by Sharon Beder
Gavin Greenoak and Jules Martin at the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility tests sunscreens for industry and determines their Sunscreen Protection Factors. Dr Paul Walker and Dr Phil Lukins from the School of Physics, with Scott Menzies of the Department of Veterinary Pathology and others are studying how well fabrics screen UV radiation from the skin so that fabrics can be given a Fabric Protection Factor and new, cool, yet protective fabrics can be developed.
According to Gavin Greenoak there may be no such thing as a safe tan. This is because a tan is the result of exposure to UV light, which is known to cause cancer as well as pigmentation. The presence of a tan may show only how much a person has been exposed to this skin cancer causing agent. This doesn't mean a tan doesn't offer some protection but is may not be enough. A tanned person is less susceptible to skin damage than a fair skinned person who cannot tan. But the notion of a safe tan may be a contradiction when we consider that non melanoma skin cancer is the arises from cumulative exposure over many years, and just because someone has a tan doesn't mean that further exposure to the sun is safe.
Greenoak is tanned and doesn't believe people should be frightened to go into the sun. I believe in moderation. We do belong on this earth and we have some natural protective mechanisms to deal with sunlight. I'm careful, I adopt the strategy that is recommended by the State Cancer Councils: staying out of the sun between 11 and 3, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, using a sunscreen (in that order). Now all those kind of policies I absolutely agree with. But I do feel we need to learn to respect the sun as we respect the ocean. It is a learning process - there is no need to hate it, nor to fear it.
Cartoon by Gary Larson from the Telegraph 26/9/90, copyright Universal Press Syndicate.