How slapping on the sunscreen nearly ruined one woman's health
Collective sun phobia could be laying us open to far worse problems than wrinkles or even skin cancer
Sun shy: Georgia Coleridge, was shocked to discover her fear of the sun was damaging her health.......
My skin is pale and freckly, so when the sun shines, I prefer to stay out of it.
On holiday in Corfu last year, my children told me I looked like a feta cheese in a straw hat, cowering under a sun shade, unattractively slathered in white factor 60 sunscreen.
Even in Britain, I'm happier wearing sun cream. I've got a whole cupboard of tinted moisturisers and foundations that promise to keep my skin well protected from ultraviolet light.
I wasn't always so paranoid. As a teenager, I used to go on major bronzing offensives, wriggling into a bikini and smothering myself in baby oil.
My big hope was that one day all my freckles would join up and I'd look as golden as Farrah Fawcett-Majors bouncing along the beach in Charlie's Angels.
Sadly, though my skin sizzled uncomfortably like a sausage under the grill and turned a startling shade of pink, the tawny tan never materialised.
By my 20s, I could tell I was never going to look like Farrah (hell - I couldn't even get her flicky blonde highlights, no matter how many lemons I squeezed on to my hair) and I was reading enough health and beauty articles to know that it probably wasn't a good idea to try.
I just didn't have the right melatonin to be a Californian surfer girl, and I started to worry about those UVA and UVB rays bombarding my skin.
By my 30s, whenever a dermatologist insisted that 90 per cent of my premature skin ageing was caused by sunlight, I believed every word they said.
Frying my skin for the sake of a tan didn't seem nearly as appealing as preserving my dwindling stocks of collagen and elastin.
I'd rather be a whiter shade of pale than risk getting any more age spots, saggy skin and wrinkles.
With four small children, not sunbathing - in fact, not taking any risks with the sun at all - seemed like the mature and sensible option. I'd read endless scare stories about people who had developed skin cancer after being badly sunburned as children, and I was determined to protect my little darlings.
Every summer, however much they protested, I covered them in sun cream until they were as slippery as greased piglets, and tried to keep them indoors during the hottest part of the day.
And I waged an unsuccessful campaign to make them wear sun hats - I must have bought dozens over the years - baseball caps, Christopher Robin hats with turned up brims and even Foreign Legion hats with neck flaps.
Like so many other mothers, I was becoming obsessed with the idea that the sun was dangerous.
Every day there seemed to be more and more stories of terrible things it could do.
So I continued to religiously slap on factor 30 every day or stay indoors, convinced that I was doing the right thing for my skin.
So imagine my shock when I discovered recently that my safe-sun policy (well, OK, my vanity and fear of ageing) was compromising my health.
This country's collective sun phobia could be laying us open to far worse problems than wrinkles or even skin cancer.
Apparently, it's all about vitamin D, which is vital for our bones and immune system. It's known as the sunshine vitamin because a staggering 90 per cent of it is made naturally in our bodies from the effect of sunlight on our bare skin.
Unfortunately, after months of our long, cold northern winter, half the adults in Britain are vitamin D deficient.
If we don't build up our stocks in the summer when the light is stronger, we risk all sorts of complications.
One in six of us is severely depleted all year round, which is scary because vitamin D deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis, childhood rickets, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even aggressive cancers such as bowel and prostate.
It's a wake-up call for those of us who work all day in offices or allow our children to spend far too much time lolling around in the house.
We all need sunshine and many of us simply aren't getting enough of it. Earlier this year, a report pointed out that the incidence of rickets, a disease previously linked with poverty in Victorian Britain, is increasing.
As one of the authors, Professor Pearce, puts it: 'Kids tend to stay indoors more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air.
'This means their vitamin D levels are worse than in previous years.'
If you don't have enough vitamin D, it's hard for your body to metabolise calcium and lay it down properly to strengthen your bones.
Professor Pearce is calling for statutory food supplements to combat the problem, such as putting vitamin D in milk, but from experience, I know a good diet may not be enough if you never go out in the sun.
I'm pretty healthy and eat lots of good, fresh food, including oily fish and fortified eggs, which are packed with the stuff.
But last year, after a bone scan showed that my bones were already thinner than they should be for a woman in her 40s, I also had an investigative blood test that showed my vitamin D levels were severely under par.
Without sunshine on unprotected skin, my body couldn't make all the vitamin D I needed.
I was horrified to find that I'd been compromising my bone health for the sake of my skin, and wished I'd been less obsessive about covering up.
Luckily, the solution is an easy one. Apart from supplements to keep me going through the winter, my consultant told me to go outside every day, exposing a fifth of my body to the light.
Though she wants me to do this during the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm), I shouldn't use suncream for the first ten to 15 minutes because even factor 15 would reduce my capacity to produce the vitamin D I need by 85 per cent.
I'm still pathetically vain about not multiplying my freckles or encouraging any more wrinkles, so I'm uncovering my milk bottle legs and arms, rather than my face.
Apparently, this is fine. Even I know it's extremely unlikely that anyone could get skin cancer from spending just 15 minutes a day in the British sun.
The good thing is that I'm also getting more exercise because I have to go out of the house.
Apparently, sitting by the window in a shaft of sunlight doesn't work apparently (glass inhibits the sunbeams from doing their stuff), which is another reason why it's not good for old people to be stuck all day inside care homes. We all need real light on our skin.
Ironically, when it comes to manufacturing vitamin D, looking like a cross between Snow White and Morticia Addams is an advantage.
Because I'm so pale, I don't need to expose much of my skin for long. But darker women with more natural melatonin need stronger sunlight, so need to stay out longer or else uncover more of their body to stay healthy.
Muslim women in hijabs might just about be able to produce all the vitamin D they need in Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh.
But if they move to Scotland, where the sun is much weaker, they can end up with osteomalacia, a nasty form of adult rickets where their bones become soft and bendy, or fracture unexpectedly.
As for my children - they're absolutely fine. I'm glad I insisted on protecting their skin when they were little, and I'd certainly never want them to burn.
But I can see now that I took my sun obsession too far, and I am much more relaxed about the possibility that they'll almost certainly get as many freckles as I did when I was younger.
I'd far rather they went outside to play, built up their bones and their immune systems, than cower inside the house hunched over the PlayStation.
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