As the skin cancer incidence continues to grow at an alarming rate, research shows that sun worshippers using sunscreens run an increased risk of malignant melanoma (BMJ, 1996: 312 7047).
There are, however, alternative ways of avoiding burning which should be used in combination with careful, controlled exposure.Vitamin A supplements and their close cousins, the carotenoids, may reduce the likelihood of burning. Carotenoids protect plants from ultraviolet damage. In humans carotenoids are supposed to reflect light rays and convert light energy to chemical energy, as they do in plants.
They also reduce the damaging activity of free radicals, counteract the immunosuppressive effects of ultraviolet radiation and "scatter" some of the ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet exposure depletes skin beta-carotene levels, making the skin more prone to photodamage.
In the US, beta-carotene is considered a safe and effective treatment for those whose skin is overly sensitive to sunlight due to a genetic disorder (JAMA 1974, 228:1004-1008).
German researchers found that mixed daily supplements of 50mg carotenoids over six weeks or 25mg over 12 weeks protected fair skinned people from ultraviolet induced damage ("Ultraviolet Protection of Natural Mixed Carotenoids in Humans," Institute of Experimental Dermatology, University of Witten-Herdecke, Rhine-Westphalia, FRG 1996).
Another German study suggests that carotenoids also help sunbathers with normal skin (Eur J Derm, 1996: 200-5). In the study, women were given a daily dose of 30mg of beta-carotene for two months before exposure to the sun. After two weeks' controlled exposure, they had an increase over controls in their numbers of Lagerhans cells, an important component of the skin's immune system, which is markedly diminished by the sun's radiation. In my many years in South Africa, I used to give every newly arrived fair skinned visitor (over 9 years old) a daily supplement of 7500 IU vitamin A, starting with the night before the first exposure, until their skin was used to the sun. Once I began this practice, not one case of sunburn appeared.
Vitamin E and other antioxidants (selenium, vitamin C) are useful to ward off the damaging effects of ultraviolet light. Folic acid, pantothenic acid and/or para aminobenzoic acid (PABA), along with general vitamin B complex, counteracts sun and wind damage to hair.
Researchers in France are experimenting with the flavonoid group of antioxidants found in green tea, grapes, pine bark, and other plants, which can protect the skin from ultraviolet induced premature ageing.
When using homeopathy for first aid, Sol 30CH should be used before setting out for your holiday. Cytisus laburnum 3DH should be used every half an hour to treat nausea and vertigo caused by sunstroke; Glonoinum 6CH every two hours to relieve bursting, pulsating headaches which are worse for movement.
If you do get sunburned, take Kali carbonicum 6CH four hourly; or, if the face tans quickly, take Bufo rana 12CH four hourly. Calcarea chlorinata, diluted
1:10 in distilled water, can be applied to the sunburned area.
Lemon juice applied once or twice a day gives quick relief from sunburn.
Aloe vera juice will prevent sunburned skin from peeling. It takes out the heat and sting, stops blistering and converts minor sunburns into tans.
For serious sunburn, Galium aparine (goose grass or cleaver) promotes the healing of damaged skin.
Avoid the following drugs which increase your likelihood of burning: barbiturates, demeclocycline, phenothiazines, griseofulvin, chlorothiazides, promethazine, or contact with weak antiseptics in soaps and creams.