Objections to Sun-bathing


   In an article appearing in The Cosmopolitan, July, 1949, under the title "In Defense of Dermathermy," Wolcott Gibbs presents the following objections to sunbathing: "sunburn, or tan, according to the most reliable authorities, is a morbid condition of the skin resulting from overexposure to actinic rays. It has been known to be fatal to humans and, in Australia, a certain species of rabbit is so embarrassingly susceptible to it that its ears drop off. These, however, are extreme cases. Far more often, the results are no more serious than rubescence, swelling, chills and fever, nausea, coma, exfoliation of the epidermis or peeling, and minor hallucinations such as the impression that the sufferer has died and gone to hell. As far as science can determine, man is the only animal that deliberately and defiantly exposes himself to the sun for any other purpose than getting warm, or dry, the only animal that is prepared to cook himself as a form of social or sexual decoration, or that imagines that he would, in some mysterious way, look better cooked."

   It will be noted that the first part of this catalogue of objections refers to overexposure, while the second part implies that any exposure of the body to the sun, except as a means of getting warm, and this may be done with the clothes on, is abnormal and evil. As I know of nobody that advises or advocates overexposure and as the results of the over use of all things are evil, I cannot see the connection between these objections and that of sunbathing. Would we advocate perpetual fasting because of the evils of over-eating?

   I suppose that no one doubts that man is normally a nude animal, that clothes are artificial and abnormal. Before man learned to clothe his body, and the whole race does not do so, even yet, his body was exposed to the sun in the normal course of his daily activities, just as are the bodies of other animals. Perhaps he did not, then, lie on a log in the summer's sun as do snakes and turtles, but he was in the sun nonetheless. Like all other animals, he probably sought the shade during the hot part of the day. Some medical writers on sunbathing write in such a way as to lead to the belief that we would be better off if we spent our lives in darkness and never came in contact with the sun. One hack writer who popularizes medical opinions tells us that, while sunbathing produces vitamin D in the skin, we can get all the vitamin D we require by taking sufficient irradiated milk, eggs, butter-fat and a few other substances, so that "you need never encounter direct sun to be perfectly healthy in most climates." He actually presents exposure of the skin to the sun as a punishment to the skin. The sun is a distinct evil.

   Most medical writers, however, damn with faint praise, the sun-bath and then catalogue a whole list of its evils and dangers. They never discuss the dangers of over-exposure to the sun, but only those of sunbathing. They say it causes skin-cancer, it causes hemorrhage in lung tuberculosis. How do they know these things? I doubt not that over-exposure may bring on a hemorrhage, especially in the medically overfed tubercular patient, but I have given thousands of sunbaths in tuberculosis of the lungs and I have never seen a hemorrhage result as a consequence. The regular over-feeding of such patients is the most common cause of hemorrhage.

   One writer tells of a blonde who "fried herself so intemperately," that "ever since then her back has been marred by yellow brown blotches that have lasted winter and summer, for ten years." Inasmuch as medical men do not employ sunbathing in their care of either the well or the sick, they come in contact only with cases such as this one. Here is an obvious case of abuse of the sun and it is upon such cases that physicians and dermatologists base their opinions.

   A medical "researcher" warns that to blister your skin in the sun puts a strain on your kidneys, that it may produce toxemia, it may produce shock or even death. This is said to be especially true of people with unstable nervous systems, or with over-active thyroid glands. It is said that it may also dissolve the red blood cells, causing the liberation of two toxins--porphyrin and histamin. But we never advise anyone to blister the skin in the sun. Why condemn sunbathing because sunburning may prove harmful? It is not necessary to sunburn in order to sunbathe.

   Suppose it is true that sufferers with hyperthyroidism are easily injured by sunning--must we then condemn sunbathing for those who do not so suffer? I have given many sunbaths to patients with hyperthyroidism and I have never seen the evils we are warned of, but I have never given my patients over-doses. Do we condemn the eating of dates by non-diabetics because the diabetic patient is injured by their use? Do we condemn apple eating by everybody because a patient with gastric ulcer has difficulty with apples?

   Tilden says that sunbathing causes sore lips. While I have seen many sore lips heal in patients getting daily sunbaths, I have not seen sore lips develop in sunbathers. But I would not deny that sore lip is a possible development from excess. He says that three years of sunbathing will produce malignancy (cancer) of the neck of the womb in women who have chronic catarrh of the cervix. As malignancy in women who suffer with chronic catarrh of the cervix is of frequent development even when they never get sunbaths, how did he determinate this? He says: "Men of dilettante habits experience a decided induration of the prostate gland, with more or less ulceration, as a result of sunbathing for several seasons--cancer of the prostate may follow." This statement is simply absurd. For centuries men of dilettante habits have been developing prostatic hardening, ulceration and cancer without ever indulging in sunbathing. The troubles of the dilettante are the results of his dilettante habits, not the results of what may be the only wholesome thing he does.

   Oversunning is enervating. In producing enervation it may lead to any trouble that any other enervating influence may lead to. It may intensify any already existing trouble as surely as any other enervating influence. But the evils of over-indulgence shall not be permitted to weigh against the proper and sane use of one of the most important elements in nutrition.

   In medical circles sunbathing is blamed for skin cancer. Even on their own showing and by their own admission, the evidence for this is very weak. Many medical authorities reject the idea. Certain it is that skin cancer is as prevalent among clad as among unclad races.

   It need not be denied that in certain types of individuals, who tan inefficiently or not at all, and who burn easily, repeated burning may help to develop skin cancer. Such skin cancers are said to be very common among certain red-haired Irish people. On the other hand, I have seen such red-headed Irish who burned every time they were exposed to the sun for a considerable period, and who were repeatedly burned during as much as sixty years of life, without developing skin cancer. It would seem that even in these heliophobic individuals more than repeated burning is essential to the production of cancer.

   Let us grant the worst. Let us grant that repeated burning and habitual over-exposure may help to develop cancer of the skin. What has this to do with intelligent sunbathing? Shall we forever have to combat the fallacy that if the abuse of a thing is evil, the correct use of it is also evil? Must we advise everybody to abstain from all food throughout life because overeating is harmful? Must we discontinue to drink pure water because somebody was drowned in the lake? Must we all live strictly celibate lives because overin-dulgence in sex is productive of enervation? Must we spend the remainder of our lives in bed because over-activity is exhausting? Or, can we not use our intelligence in all of the activities of life and employ all things that have a normal relation to life?

   Medical men tend to decry and condemn every wholesome thing. and practice and laud to the skies every unwholesome thing and practice. To them only poisons have value in maintaining and restoring health; the normal things of life are suspect. While they repeatedly warn us of the "dangers" of sunbathing, they even more frequently tells us of the virtues of penicillin or arsenic. They are not to be taken seriously, for the reason that their anti-natural approach to all of the problems of life guarantees that they will be on the wrong side of everything.