Gah! We cannot wins!

All my life I have stayed out of the sun, diligently following the instructions of the anti-skin cancer campaigns. I have slipped on a long-sleeved shirt, slopped on sunscreen, and slapped on a hat.1 As a result (unlike quite a few people back home) I’ve never had any skin cancer scares. But it turns out that I’ve been putting myself at risk of rickets:

MILLIONS of Australians are exposing themselves to bone disease, fractures, diabetes and cancers by failing to get enough vitamin D, a crucial nutrient produced when skin is exposed to sunlight.

Experts have warned the highly acclaimed “Slip Slop Slap” campaign may have been taken too far by a nation terrified of skin cancer.

So I’ve avoided skin cancer but now my bones are going to spontaneously fracture? Fabulous. What to do? Apparently there’s a very “fine line between getting enough sun exposure for adequate vitamin D levels but not too much to cause DNA damage that leads to skin cancer.” My cause of action is clear then: I should go out in the sun more but not too much more. Um, where exactly is that thin line?

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is how the world works, innit? Everything is more complicated and tricky than it seems at first. Everything is a balance. Nothing is black and white. Still, I quite liked having one certainty: that minimising my exposure to the sun was good for me.

Le sigh. And of course here I am stuck in a place with absolutely no sunlight. Pass me those Vitamin D tablets, please? Thank you.

  1. That campaign turned me into a life-long hat addict. []


  1. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    Gah! This always happens.

    Eggs are good for you, eggs are bad for you, eggs are good again. Coffee is evil, coffee is healthy. Chocolate will be the death or you, chocolate is your friend, wait no it’s not. Eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, eat only certain carbs. Hand sanitizer will save you from the plague, hand sanitizer kills your immune system. Would someone make up their mind already?

    Sigh. It seems there is only one constant: falling down on concrete hurts. Every time.


  2. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    oh, yeah, and here’s those vitamin d tabs you asked for. they’re chewable.



  3. Liset on #


    oh shit
    my frail bones are going to fracture under my pale skin…


  4. lizabelle on #

    According to Dr Miriam Stoppard, your body needs about 40 mins of daylight (not necessarily sunlight) per day for vitamin D.

    Yeah, I know – every expert has a different opinion.

    I sympathise, though – as a British expat living in Sydney, I’m constantly paranoid about skin cancer. I never gave it a thought until I came here!

  5. emmaco on #

    This seems a bit strange. I mean, sure osteoporosis cases are on the rise, but so are numbers of old people.

    And I reckon people who aren’t getting any sunlight must be inside too much anyway. Even if sunscreen inhibits vitamin D uptake (and who remembers to renew sunscreen all day every day?) surely just walking or driving around still gives you enough vitamin D?

    I reckon rickets are better than skin cancer.

  6. Robert Legault on #

    I’ve always viewed this whole “stay out of the sun” thing with a lot of skepticism. OK, it varies according to your skin type, but as for me, I can tan really, really dark. And when I have, a lot of skin trouble that has bothered me off and on for years has gone away. For that reason alone I will continue to try to tan.

    It’s pretty clear that getting burned is not good for you, but I’m all in favor of tanning. This is how most people evolved: spending a lot of time in the sun.

  7. Elmo on #

    Well, I definitely think that there is a line…I don’t know where it is, but I know there is a line…
    My mum plays sports all the time and is constantly out in the sun running after five kids, and she got skin cancer on her face…
    But as I have done Science I know about the whole vitamin D thing too…
    I guess its all part of living in a country where we have sun all the time, all year round…(except when its night…and when its raining (which isnt’ all the often)) and not having the helpful high levels of mel…mela skin pigment stuff that comes of living here for 40,000 years…

  8. marrije on #

    the bit you quote sounds very much like ohmygodtheskywillfall scaredy bad newspaper tactics. millions of people!! at risk!! of horrid diseases!!

    bollocks, i say.

  9. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Well, speaking as the mother of a newborn who has been inundated with research on the subject, there’s been a sharp rise in the incidence of rickets among babies recently, due to doctors telling parents to keep babies out of the sun for the first year.

    This is mediated by how far north of the equator you live (the sun is weaker in the north) and how dark your skin is (the darker your skin, the more time you need in the sun to make a difference). So the African-Canadian population is at a lot more risk than whites in the South of the U.S., for example.

    The current recommendation is 30-60 minutes of sun exposure a day, or supplemental vitamin D drops. The latter option is pissing off all the ardent ‘breast is best’ folks, who want to believe that breastmilk is a perfect food. It is a very good food, but nothing human (or human-made) is perfect. So it goes.

  10. Justine on #

    Robert: The only way you could possibly say that is because you’ve never lived somewhere like Australia. I’ve seen people with parts of their nose and ears cut away. I’ve seen people die of skin cancer. It’s not pretty. The danger of skin cancer is absolutely real. It’s just much more dangerous in Australia than it is in New York state.

    I’m with emmaco above: I’m much more scared of skin cancer than rickets.

    Marrije: the bit you quote sounds very much like ohmygodtheskywillfall scaredy bad newspaper tactics. millions of people!! at risk!! of horrid diseases!!

    Absolutely. I was going for the comedy factor. The newspapers are doing what newspapers do. I’ll continue to mostly stay out of the sun at home and not worry about it so much here in where-is-the-bloody-sun-anyway NYC. If nothing else avoiding the sun has kept me looking young! 🙂

  11. veejane on #

    FWIW, US milk is fortified with vitamin D for this very reason. So, eating ice cream is a healthy thing to do!

    (Or spinach, but, spinach doesn’t have that junk-food elan of ice cream.)

  12. Veronica on #

    Well, this is the thing. I think at a certain point we all have to accept that we just can’t protect ourselves from every single bad thing that might kill us, and do what we like.

  13. Kenina-chan on #

    Great. I live in the 2nd cloudiest city in the US. I guess I’ll go outside and play in the snow. *Shudder*

  14. pixelfish on #

    Whee….according to wikipedia, individuals with red hair might make more vitamin d in a short amount of time. (Of course, we’re also likelier to get skin cancer. Le sigh.)

  15. shloopy on #

    Oh, great… One winter where I live had 32 days of only cloudiness. In a row. The day after, I asked my sister “Wait… When was the sky ever blue?” I’m serious, it was that bad. 90% of everyone had a case of depression.

    yay justine! You posted at 0:00! And Veronica at 12:12!
    (My randomness fairy is acting up again…)

  16. serafina zane on #

    my dad is always telling me to go outside or i’ll catch rickets.

  17. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    Should add note that you don’t need full-on sunlight — overcast days I believe work just fine for getting you the right light to hold off the rickets.

    But, interestingly, you can’t just stand next to a sunny window indoors — the glass filters out the helpful bits.

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