Many of us think that having a tan is highly desirable and attractive and, despite the bad press that tanning gets, we still lie out in the sun like pigs roasting on a spit.
‘Roasting’ is the operative word here. It can be fatal.
Too much exposure to the sun — as we all know — can lead to skin cancer and/or that awful wrinkled prune look that is both ageing and quite ugly.
But that doesn’t stop us from sunbathing on those heavenly days when, in this country, the sun shines for about two weeks cumulatively in summertime. But it’s not just vanity that has turned many of us into martyrs for the sun.
According to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, dedicated sunbathers exhibit signs of both physical and psychological dependence, leading to symptoms such as increased tolerance, craving and withdrawal.
It’s a fecking bona fide addiction, as if we needed another one. UV (ultra violet) light rays can increase the release of opioid-like endorphins, feelgood chemicals that relieve pain and result in feelings of wellbeing.
So, extreme tanning, it would seem, is up there with addiction to drugs and booze. And I thought I was doing it just for the Vitamin D.
Well, not really. Us sun worshippers are offering up our skin for aesthetic rather than health reasons. We think the sun-kissed look is worth chasing. But the downside can be skin cancer and more superficial skin damage.
Blame it on fashion designer, Coco Chanel, who made tanning trendy in the 1920s, having overdone things on the sunbathing front while on a cruise.
Then you had actresses who wanted their skin to look tanned when films in colour and television became popular.
By the 1960s, tanning was very much a status symbol, indicating exotic holidays, an outdoorsy lifestyle and good health. And if you couldn’t afford to go abroad to some fancy resort, there was always the back garden.
Then fake tan and sun-beds were in vogue. While the use of potentially dangerous sun-beds is now regulated, a tan from a bottle is something everyone can indulge in.
And while the fake tans of old (and whatever muck Donald Trump is using) were bordering on tangerine as opposed to golden, today, you can buy fake tan that passes as the real thing — minus the wrinkles.
But some dermatologists sound a note of caution because of the chemicals in many fake tan products.
What is definitely bad for you are self-tanning pills. In high doses, they can lead to liver damage and damage to vision.
It would be far better to be pale and interesting, it seems.
Indeed, in the pre-industrial age, tans and freckles were associated with the peasant class who carried out manual labour in the sun. Wealthy women did their damnedest to retain pale skin by staying indoors. When they went out, they protected themselves with hats, bonnets, parasols and protective clothing.
They must have felt uncomfortably hot in the sun but the pursuit of beauty generally requires some pain or sacrifice. And it pales (excuse the pun) in comparison to the nastiness of sun burn and sun stroke.
Ireland ranks at number 14 in the world for skin cancer. On average, there are 859 melanoma-related cases annually in this country
. The amount of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has increased considerably over the past decades.
Our Celtic skin was never meant to be exposed intensely to the sun for long periods.
Other factors include the use of sun-beds, an ageing population and more travelling abroad.
Some people who sunbathe in Ireland with scant regard for their delicate skin claim that the Irish sun is different to that of Spain or other sunny spots. This is of course nonsense.
And we should also be aware that UV rays can have a harmful effect on skin even on overcast cloudy days.
There is also the illusion that using sunscreen leads to vitamin D deficiency and that the best way to get enough of the vitamin is through unprotected sun exposure.
In fact, people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels.
One of the reasons for this may be that no matter how much sunscreen you use or how high the SPF, some of the sun’s UV rays will still reach your skin.
It doesn’t actually take much sun exposure for the body to produce vitamin D. The safe way to acquire the vitamin is through a combination of diet and supplements.
So eat your fatty fish and drink milk or orange juice fortified with vitamin D. Or better still, swallow a tablespoon of cod liver oil.
Yuck. I’ll stick with salmon and mackerel and just a smidgeon of sun. It is an addiction, after all.