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Biotech Science

Sunscreen Not So Good for You? 616

Posted by timothy
from the shibboleth-busters dept.
j-beda writes "Don't like sunscreen? Maybe that tan is good for you. It looks like people are rethinking the common wisdom of avoiding sun exposure... "research suggests that vitamin D might help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer". Maybe if Kurt Vonnegut ever does address MIT grads, he will say something else..."
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Sunscreen Not So Good for You?

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  • Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:37AM (#12983863) Homepage
    No sun -> little vitamin D production = bad.
    Some sun -> vitamin D production = good.
    Ridiculous amounts of sun -> high risk for cancer = bad.

    I didn't read the article, but most things are OK on modetate doses. Cholesterol, for example, is necessary for the body to function.

    Too much of any one thing is seldom a good idea.
  • by bobbis.u (703273) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:39AM (#12983873)
    Is anyone else tired of all this dietary/health "science" telling you what you should and should not be eating, and what you should or should not be doing?

    It seems like you just need to use a modicum of common sense. Too much of anything is bad for you. The less "natural" and more refined a product is the less likely it is to be good for you. It is healthy to get outside and do some exercise every now and then.

    All this research seems to contradict itself every few years anyway. I suspect a lot of scientists misuse/misunderstand their own data, either to match their own preconceptions, or to make a headline grabbing story like this one.

  • Not in Australia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:46AM (#12983895)
    From the article: So the thinking is this: Even if too much sun leads to skin cancer, which is rarely deadly, too little sun may be worse. ,p>I take issue with the statement that skin cancer is rarely deadly. Maybe all you pasty faced pommies and septics don't get enough sun to kill you but in Australia the sun can and does kill a lot of people every year [cancer.org.au].

    From personal experience I can also add that the sun in the Northern Hemisphere never seemed as hot or burning as the sun in Australia. I could walk around in the summer sun in Boston and barely get even a touch of colour. In Australia I would be burnt in less than an hour - probably quicker. Sun screen is very important in Australia as is a hat and a shirt.

    And finally, this article demonstrates the quest of reporters to beat up each marginal scientific discovery into something that it isn't just to get a good headline. With medical news this invariably creates all sorts of problems. The study found that Vitamin D can be beneficial for treating cancers but said absolutely nothing about the delivery mechanism. Getting your Vitamin D directly from the sun also means you get wonderful melanomas via UVA and UVB radiation. Sure, Vitamin D on its own is fine but the side effects of getting it directly from the sun are pretty severe.

  • by swissfondue (819240) <swissfondue@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @06:48AM (#12983900)
    The article seems fundamentally flawed. Extract 1: "If it bears out, it will challenge one of medicine's most fundamental beliefs: that people need to coat themselves with sunscreen whenever they're in the sun." I seriously doubt that statement is widely substantiated by research. Any high school student should know that Vitamin D is good and is produced by your own body when exposed to sunlight. Suncream is used to protect the skin to exposure from too much of the "damaging" rays. Extract 2:" The vitamin is D(...).Sunscreen blocks its production..." Total sunblock which filters out all rays, would block Vitamin D production. But you'd need to apply that thickly to all exposed skin; something that in practise is very rare. Most people apply a thin layer to the most exposed skin and don't do this regularly. So they have enough Vitamin D production. One only needs 10 minutes exposure to sunlight per day to ensure suffiicient vitamin D production. So the whole article "boils" down to "hey, Vitamin D production through sunlight is necessary, unless you want to live on vitamin supplements". Big deal.
  • by Threni (635302) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:00AM (#12983933)
    Science doesn't "tell you" anything. People do tests and discover results. Sometimes you get to hear about the results. Once upon a time it was discovered that invisible entities called "germs" were bad for you. That was considered nonsense at the time, but nethertheless doctors experimented with washing their hands before performing an operation and more people survived operations. Now we know about how unhealthy it is to eat too much food, especially fatty, salty or artificially processed food. You can ignore that if you like, but if you're care to quickly flick through some of the statistics available in, say, the US, you'll see just how many people die every day because of their poor choice of diet.

    It would appear that "science" still has much to "tell us" about what we should be doing. I'm not sure that "science" cares whether "it" grabs headlines or otherwise. Science, as a way of exploring the universe, will continue to be used long after we've stopped shovelling burgers down our fat, greedy necks!
  • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) * on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:06AM (#12983952)
    Sure, if you're one of these idiots who falls asleep on a beach towel to get a tan (which, honestly, I've always found kind of disgusting looking), you should probably use sunscreen.

    But you certainly don't need sunscreen to cope with the 30 minutes you spend each day walking from your car to the office and back to the car again, and to and from lunch down the street and taking the garbage out when you get home at the end of the day.

    And yeah, I'll repeat that - tans are gross. Darker skin is attractive if it's natural. More pale tones are attractive, if they're natural. But some white chick trying to tan herself into J-Lo is just gross and looks... uncomfortable.
  • by 3.5 stripes (578410) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:09AM (#12983969)
    That all depends on your genetic origins, for someone like me, of northern european decent, with blonde hair, blue eyes and freckles, more than 30 minutes of sun during the hottest hours of the day is "too much". For someone of african decent, there probably isn't an upper limit (although without ozone that might not be true). For someone of southern italian decent, more than a few hours is too much.

    Too little would be calculated by your necessity for Vitamin D.. I'd imagine less than an hour of exposure weekly might put you in that category, but I'm no nutritionalist.

    BTW, I'm not a programmer either, what's Lux?
  • Re:Common sense (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:21AM (#12983997)
    I know that nerds don't like sun but to find a tan gross and sleeping on the beach disgusting... Man you're sick.
  • by Zwets (645911) <jan.niestadtNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:22AM (#12984001) Homepage

    No, the main problem is the same as with Slashdot submitters and editors: sensationalism.

    Most researchers are careful about what claims they make. But 'journalists' come along and present their findings in a sensationalist and inaccurate manner in order to make the story appear more interesting.

  • by Ada_Rules (260218) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:23AM (#12984004) Homepage Journal
    Natural selection is very very poor at selecting for attributes that only become important after peak reproductive years. Sure there is the "wisdom of the elders" effect and a few people the reproduce (mostly males) in the later years but given that the vast majority of people die from skin cancer after they would have reproduced and given the historical lifecycle/reproductive cycle of humans it is not really all that surprising of an outcome.
  • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dashing Leech (688077) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:25AM (#12984013)
    "The study says you should get about 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure a day."

    Not exactly. That's a quote on what "many scientists believe", not an outcome of the study(-ies). Other quotes from the article include that skin cancer has only been linked to chronic long-term suntanning, as in many hours per day over decades, and that "The skin can handle it, just like the liver can handle alcohol," suggesting that occasional multi-hour exposure to the sun (say a few times per month) might not be problematic at all. That being said, I don't think anybody would suggest enough exposure for sunburns is good.

  • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) * on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:28AM (#12984024)
    Hey, if you are into people who look like they've been broiled, that's your business. When I see some chick whose main goal in life is to roast, the only impression it leaves on me is that of a pathetic, self-concious, insecure superficial prat. Then, to top it off, they're almost always the same chicks who then feel they have to bleach their hair some sort of platinum color so they look completely cheesecaked and washed-out (think the worst Christina Aguilar photo you've probably come across).

    Ick ick ick.
  • by mizhi (186984) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:29AM (#12984031) Homepage
    I don't think it's the scientists that are the problem. It's the media and the attention whores that cause these sensationalistic headlines to appear. And it's not that health news isn't important, it's just that media, and media consumers have the attention spans of houseflies.

    If it's in the news, then it becomes the thing to do to ensure good health. Atkins, South Beach, Omega-3, Macrobiotic, Whole foods, Eggs good, eggs bad, alcohol good, alcohol bad, fat, non-fat, some fat, low-fat, trans-fat, saturated fat, refined sugar, cane sugar, aspartame, splenda, slightly overweight = bad = good = maybe, etc.

    Like every other health announcement, this will be amplified in the echo chamber of national news for the next week. Health professions will bicker over how much is bad and how much is good. And businesses will find a way to cash in. Within a month, we'll see sunscreen with advertising that says something to the effect of "Let's in a little sun for that precious vitamin-D."

    Here's some rules of thumb: workout a little each day, eat healthy foods until you are comfortably full, drink water, get enough sun to ensure that you are distinguishable from paper, but not enough such that your skin could be used to reupholster a leather couch, find some destressing activities, and get enough sleep.

    It makes digesting the constant blare of health alerts much easier and allows one to focus on the truly important announcements. Like "lead causes cancer" and not "eating 150% of your weight in sacharin each day may cause cancer." (I exaggerate, but you get the drift).

    I hate ranting when I don't intend to.
  • by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:33AM (#12984040)
    Too much of anything is bad for you. Too much water will kill you (it upsets your body's fluid balance)
  • Re:Common sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m4dm4n (888871) <madman@nofrance.info> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:39AM (#12984058) Homepage
    I would think its very much like drinking. 2 glasses of wine a day won't kill you, in fact any damage it does to your liver will be outweighted by the benifits (less stress). But if you only have 14 glasses of wine on saturday and never drink the rest of the week there is definitely going to be a negative effect.

    A little every day is best, a lot once in a while isn't good, but we can probably handle it, a lot once in a while but over an extended period of time will lead to problems.

    I would get spending 5 hours in the sun every saturday will definitely cause skin problems later in life. While 45 minutes a day will cause a lot less.
  • by bobbis.u (703273) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:53AM (#12984103)
    Don't get my wrong - I am a firm believer in science and everything it has to offer. But I set the bar pretty high for what should be considered science, especially when it is controversial advice that could effect millions of people. I also hate the way theory is often presented as fact in the press.

    Many of the theories in this area (health/diet) can be shot down by remembering correlation is not causation. Some studies seem to take a sample of people and find some correlation between x and y and then leap to saying x causes y, without even giving due thought to a possible mechanism for the causation. Often, the problem is that there are just so many variables, the majority of which cannot be controlled. To counteract this, you obviously need a very large representative sample, which rarely seems to be the case.

    Clearly this means that performing reliable research in this area is incredibly difficult, which in turn means the burden of proof should be pretty substantial IMHO. Perhaps in the past the burden was too low, and not all factors were considered before offering advice to the public. Clearly we can't change the past, but we can prevent ourselves making the same mistakes again.

    In this case, I think perhaps the new study does have some merit, but that means much of what the public was told before about sun exposure was overblown/misrepresented. I'm sure you'll agree that the media is often pretty irresponsible with its treatment of scientific research. For example, I am pleased to see in the headline on slashdot there is a question mark at the end of the headline. I can guarantee you by the time this story reaches the tabloids, at least one of them will omit the question mark and declare that noone should be bothering with sun cream any more.

    This post is a bit rambling and perhaps incoherent, but basically I am saying that I don't object to science in general, I object to bad and/or misrepresented science. I'm also not saying that good science is easy!

  • Re:This is news? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by k98sven (324383) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @07:58AM (#12984120) Journal
    Vitamin pills shouldn't be necessary at all - if you need them, then there's something wrong with your diet and/or lifestyle.

    That's an overly scepticist view.

    For instance, in Iceland it is so dark during the winter that it's simply not possible to get enough sun to avoid vitamin-D deficiency. Unless your view of a normal diet includes unusual amounts of cod-liver.

    Dietary supplements wouldn't be necessary if everybody was living in a temperate environment and eating a good and varied diet. But most of the world's population don't fall into that category.
  • Re:Common sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kombat (93720) <kombat@kombat.org> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:12AM (#12984188) Homepage
    Cholesterol, for example, is necessary for the body to function.

    And that, folks, is why advice you get on the Internet is worth every penny you paid for it. Which is to say, nothing.

    Please don't go around saying such broad, unqualified statements. At the very least, please include a mention that there are two primary categories of cholesterol: HDL and LDL (High/Low Density Lipoprotein, respectively). The HDL is the "good" kind, the kind you're referring to. The LDL is the "bad" kind, and no amount of it is "good" for you, not even in moderation. Think of the "low density" cholesterol as soft and squishy, getting stuck in your arteries, blocking blood flow, while the "high density" cholesterol is harder, like little pebbles, flowing along with your blood, scrubbing away the squishy stuff.

    Also, if I'm not mistaken, cholesterol isn't typically eaten anyway - it's created by your own body. There are certain foods which stimulate the production of HDL (good) cholesterol, which helps reduce the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol.

    Bottom line: Don't take one-line advice from faceless Slashbots then turn around and change your whole diet. Do your own homework.
  • Re:Common sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:17AM (#12984198)
    No other animal eats tofu either.
  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:18AM (#12984202)
    A few years ago, various friends and family members bought their first computers. Pretty soon, I was getting a steady steam of hoax e-mails from them.

    Over and over again I tried to explain to them that this stuff wasn't true. Bill Gates is NOT testing an e-mail tracking program and Microsoft will NOT send you any money if you forward this e-mail to all your friends. Congress is NOT about to impose a tax on e-mail.

    I pointed them to the various websites that specialize in debunking urban legends and internet hoaxes. But it didn't work. They just took me off their mailing lists and kept on going. For some reason, people desperately want to believe stupid crap.

  • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:19AM (#12984207) Homepage
    Science is about repeatable controlled experiments that yield consistent results. Repeatable means that you need to understand what exactly is going on in your experimental setup so that somebody else can reproduce it. Controlled means you account for all variables and only vary one at a time. The problem is that doing all this correctly with people costs a LOT of money.

    Not only. The problem is that given that any two people are different in a million ways that it's simple not possible.

    You can *never* have two groups of people that are identical, except for one factor (which is the one you're interested in.)

    Yeah, sure, you can try various aproximations of this ideal, and given enough of a budget, you can sometimes get reasonably close. But you can never achieve it. You just have to do your best, and then hope that whatever other, unaccounted for, differences doesn't mess up your result.

    That's true for all experiments in the real world really, but it's *more* true for people than for say spheres of lead falling in vacuum.

    Particularily with problems that are uncommon or rare it's a huge problem to get enough of a sample-size that there's still any sample left after you correct for the obvious and/or known factors.

    Take SIDS in Europe for example. Incidence is 1:5000 or thereabout. We know that smoking increases the risk quite a lot, so any study that wants to do research on *other* factors needs to factor for smoking or non-smoking.

    We also know that low birth-weigtth, young mothers, insufficient pre-natal care and certain sleeping-conditions have an effect. Once you split for all of these, you'd need a gargantuan start-population to have anything left at all.

    1:5000 children will die of SIDS. 1:3 children have parents that smoke. (2:3 of the SIDS-dead) 3% of all children have low birth-weigth. etc.

    If you wanted to do research on other theories, say the theory that gases given of from certain foam matresses play a role, you'd need to have initial data for literally millions of children to have even a *hope* of correctly canceling all those other effects an narrow in on the influence (or noninfluence) of mattresses.

    As if this wasn't bad enough:

    PArticipation in medical experiments is generally voluntarily, and some people refuse or drop out during the experiment or whatever. But and that's the tricky part -- the ones dropping out are *NOT* a random part of the population, but rather a certain type of people, so this f*cks up your data too and needs to be corrected, as good as you manage.

    This stuff is hard. Very hard.

  • by Shads (4567) <<gro.sudahs> <ta> <sudahs>> on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:24AM (#12984228) Homepage Journal
    You know in all honesty, for most geeks sunscreen is a moot point. Alot are as pasty as a vampire :P

    Although, I'd say most family age geeks get occasional sun. Shrug.

    I wonder if low spf (4/8) would block the production of vitamin d?
  • by Bloke down the pub (861787) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:25AM (#12984235)
    Of people with skin cancer, those with lots of sun exposer had better outcomes than those with less sun exposure.
    That's like saying "Of people who drive their cars into concrete bridge pillars, those with a higher blood alcohol level are more likely to survive." It may be true. Let's say they're 10% more likely to syurvive. What if they're also 300% more likey to collide in the first place?
    Does not compute with the simple view of Tan=skin cancer.
    It says nothing one way or the other about about that, as your so-called study only includes people who have it. Whatever the recovery rate, it's lower than that of those who never got the disease!

    I suggest you go and learn about conditional probability.

    With that said, I still can't hit the beach withous sunscreen.
    I think you should make the effort (and I suspect Darwin would agree).
  • Re:Two Lessons (Score:1, Insightful)

    by cybersaga (451046) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @08:47AM (#12984359) Homepage
    2) Research causes cancer in lab-rats.

    This is why, when I hear "Breaking news! [Insert super common thing here] causes cancer!" I turn a deaf ear. Everything causes cancer these days. Each one of those cancer-causing studies usually ends up being a scientific fad that's proven wrong with time.

    I'm sure you can find a study that proves that water causes cancer. Afterall, every person that has ever gotten cancer has had gallons of water throughout their life time.

    Don't trust studies farther than you can throw the scientist.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @09:04AM (#12984456)
    And not just any fish, cold water fish. No? There's something wrong with your diet/lifestyle. How about someone with dark skin living in a northern clime. Vitamin D deficiency right there.

    Sometimes the people who've spread out over the world have moved to areas where they simply can't get the stuff their body needs in sufficient quantities through local produce.

    It's only the last couple of decades scientists have even begun to understand how food affects our wellbeing and only the last decade that the information has really started to filter through to the general populace.

  • Re:Off-Topic!? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @10:34AM (#12985150)
    Welcome to the all too common occurence of Offtopic mod abuse.

    The Offtopic mod is the most misused mod option and many blatantly ontopic posts as well as your cleverer subtle references are too often slain by the huge and unweildy sword of the mighty Offtopic.

    Another thing that irritates me is the modding of replies to posts as offtopic, despite the content of the original post. If someone posts something obviously offtopic as a 'new thread' to a story, then that can correctly be modded offtopic. But if someone else then replies to that I don't believe they should have to fear Offtopic posts because their post is on-topic in the context of the parent comment. The Re: in the subject screams this assertion. For example, if someone posted a random movie quote at the top of a story and subsequently became modded (correctly) offtopic, then it's not right that someone who replies to them, to correct the quote for example, should be modded Offtopic because they are, by their own action and subject line, saying that they are not referencing the story.

    It's similar to occasions when threads evolve and/or go off on tangents and become quite separated from the root ancestor. If any one of these later comments is worthy of being modded up, such as a funny/interesting anecdote that's ontopic in relation to the tangent, then it should be. But no, if it goes up to +5 it can be knocked back a couple by Offtopic mods and/or is accompanied by jealous replies asking to MOD PARENT OFFTOPIC.

    These are the kind of people who go on holiday with friends and have a strict itenary from which all actions must not deviate. Many articles can provoke varied and valuable discussion, but if they veer slightly off course these people scream for correction and also, annoyingly, act on it.

    There's another word for these kinds of people - pricks.
  • by Epi-man (59145) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @11:14AM (#12985485) Journal
    No other animal writes poetry, or commits suicide, or contemplates philosophy.


    Completely off topic, but as a side note, lemmings do commit suicide, as do some ants and bees when tough times ensue. Not that I disagree with your counter post, but suicide isn't the best example of uniquely human behavior.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @11:32AM (#12985637)
    While on this particular occasion there is no sign of any redundancy and the moderation is unfair, it is perfectly possible for a second or even first post to be redundant. A comment doesn't have to be redundant solely in the context of every other post, it can be redundant compared to the blurb, article or even the concept being discussed.

    If there was an article showing off a new generation of graphics cards, for example, and the first post was:

    Cool
    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 05, @10:50AM (#12983908)
    This looks cool!

    then it is perfectly reasonable to mod such a comment redundant, despite it being first post. It's redundant because it adds nothing of value, and is an overly simplistic statement of what everyone already knows.

    It's not a troll, it's DEFINITELY NOT OFFTOPIC (see post above for discussion about offtopic abuse) and it's not flamebait, but it is redundant and should be modded as such as punishment for trying to score karma from saying fluff.

    Every time someone asks, 'how can this be modded redundant when it's the first post?', I always want to tell them to actually think about what 'redundant' means.
  • by absurdist (758409) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @12:07PM (#12986003)
    The head of Holick's department, Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, called his book an embarrassment and stripped him of his dermatology professorship, although he kept his other posts.

    In other words, challenge the currently accepted hypothesis, and be prepared for extreme backlash from those who have spent their careers supporting it, no matter how well thought out or researched your work is. Charles Fort was right. The high priesthood of science is exactly that. Blaspheme at your own peril.

  • Re:Common sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 2short (466733) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @01:45PM (#12986929)
    Before calling others "Fucking Morons", it is best to have a fucking clue what you're talking about.
    My daughter is highly alergic to corn protiens, meaning that most processed food is out since it contains corn syrup which will make her quite sick. Products listing "sugar" will usually give her a nasty rash at least, because they contain traces of corn from processing. "organic evaporated cane juice" will not contain trace corn protiens from processing. I'm sorry you have a problem with packaging actually telling you what it contains and how it was produced, but some of us like to know. It doesn't have "sugar" in the ingredients, so you're rolling on the floor laughing? That's fine, but I'm a liitle more interested in the fact that since it doesn't have "sugar" on the ingredients, my daughter isn't rolling on the floor vomiting.
    Expensive health food companies have a clue, and try to tell you as much as possible about what you're eating as they can. Good thing, since the FDA (who could require such disclosures) is busy enforcing the dairy industies wish to assure you that "Milk" is all you need to know. Wouldn't want someone to tell you about how they produced your food without requiring them to assure you that the FDA doesn't know if it makes a difference.
    Looking for "sugar" in the ingredients is a poor way to identify junk food in any case. Read all the ingredients. If there are more than four, it's probably junk. If there are any you can't identify, probably junk, and do you really want to eat that? Are you sure that's not obscure scientific terminology for pig shit?
    The average american food consumer is an apathetic idiot, but according to you it's those of us who actually want to know what we're eating that are "morons". Ignorant twit.

  • Re:Common sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tabrnaker (741668) on Tuesday July 05, 2005 @01:56PM (#12987046)
    Have you ever laid out in the sun? It's relaxing and pleasant. There's a very good reason that lots of cultures worshipped the sun, and it's not just agricultural.

    It feels good and it's needed. The sun is actually one of the best ways to find out where you're tense and letting it go.

    People with lots of toxins in their system is probably what you're talking about. Nothing grosser than a tanned coffee drinking smoker.

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