* The more sun as a child, the less your risk of multiple sclerosis (MS). People who had been exposed to the sun for more than two or three hours a day at ages six to 15 had a significantly lower risk of MS, and winter exposure may be more important than exposure in summer (BMJ, 2003; 327: 316).
* Avoiding sunlight can make you more vulnerable to cancer. California researchers recommend sun exposure sans sunscreen for 10-15 min/day to build up vitamin D, which reduces the risk of breast, colon, prostate and other cancers (BMJ, 2003; 327: 1228).
* Sunscreens may well promote skin, colon and breast cancer. According to the Norwegian Cancer Institute, the yearly incidence of melanoma increased by 350 per cent for men and 440 per cent for women between 1957 and 1984, coinciding with the ever-more pervasive use of sunscreens (Br J Cancer, 1992; 65: 916-21). The rise in melanoma has been exceptionally high in Queensland, Australia, where the medical establishment has long and vigorously promoted sunscreens (a pattern seen worldwide).
* Most chemical sunscreens contain one, or more, powerful free-radical generators. Activated by ultraviolet (UV) light, these break down to produce free-radical sites (Kirk-Othmer Encyclopaedia of Chemical Technology (3rd edn), 1981; vol 13: 367-8), initiating a chain reaction that may lead to skin cancer. Psoralen, a UV-activated free-radical generator, has long been known to be a carcinogen (Cancer, 1994; 73: 2759-64) and, yet, it is used to enhance tanning. Similar agents are found in perfumes for scented sunscreens.
* In proper doses, sunlight can benefit a wide range of conditions, including acne, alcoholism, arthritis, bedsores, bronchitis, lip cankers, carbuncles, high cholesterol, liver cirrhosis, coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, eczema, emphysema, epilepsy, low-grade fevers, bone fractures, gallstones, glaucoma, shingles, insomnia, jaundice, protein deficiency, leg cramps, osteomalacia (adult rickets), osteoporosis, pregnancy, psoriasis, rickets, rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, and vision and focus disorders (Kirschmann JD, Dunne LJ. Nutrition Almanac (3rd edn). New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990: 49-52).
Common sense suggests easing into sun exposure in small doses. In one test, every fair-skinned visitor (over the age of nine) to South Africa was given one tablet of a nutritional supplement (Sylvasun; active ingredients: 7500 IU of vitamin A and 130 mg of cuttlefish bone) the night before the first sun exposure and continued taking one tablet daily until their skin became used to the strong sunlight. This regimen was able to ward off the almost-inevitable cases of sunburn.
In addition, take plenty of vitamin E and other antioxidants (selenium, vitamin C) before sun exposure to protect against the immunosuppressive effects of UV light. Don't stay out too long in the sun between 10.30am and 2.30pm, when the UV rays that cause sunburn are particularly present, and be aware that reflections off snow, metal, water or sand can double the amount of UV radiation absorbed by the body.
* Carotenoids can significantly help sun-worshippers (Eur J Dermatol, 1996; 6: 200-5). When 20 healthy young women were given 30 mg/day of beta-carotene for 10 weeks before two weeks of sun - with sunscreen - they showed significantly increased numbers of Langerhans cells, important components of the skin's immune system. Another study found that supplementing with natural mixed carotenoids (50 mg/day for six weeks, or 25 mg/day for 12 weeks) protected fair-skinned individuals against UV-induced damage (Tronnier H et al. Ultraviolet Protection of Natural Mixed Carotenoids in Humans. Institute of Experimental Dermatology, University of Witten-Herdecke, Rhine-Westphalia, FRG, 1996).
* Around half of all melanomas begin in a benign mole. So, any change in a mole should prompt a visit to the doctor. A major risk factor is occasional short exposures to intense sunlight - often with sunburn - in fair-skinned people who normally don't get a lot of sun (for example, office workers).
* Appropriate homeopathic and alternative remedies are readily available almost everywhere. Take Sol 30CH before setting out for that holiday in the sun. In the unhappy event of sunstroke, take Cytisus laburnum 3DH every two hours until free of nausea/vertigo, or take Glonoinum 6CH (again, every two hours) until free of the pulsating headache. For sunburn, take Kali carbonicum 6CH every four hours and, if your face tans quickly, try Bufo rana 12CH every four hours.
Topically, try a solution of Calcarea chlorinata (1:10 parts of distilled water) or lemon juice applied once or twice a day. Avoid ointments and creams as they occlude the skin. Aloe vera juice is good for soothing ordinary sunburn, preventing peeling and blistering, and helping to convert minor sunburn into a tan. If you can't find aloe juice, a mixture of cider vinegar and olive oil (2:1 parts, respectively) will do. For more serious sunburn, both medical herbalists and homoeopaths suggest Galium aparine (goose grass or cleaver) for prompt healing.
Harald Gaier, a registered naturopath, osteopath, homoeopath and herbalist, practices at The Health Equation, 11 Harley Street, London W1G 9PF (tel: 020 7612 9800/07917 662 042) and The Irish Centre of Integrated Medicine, Co. Kildare [tel: 00353 (0) 4588 3224]. Also see www.drgaier.com