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(MCT)—Calling all sun worshippers! Before you head out to the beach or tanning salon this summer, here are five myths about sun exposure, busted for your edification:

1. Your skin gets a healthy flush from mild sun exposure. Actually, that flush is not so healthy! When UV rays reach your skin, they damage cells in the epidermis. In response, your immune system increases blood flow to the affected areas. The increased blood flow is what gives sunburn its characteristic redness and warmth to touch.

2. You should limit yourself to safe tans. There is no such thing as a “safe tan.” The increase in skin pigment, called melanin, which causes the tan color change in your skin, is a sign of skin damage.

3. Tanning makes you look better. Frequent sunburns or hours spent tanning can result in a permanent darkening of the skin, dark spots and a leathery texture. Tanning may give you short-term benefits in appearance, but it leads to premature aging and wrinkling of the skin.

4. Your personal risk of getting skin cancer is relatively low. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States; most of these are considered caused by the sun.

5. Staying in the sun gives your body a health boost. Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defenses. This can lead to increased sensitivity to sunlight, decreased effects of immunizations and increased reactions to certain medications. This weakening of the immune system can also cause reactivation of the herpes virus and recurrent cold sores.

Having said that, all sun is not bad, and many people are finding that they are deficient in vitamin D due to an underexposure to the sun, as well as lack of adequate dietary intake of Vitamin D. We suggest taking 1,200 to 2,000 international units of Vitamin D daily, and limiting sun exposure to early morning or late afternoon, when sun rays are not at their peak. So wear your sunscreen and protective clothing, avoid peak sun hours, seek shade where possible and take your Vitamin D. You can still have a great summer!

Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif. Have a question related to alternative medicine? Email

©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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