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Efforts are made in many quarters to convince everyone that the sunbath is a complicated and extremely hazardous procedure that can be applied only by a technically trained man from the laboratory, or a physician. One is almost certain to get the impression, when reading the average book on sun-bathing, that the sun-bath is very difficult, and also very dangerous. There are so many precautions enumerated, so many ceremonial details to be attended to, and so many times and conditions when the sun-bath should be avoided, that one is very likely to give up in disgust and forget the sun-bath.
Much of this is pretense with a commercial basis. Anyone with sense enough to eat, or sleep, or exercise, or breathe pure air, can take a sun-bath. It is as natural as any of these things and equally as simple. The ritual employed by Rollier and other physicians is not essential. These begin by exposing the foot for a few days, then one leg, then both legs, then one thigh, then the abdomen, then the chest, and lastly the back. All of this is needless ceremonial. It is my conviction that Rollier is over-cautious in beginning sun bathing and over-does the process after the patient has acquired a good coat of tan.
A few simple precautions must be observed in sun-bathing, and anyone of average intelligence may understand and apply these. The following precautions are especially necessary to those who have never taken sunbaths.
One of the first things necessary in taking sun-baths is to acquire a good coat of tan. Women and others who do not desire a dark tan on their faces, necks and arms, may cover these when taking sun-baths. In this way they may control the amount of pigmentation in these regions.
Many people are impatient and desire to tan too rapidly. These are inclined to overdo the sunning process and burn themselves. Do not try to get a year's supply of sunning in one day.
There are those who tan readily and those who tan slowly and with difficulty. There are a few who do not tan at all. The amount of precaution required in commencing sunbathing depends upon the type of skin possessed. Brunettes--that is, people with dark hair, eyes and skin--tan most readily and speedily and are less likely to burn easily.
Blondes and red-heads and other individuals with fair skin (usually, also with blue eyes) often find it difficult to tan, but burn easily. These should not be discouraged; for, with patience and perseverence, they, too, may acquire a nice golden-brown skin. It should not be thought that people who tan slowly derive no benefit from the sun.
It is necessary that blondes and red-heads proceed more cautiously in beginning sunbathing. As no good can ever come of sun-burning yourself, all types should use a little intelligence in sunbathing and proceed with due caution. In general, blondes and red-heads do not tan quickly. These have a tendency to freckle (freckling is spotty pigmentation) rather than to develop a uniform tan. With due caution and persistence, most of these may acquire a beautiful tan. Where the tendency to freckle exists, women may desire to cover the face, neck and arms to prevent these parts from freckling. This will detract-little or none from the value of the sun-bath.
Children do not tan as readily and usually nor as deeply as older people. Neither do they seem to burn as easily as adults.
As pointed out elsewhere, we think the chief value of pigmentation is the protection it affords against burning. We would caution those who have developed a deep tan against excessive sunbathing. The statement that "people with a nicely tanned" skin "are able to stay in the sun all day with no bad effects" is misleading and not based on experience.
Excess sunbathing proves to be very enervating and Tilden says he has seen patients who had so greatly enervated themselves by sunbathing, they were two years in recovering full nerve energy. I have seen much harm result from excessive stimulation of this kind. It is my advice to patients never to indulge more than an hour, and many cannot take this much sunshine. Referring to the claims of some places that they are lands of perpetual sunshine, Tilden says: "perpetual sunshine would add one more cause to enervation or to our already voluminous nerve-destroying cures and immunizations."
The stimulating effect of light is so well-known we need not dwell upon it here. The claim that sunbathing induces restful sleep and results in improved nerve tone is true only if the process is not overdone. Restlessness and decreased nerve tone result from overdoing it.
Sunbathing is entirely different from the popular practice of enjoying the fresh air. The bath is taken with all of the clothing removed. Care must be taken not to burn the body. Too little, rather than too much, should be the rule. Blondes and red-haired people must be more careful than brunettes and members of the dark races.
Begin the sun-bath by exposing the entire body six to ten minutes a day and gradually increase the length of time of exposure until half an hour to an hour or more, even to three and four hours are consumed. Make haste slowly. Expose the front of the body three to five minutes and then, expose the back three to five minutes. While I often find that even this rate of increase in the time of exposure is too fast, and am forced to slow it down considerably, I do not think that this rule needs to be followed closely by the well and active person. But where one is lying in the solarium, he may more easily over-do sunbathing than when romping on the beach. I believe that more benefit is derived from exposure of the back to the sun than from exposure of the abdomen. I cannot prove this at present. It is only a private theory.
Protection of the head and eyes is usually strongly urged. This advice is pernicious. Man does not require goggles or bonnets any more than do the lower animals. Sunlight is distinctly beneficial to the hair and eyes. It has always been quite amusing to me to hear sun-bathers advised to cover their heads and then hear the same advisers describe the wonderful results in increased hair growth obtained by ultra-violet radiation. It is a well-known fact that sunshine accelerates the growth of hair and more exposure of the head to its influence might easily reduce the number of bald-headed people by preventing baldness.
I have gone bare-headed for over forty years, most of this time in Texas, under a sub-tropical sun, and I have yet to be damaged by it. My patients do not cover their heads when sunbathing and they are not damaged.
The eyes are benefited by light and injured by too much darkness. Gazing directly into the sun has been found to greatly benefit weak sight. Fish found in dark caves, where they receive no sunlight, are always blind. Mules employed underground in mines, have much eye trouble not found in mules that work above ground. Men working underground and children living in dark tenement houses, far from the sun, are always very sensitive to light. Such men and children need sunlight and to prescribe tinted and shaded glasses for them can only make the condition worse. Yet this is what is regularly done by regular physicians and opticians, who are regular in but one thing--the regularity with which they go at everything wrongly.
Writing in Psychology (July, 1929), Dr. R. A. Richardson, optician, says: "On a recent trip to Africa, I took advantage of the opportunity to find out whether cataract and blindness, often found there, were caused by the sun's intense light and heat, as I had been told. To my surprise, I discovered that the persons blinded by cataract were not those who worked in the open sunshine, but in the small shops and bazaars of Tunis. Questioning them, I traced their trouble to over-indulgence in proteins, sugars and starches, nicotine and caffeine."
The eyes themselves are not sensitive to light. The eye-lids are sensitive to light, and it is this that causes a closing of lids when a strong light falls on them. They close, of course, to protect the eyes and we should appreciate the full significance of this fact in exposing the eyes to light. They are all the covering needed by the eyes in the sunlight. Goggles and sunglasses to protect the eyes are absurd. They actually render the eyes more sensitive to light and impair vision. Squinting is not necessary, nor does one require dark glasses to prevent it. One needs only to cease squinting. This can be controlled by the will. It is possible to look directly into the mid-day sun without squinting. The development of "crow's feet" about the eyes is the badge of the unthinking. There will be no apparent need for glasses and eye creams if one will merely cease to squint. Squinting serves no useful purpose.
Sunbathing is objected to because of a so-called "drying damage" it does to the skin. This is the result, not of intelligently conducted sunbathing, but of over-sunning. It is perhaps just what we should expect, that the manufacturers of sun-tan lotions and "natural oils," should emphasize the evils of overdoing without discriminating between over-use of the sun and its proper use, in order to sell their wares, but physicians should know better. Lubricating creams for the face and lotions or creams for the face are certainly not needed by those who have sufficient intelligence to behave themselves. It is not necessary to oil the skin to prevent drying. Dryness of the skin indicates that the skin has been over-exposed.
Anointing the body with olive oil before a sunbath cuts out part of the ultra-violet rays and is not to be recommended. This seems to be a very old practice, although the ancients seem to have followed their baths with oil. If sunbathing is not overdone there will be no seeming need to oil the skin afterwards. Excessive sunbathing leaves the skin dry and even causes it to peel off. When it is not indulged to excess, it will leave the skin soft and properly oiled by its own oily secretion. If the "protective" potions were really as effective as they are said to be, they would prevent the user from deriving any benefit from his sunning.
What excuse is there for remaining in the sun so long that the skin becomes dry and harsh. Why must we abuse everything we undertake? The sensible person will not find any apparent need for oils to replace the natural oils of his or her skin, for he or she will not be guilty of abusing his or her skin with excessive exposure. The purpose of sunbathing is not to see how much you can burn yourself, nor, yet, to see how black you can become, but to supply your body with adequate amounts of sunshine.
It is also objected that sunburn ruins the fine texture of the skin. What has this objection to do with intelligent sunbathing? One is foolish to sun-burn. There is no reason why one should permit oneself to be burned in taking sun-baths. Proper precautions as to the length of the sun-bath will always prevent burning. The intelligent person will build up his or her tan gradually and avoid burning at all times and at all costs. Only foolish girls will remain in the sun long enough to spoil the texture of their skin. Others will substitute intelligence for the ointments and liniments that are offered for sunburn.
People who cannot sun-bathe without sun-burning are in the same class as those who cannot eat without over-eating. They are the uncontrolled type--those who lack self-discipline. They are inclined to over-do everything.
Some caution against eating during or immediately following a sunbath. I know of no reason for either rule. It will be noticed that the lower animals usually get their food and sunshine together and then retire to the shade to digest their meal. Rikli had his patients to go up early for their sun baths and either to eat while bathing or else to retire to the breakfast room immediately upon coming down from the mountains. I have seen no evidence of ill effects from eating during or immediately after sunbathing.
The best and healthiest rule in the sunbath is constant movement. Rest in the shade. Pigmentation is slower, but one is less likely to be injured if moving about than if lying still. However, the fact that one does not have an enclosure where activity is possible should not deter him or her from having a sun bath.
The devitalizing influence of the hot sun is well known. People who lounge on the sand at the beaches at winter or summer resorts become lazy and indifferent, when they could, by moderate indulgence in sun bathing, and by cultivating less depressing activities, attain to greater vigor.
We must distinguish between the "light" of the sun and the heat of the sun. It is not the sun's heat from which all these benefits flow. Cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh receive plenty of the sun's heat, but less of its light, or less of its non-luminous rays, with the result that the blood of their inhabitants is on an average, about twenty per cent deficient in hemoglobin.
Animals seek the sunlight but avoid its heat. This is to say, they prefer to be in the sun during the cool portions of the day and seek the shade when it grows hot. The extreme heat is depressing and enervating. The guiding hand of animal instinct in avoiding the heat of the sun may be seen in the city's zoological gardens, the country pastures, or in the untamed places of the earth. The Indian in Mexico, Peru, South America, the Negro in Africa, all obey this instinct. The fox, the chamois in Switzerland, the cows in the pasture, the hens in the barn lot, the birds in the tree tops all love to bask in the sunlight of morning, but retreat to the shade as the heat of mid-day approaches.
In taking a sun-bath, heat is rather to be avoided than sought after. A temperature of 64 degrees F., being most suitable. Above 85 degrees F., prolonged exposure to the heat becomes enervating. Below 60 degrees F., the bath is still very beneficial.
In the tropics the leaves of palms and trees are either thick and heavy or have their edges turned toward the sun. At mid-day in Summer, when the sun it hottest, the leaves of plants curl up. Like birds, insects and beasts, the plant escapes the excessive heat of the sun as much as it can. Like the lower animals, led by their unerring instincts, we should obtain our sunbaths during the cool portions of the day.
A sun-bath taken at any time of the day will be beneficial and a busy person should take one at any time he or she can. But as the intensity of light and the length of time of exposure play important roles in sun-bathing, greater caution must be observed if a bath is had at mid-day in summer.
The early morning is the best time for sun-bathing, as at this time one may enjoy longer exposure without the depressing influence of intense heat. It is claimed in some quarters, though incorrectly, that the rays of the early morning sun are richest in ultra-violet rays. The late afternoon is also a good time for sun-bathing.
Rikli had his patients arise half an hour before sun-rise in the Summer and go up to the mountains and get their sun-baths during the coolest moments of the day. His baths were given on the mountain and it is here that the ultra-violet rays are most abundant.
Sir Henry Gauvin, English tuberculosis specialist, claims best results are obtained with sunbathing in tuberculosis, if there is also a current of air playing over the body. Cool breezes probably do more for the body than merely protect it from excess heat. If this is true, it only confirms the Hygienists' contention that air baths are of great value, even without the sun. Take your sun bath in the cool portion of the day, or else while the wind is blowing.
Dr. Lpeschkin, of the Desert Sanitarium and Institute of Research at Tucson, Arizona, calls attention to a fact with which everyone experienced with sunbathing must be familiar--namely, that sunlight is more likely to be enervating, even when it is not so hot, when it filters through a cloud, than when the unfiltered rays fall upon the body. He offers, as an explanation of this, the suggestion that whereas the visible rays of the sun often destroy the red cells, the unseen ultra-violet rays protect them from the other rays and strengthen them; so that when the ultra-violet rays are filtered out by a cloud and the other rays alone strike the body, the cells are unprotected.
The sun-bath should be pleasant and, if it is taken progressively, will never cause discomfort. Care must be observed in the employment of sunbathing, in cold or damp weather. Only the hardy can enjoy them or profit by them under such circumstances. Those in poor health should avoid them during such weather, although these need them most. If a warm room is available for sunbathing the weakest may continue them.
Medical circles, in writing about sunbathing, frequently stress the Alps and how certain sections of these are especially favored with sunshine. Not only is this largely inaccurate, but there is the more important fact that we cannot all go to the Alps and are forced to make use of the sun where we are.
In most parts of the earth inhabited by man there is sufficient sunshine to meet his needs and the needs of the teeming flora and fauna about him. There are sections in which there is little winter sunshine and from which the sick will do well to retreat when winter comes.
It is cooler in the high mountains, there are more ultra-violet rays and, if one is above the clouds, there are more sunny days, but the fact still remains that there is sufficient sun and favorable conditions for sunbathing in the valley or at the sea-shore.
The excuse often offered for not getting sunbaths, that there is no place to take them, is a lame one. Some day all cities will be equipped with solaria. There will be solaria on the roofs of tall buildings in the larger cities. Homes will even be so equipped. In the meantime, there is no lack of places for sun bathing for those who really desire to secure its benefits.
Where the will exists there is no lack of possibilities and facilities for sun-bathing in any spot where the sun shines. Balconies, flat-roofs, apartment house roofs, open verandas, a sunny place in the garden or park, offer splendid sun-bathing spots and require little or no ingenuity to shut them in for this purpose. The beach and secluded spots in the country offer possibilities for sun-bathing.
A sunny room, with the windows opened from the top, offers a chance for sun-bathing even in winter. Milo Hastings says he took sun-baths through two winters in Tarrytown, N. Y. If you do not have a sunny room in which to take a sun-bath, you may be able to find a friend who has such a room, which you may use. The chemical rays of the sun do not pass through ordinary glass. For this reason, a sun-bath taken in a room where the sun is forced to enter through glass, is of but little value. The sun should come through an open window or door.
A sun-bath may be taken on the front lawn, in the back yard, on an adjacent or nearby vacant lot, or other open space by donning shorts or bathing suit. Much benefit may be derived from sitting or lying in the sun while wearing a thin white gown.
Excesses in sunbathing are usually quick to make themselves known. If headache, fatigue or upset stomach follow a sunbath, this indicates an overdose. Harm results from over-sunning just as it does from over-eating or any other form of excess.
Erythema (redness) and dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), both of which are painful and distressing, result from excessive exposure before pigmentation has occurred. Fever, headache, weariness, loss of appetite, languor, sleeplessness and such, result from too much exposure, or exposure to the hot mid-day sun. Such undesirable results prove the bath to have been carried to excess. Wherever possible, secure the sun-bath in the early morning or late afternoon, except during the cooler seasons of the year.
Burning and itching of the skin, erythema, aches and pains, and feelings of over-excitement or of depression and, sometimes insomnia result from over-stimulation and indicate that the bath should not be prolonged.
If any part of the body becomes burned or inflamed, due to too much exposure, wait until the burn is healed and the swelling gone before taking another sun-bath.
Sun-stroke is a very remote possibility. Heat-stroke may occur in weak individuals who stay too long in the sun when the weather is hot. If proper precautions are observed, this can never occur.
If, after a sun-bath, you should suffer from nose bleeding, congestion in the head, vertigo (dizziness), this is evidence that you took too strong a dose. In such a case, wait until you have fully recovered before taking another sun-bath and do not take so much next time.
Sick and weak individuals need sunbaths most; yet these must observe greatest care in taking them. A headache, indigestion, or any other evidence of impaired health means that resistance is low and one so impaired may easily suffer from heat prostration from over-exposure, even where there is sufficient tan to prevent burning. Heart patients must be careful not to over-do the sunning.
The sun-bath often excites weak or nervous patients to such a degree as to prevent sleep. Sometimes after the bath they complain of a feeling of weakness which distresses them. Such symptoms are always the results of too frequent baths or of too prolonged baths. Nervous patients should exercise special care in avoiding over-exposure. Victor Dana, in The Sunlight Cure, also cautions against the over-stimulating effects of long exposure in neurotic subjects.
If pains increase, this suggests fatigue and over-stimulation. The sun-bath should leave one feeling better, not worse. If it leaves you weak or depressed or with an increase of any of your symptoms, you have had too much--take less next time.
Sufferers from asthma and tuberculosis may experience a slight difficulty in breathing after a sun-bath. These should shorten the bath next time. Pulmonary patients, especially those inclined to hemorrhage, those exhausted by nerve "disease," and heart subjects should be cautious in taking sun-baths. Hemorrhage of the lungs must be avoided.
In some quarters fear of sun-bathing in pulmonary tuberculosis persists. I have found it very beneficial in these conditions and have not seen any harm come from the practice. In this connection Rollier says: "Twenty years of experience has convinced me that patients with pulmonary tuberculosis do not suffer in the least from exposure to sunlight. Not once has there been a mishap of any kind; on the contrary, a striking improvement under the influence of the correctly administered sun-bath has been the rule in every case."
Fat women often complain that even a few minutes, as little as three to five, in the sun-bath, makes them sick. They complain of nausea, weakness, headache, and dizziness. These women must be handled with care. I have seen such developments in but one thin woman and none in normal individuals.
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