and burning can occur only when more sun is secured than the defenses can protect us against. There are three chief means of protection and these will be discussed in their logical order at this place.


   The bronzing or browning of the skin due to a deposit of pigment (melanin granules) around the nuclei of the epidermal and basal cells, following exposure to the rays of the sun, constitutes suntanning. Pigment is the most important protecting mechanism by which the body prevents getting an overdose of sunshine. Melanin, or the pigment that gives color to the skins of man and animals, is absent in albinos and in cases of leucoderma. There is at all times, a certain amount of pigment present in the skins of all normal individuals and this pigment screen is the body's most important protection against too much sun.

   Tanning (pigmentation) prevents the over-absorption of ultraviolet rays, and thus, prevents burning. The layer of pigment is the body's barrier against the penetration of an excess of ultra-violet rays, and the more one is tanned, the less is the danger of light rays causing suffering.

   Before pigmentation has occurred, an overdose of the chemical rays of the sun, has injurious effects on healthy tissues. Once pigmentation has occurred and a deep brown skin has been obtained, any length of exposure may be endured without discomfort.

   Just as chlorophyll is formed as a light screen and filter in plants, so a brown pigment, called melanin, is deposited in the presence of sunlight as granules in the deeper cells of the epidermis. This pigment deposit absorbs the visible and ultra-violet radiations and, after converting them into radiations of less energy and lower vibration, and increased penetrating power, passes them on to the deeper structures.

   Melanin prevents the penetration of excesses both of ultra-violet rays and of heat. When melanin powder, obtained from ox-eyes, is mixed with water to form a brown-black suspension, and a few drops of this is placed on the palm of the hand and exposed to light concentrated by a burning-glass, the water will be evaporated without over-heating the hand. Pigmented skin radiates heat more quickly than unpigmented skin; thus a negro's skin exposed to strong sun is cooler than a blonde's skin.

   It is customary to divide pigmentation into two types--instantaneous tanning and delayed tanning. The first develops almost immediately after exposure to sunlight; the other develops gradually and continues for several days after exposure to sunlight. The division seems to be unnecessary, as the two types of tanning are parts of the same process.

   The first part of suntanning seems to be a darkening of the pigment already present in the skin. There follows closely upon this a deposit of more and more pigment, as exposure to the sun is repeated, so that a very heavy color screen may be produced in the skin. The tanning process is really more rapid in the skin of most people than is commonly realized, for the manufacture of pigment begins at once, when the skin is exposed to the sun and, within a brief time after the first sunning, pigment is laid down in the skin. But a few short sunbaths are required to occasion a perceptible tanning.

   Except in the cases of albinos and some red blondes, pigment is quickly formed in all human beings when exposed to sunlight. It is produced most abundantly in black races, not so abundantly in brunettes as in the blacks and least abundantly in red-blondes. In each type it may be increased to a maximum by exposure to sunlight.

   The deepest pigmentation is occasioned by a combination of infra-red and ultra-violet rays. It may occur without any preceding erythema; that is, by gradual insolation without any appreciable burn. In some works on "sunbathing we read about the "tanning rays" or "pigmentation rays" of the sun. All such talking and writing is sheer nonsense. There are no such rays. The sun's rays do not produce pigment; they only occasion its formation. Pigmentation is a vital or physiological process. Pigment is manufactured within the body, out of the elements of food and is deposited in the skin by the processes of life. It is a protective device made by the body itself. If one person tans and another does not, this is not because the sun has power to tan one and not the other, but because one body has full pigment manufacturing ability and the other is deficient in this power. Pigment is manufactured in and by the body and is deposited in the skin by the body, not by the sun. Whether or not you tan deeply depends upon you and not upon any supposed tanning power of the sun. Two people equally exposed to the sun will tan differently--one becoming a dark brown, the other a light tan--and these differences are due to the differences that exist in the two individuals. No amount of sunning will pigment a dead body. Commonly the white patches of skin seen in leukoderma will not tan no matter how often, how long nor how persistently the patient sunbathes.

   Tanning may range all the way from very light to almost black, depending on the amount of exposure to which one is subjected and one's pigmenting ability. Contrary to the prevailing view, I doubt that the deep, dark tan can be considered a desirable acquisition. It is my opinion that, both for appearance and for benefit, a light tan is preferable.

   In infancy and early childhood, when sunshine is of greater importance than later in life, tanning is a slow process and is almost never (in the white races) dark, even after months of sunbathing. With rare exceptions, a child must be four to six years of age before it will become dark from sunbathing.

   It is my opinion that too much stress is placed on the tanning process and too much magic is invested in the tan. I hold that the tanning is merely part of and is concomitant with a general revitalizing process that involves the whole organism and is not confined to the skin.

   Nor do I accept, as true, the axiom that "a tanned body is a healthy body." I have seen bodies that were so tanned they were almost black, and their possessors were dying of cancer, or Bright's "disease," or diabetes. Sunshine is no substitute for right living in other departments of life.

   Dr. Rollier thinks that pigment acts as a kind of dynamic accumulator and says: "Experience, at least, confirms this by showing that the resistance of the patient is nearly always in proportion to the degree of pigmentation; it acts not only in protecting the skin against the too violent irritation of the ultra-violet rays, but in regularizing the thermic contribution of the sun. Finally it is probable that the pigment receives, furnishes and activates the elements essential to the metabolism of the hormones. Pigmentation is the expression of the deep biological processes of a fermentative and hormonal nature, as demonstrated by Bloch in the skin, by Pinkuseen in the blood, and by Bickel and Ischido in the marrow of the bones."

   Jesionek believes that the pigment, itself, passes in solution into the blood and is changed there into substances that act favorably in pathological processes, such as tuberculosis.

   The more rapidly pigmentation occurs, the quicker will one receive the full benefit of the sun. Rollier lays great stress on the strongest possible pigmentation, not only to arm the skin against the inflammatory stimulus of the ultra-violet rays, but also because experience has shown that only a strong deposit of pigment in the skin warrants certain success in healing tuberculosis. Pigment cells are also thought to secrete substances which are carried into the blood and beneficially affect the rest of the body--the skin thus becoming an organ of internal secretion. There are some who think that pigment transforms the shortwave rays, which would otherwise act only superficially, into deep-acting, long-wave rays.

   Good pigmentation depends upon regular sun bathing. Subjects with fair or red hair do not pigment as readily as dark-haired subjects. These first become a coppery red color and then, light brown. It takes some time before they become at all dark, but under constant sun treatment, even red-haired people will pigment or tan. Brunettes, on the other hand, pigment very quickly. In Egypt the Englishman soon becomes as dark, or even darker in many cases, as the Egyptian or Arab.

   Eskimos and polar explorers are poor in pigment. The explorer Shackelton, remarks: "At the close of the night of four months duration our faces were greenish yellow, but the sun soon tanned us again. Yet stranger was the discovery that the eyes of almost all of those which were brown and black become blue or gray during the long night."

   I have started a number of blonde and red-haired babies sunbathing from birth and have had them continue to do so on through their infancy and childhood and none of them have freckled. This has led me to believe that were all such types given sunbaths from infancy, the freckles that bother them so much would not develop. It would seem that freckling is due to a certain loss or disturbance of the ability to tan as a result of long denial of sunshine during the formative years of life.

   As these babies and children have all been provided with superior nourishment, it may well be that nutrition also plays a very important role in this matter. The worst cases of freckling we see are in red-heads and, as these are in children and adults whose nutrition is far below ideal, it may be that poor nutrition is at least partly responsible for such undesirable developments.

   I have witnessed the development of thousands of large freckles on the affected portions of the skin of a man suffering with leucoderma. As the man was under my care for but a limited time, there was no opportunity to determine what may have been accomplished ultimately, but I consider the formation of the freckles to be indicative of the possibility of complete remedying of the condition. It should be understood that sunbathing in this patient was accompanied with other Hygienic measures, such as fasting, improved nutrition and a correct mode of living. I do not think for a minute that sunbathing will remedy leukoderma.


   Individuals whose skins redden, blister and sizzle, but never tan, are said to be heliophobes, and are advised to stay out of the sun. I think this is pernicious advice. These people also need sunshine and can take it if they use sufficient precaution. The first precaution is to get their sunbaths in the early morning, or in the late afternoon, when the sunlight is not so abundant in ultra-violet rays. The next precaution is to stay in the sun but a few minutes at a time. Begin with but one minute on each side and cautiously and slowly increase the time of exposure. It may even be possible, where time permits, to have two, or even three such short periods of exposure a day. In many, if not all cases, heliophobia may be gradually overcome. Even the albino can profit by sunbathing if he exercises due caution. I have seen albino cats whose ears were inflamed and covered with scabs throughout the summer months, but which healed up during the winter months. There is no reason why man should spend so much time in the sun that this should occur.


   Articles on sunbathing which appear in popular magazines and newspapers tend to emphasize the dangers of sunbathing on the one hand, and the "virtues" of sun-tan lotions, on the other hand. Rarely do they ever stress the great benefits to be derived from sunning. It is possible to overdo sunbathing, even after one has built up a heavy layer of pigment in the skin, so that burning no longer occurs after the most prolonged exposure. Drying and harshness of the skin and general enervation result from such over-exposure.

   The injurious results of excessive sunbathing are not to be prevented by the use of lotions, oils, etc. If they prevent the thickening and drying of the skin, if they prevent sunburn, they do not prevent the enervation that results from over-sunning. To avoid the harshness of the skin and the enervation that result from over-sunning, it is only necessary to avoid undue exposure to the sun. If the lotions afforded the "protection" that they are claimed to provide, they would also prevent tanning and would at the same time deprive the bather of the benefits of sunbathing.

   A uniform tan is achieved by exposing the body uniformly to the sun. Lotions cannot provide a uniform tan. In a broad general sense all of these lotions are frauds, none of them are ever necessary, and many of them are actually harmful. I unqualifiedly condemn the use of any "tan-without-burn" preparations, as well as the use of olive oil on the skin in sunbathing. "Suntan stimulants" and make-believe tan are merely commercial products. Many of these things are endorsed by men and organizations that are supposed to know, but I can find no need for them and no value in them. It is not mere tanning that we seek, but the total hygienic value of the sun upon all tissues of the body.


   The second protective mechanism developed by the body is a thickening of the corneum. This is the horny or uppermost layer of the skin. The pigment is in the skin layer that is below the sun-sensitive cells and thus gives these no protection. Thickening and hardening of the outer layer of the skin provides the needed additional protection. This is somewhat like the thickening of the same layer of the skin on the palms of the hands when we indulge in hard work.

   Too much exposure to the sun occasions an excessive thickening of the corneum and, at the same time, makes the skin dry and causes it to scale. A harsh, dry, coarse skin is the result. Certainly this is not desirable and it is the worst kind of folly to stay in the sun long enough that this takes place. It is largely to avoid this dryness and harshness of the skin that olive oil and certain other lotions are employed by those who refuse to exercise a little intelligence in their sunning. Instead of buying and using the various commercial preparations that are sold to prevent the harshness and dryness of the skin that results from over-exposure, the intelligent person will avoid undue exposure and thus avoid the undesirable consequences.

   A silken, smooth skin is the result of proper sunbathing. Such a result is for those who exercise intelligence in sunbathing. The ancient rule of moderation should guide us here, as in eating, exercising, etc. We have never learned self-control. We tend to go to excess in everything we do. We know next to nothing of our limitations, consequently, we never respect them. We are never satisfied with anything until we have had too much; then, because too much harms us, we are likely to abandon the thing altogether, rather than learn the true lesson. We work on the principle: The more of a good thing the better. Never was there a greater delusion. A little boy asked his mother: "If a teaspoonful of salts will do daddy good, why not give him the whole box and get him well in a hurry?" Too many people work on this principle in everything they do. They over-eat, over-exercise, over-bathe, over-sunbathe, etc. Lotions are not substitutes for intelligence. Only the foolish will waste their money on such preparations.


   The body's third defense against the sun is that of getting out of it before an over-dose has been received. Even animals whose bodies are not nude, but are covered with hair, feathers or thick, heavy scales, instinctively avoid over-exposure. They may be seen actively feeding in the sun in the morning, when it is cool, but they retire to the shade before noon and remain there until later in the day, when they come out again. Birds, beasts, insects, even the red and black ants, observe this simple precaution.


   Sunburn is distinct from suntan. It is a real burn and injures the skin just as much as fire or scalding water. It results from an overdose of sunshine in those who lack adequate protection against the sun's rays. The sun's rays may penetrate deeply and burn the underlying tissues.

   When exposure is too prolonged before pigmentation or after most or all of a previous pigmentation has been lost, more or less inflammation follows. Burning, often severe blisters, and peeling result. Sunburn is usually superficial, and quickly heals without leaving scars. As in other burns, there are three degrees of sunburn.

   First degree burn is a slight redness (erythema) which causes little or no discomfort and results in no harm. The redness is due to the excess of blood in the skin.

   Second degree burn results when you stay in the sun until the skin glows like a boiled lobster. It is very painful and accompanied with fever. Blisters develop, burst and discharge their fluid contents over the body. There is much itching and peeling of the skin. There may be diarrhea, vomiting and other unpleasant symptoms as a result of the terrible beating taken by the nervous system.

   A third degree burn results in a sloughing dermatitis and may end fatally. Inflammation of the brain, stomach and intestines, blood poisoning, hemorrhages and tetanus are said to follow as complications of severe burns.

   Sunburn does not show up immediately. One burns without realizing it until hours later. The only safety lies in not overdoing the sunbathing until a protective coat of tan has been built.


   The manufacturers of "suntan preparations" have posed the dilemma of acquiring a tan without a burn. They propose to solve this problem with their various lotions and oils. This is a commercial program and does not represent a sane approach to a simple problem that is simply and easily solved without cost.

   Sunburn occurs when the unprotected skin is exposed to the sun's rays too long. Short of this, only tanning occurs. It is not necessary to get sunburned in order to tan. Indeed, the purpose of tanning is to prevent sunbuming. As tanning occurs from exposure short of burning, it is easy to acquire a tan without a burn and without artificial preparations applied to the skin. To avoid burning, it is only necessary to avoid excessive exposure of the body or any part of it to the sun until a good protective coat of tan has been acquired. Those impatient individuals who seek to get a coat of tan in a hurry and those foolish individuals who try to get enough sunshine on the first day of their vacation to last the whole year, are almost sure to burn themselves.

   At the shore, on the sand, especially white sand, or in the water, more sun's rays strike the body, due to reflection from the sand and water, and it is much easier to get an overdose. Burning will result in a much shorter time at the beach. Even those with a light tan will readily burn in such places.

   A thin haze over the sun does not exclude its ultra-violet rays and will not prevent burning. A cool breeze will not prevent burning. It is not the sun's heat rays that produce sunburn. Do not be misled by the fact that it is cloudy or partially cloudy. A very severe burn may be produced by staying in the sun too long under such conditions.