Sun holidays damage DNA and cause cancer

Who doesn’t like going on holidays!

Some of us like to sit in the sun for hours, be it on the beach or enjoying skiing. Sadly, while we are lazing away in the sun, the solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) of the very sun we are enjoying can actually cause damage to our DNA. Here’s an interesting article that was published in the prestigious Journal of Investigative Dermatology (Nature Publishing Group).

A group of scientists headed by Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of St John’s Institute of Dermatology, Guy’s Hospital in London, investigated that although sunlight increases the vitamin D status, the ultraviolet radiation in the sun can cause DNA damage. The way the DNA is damaged is by forming thymine dimers (T-T dimmers) increasing chances of skin cancer.

Thymine is one of 4 bases of DNA represented by the letter T. Other nucleotides include adenine (A), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). They are the subunits (building blocks) of DNA that link to form the strands of DNA. In order to form the 2 stands of double-stranded that contain the genetic information, the bases, guanine (G) and cytosine (C) while adenine (A) and thymine (T) form base pairs via hydrogen bonds. What the UVR light can do is cause photo-damage to the DNA by causing the formation of molecular lesions called the T-T dimmers. These are often called pre-mutagenic lesions and happen to be altered DNA structures that have the ability to be mutagenic. Basically, these dimmers have the ability to cause melanomas (skin cancer) in human beings.

cancer from sun holidays

Those going on holidays in the sun will have to make a decision if exposing themselves in the sun is worth the risk or not. Although one cannot completely eliminate sun exposure, the time they expose themselves will have to be monitored. Basically it’s a matter of maintaining optimal vitamin D status and minimizing risk of skin cancer.

One of the major drawbacks of this experiment was that a small sample section (n=71) was used and the assessment was carried out over a period of only 6 days. In addition, the observations were made based on the holiday maker’s diary registrations. Furthermore, there was no mention of the holiday destination. The part of the body that was exposed to the sun was also not mentioned.

Melanoma from sun exposure

What this study shows that although sun is good for vitamin D, it has the ability to damage DNA. For a holiday maker in the sun, this means they will have to make efforts to reduce their exposure to the sun. Although this experiment was carried out on 2 nationalities – Danish and Spanish, a wider section of the people would need to be carried out to get a better picture. Also dietary habits also need to be taken into account. For instance, some people eat more eggs which are high in vitamin D. Also gender, skin type, age, variations in the way subjects applied sunscreens and the rest of the variable parameters could also have affected the results.

But then this a real life study carried out on actual people holidaying in the sun. The tests speak for themselves. Those in the sun for extended hours had increased T-T dimmers (in the urine) and 25(OH)D (vitamin D in blood serum).

Sun holiday

How do you protect yourself from UV rays?

More people are likely to die from skin cancer caused by too much exposure to the sun than due to low levels of vitamin D. Considering that malignant melanoma is one of the most common types of cancer in the Western world (white skinned population), those travelling to sunny destinations will have to take precautions to prevent excess exposure to the sun.

Let’s take a look at how we can protect ourselves from the sun. Living in a hot country like that of India where temperatures often reach 45 degree Celsius, this is coming from firsthand experience.

You can use a Sun Meter UV card that measures the intensity of the UV rays that can burn your skin. These cards change color from white to dark purple depending on the UV ray strength. It’s quite useful when going on holidays.

Apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of more than 30. Although it does not completely protect you from the harmful radiation of the sun, it does prevent penetration of harmful radiation. I don’t go out without it. You can always use something called, Sun Bum spray sunscreen for kids.

Protect your skin with clothing. Wear long sleeved shirts and pants. But mind you, clothing does not protect you completely. If you can see through a garment, this means that UV light can go through too. Clothing that are tightly woven helps deflect UV rays more than thin cotton. There’s a range of UV protective clothing for both men and women. For instance this, “Columbia Women’s Bahama Long Sleeve Shirt” supposed to be made from material that blocks the sun’s harmful rays.

…If you are travelling to India in the summer, you should read this.

Wear sun protection gloves. For those doing skiing or engaging in sports, it’s a good idea to wear sun gloves especially by those who are going to be in the sun whole day. Some even wear arm sleeves such as these to protect their arms. It’s certainly good for activities such as cycling, fishing, golfing, jogging, and climbing types of outdoor activities.

Wear a cap. At least you will have your face in the shade. Make sure that you have a cap with a wide brim and a neck flap.

When out in bright sunlight you should always wear sunglasses. Not only will they protect your eyesight from harmful ultraviolet rays, but wearing large-framed wraparound shades also protects your face from sunburn. If you already wear spectacles, you could always invest in some prescription sunglasses for your trip. Visit website here to find out more.

Spend more time in the shade. Carry an umbrella if you have to. This Coolibar UPF 50+ Titanium Fashion Umbrella deflects the damaging ultraviolet rays. I personally don’t go out without one either.

If you see any unusual moles or freckles on the skin then get it checked with a doctor.

So you see, it’s a delicate balance between exposing yourself to the sun and getting vitamin D. Just because a well reputed journal has come out with a research, this does not mean people will stop going on holidays. You just have to be more careful and balance it appropriately.

What are your thoughts on this study? Do you have some of your own ways to prevent the sun, if you yes then please feel free to share them below?

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