It's summer, so we're bitten by bugs ... ... dried up and hosed down

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Suzy Menkes, doyenne of fashion journalism, summed it up thus: "Safe sun, like safe sex, is something everyone believes in - but not quite yet." And the acres of white flesh on display in the current heatwave prove her point.

Common sense demands that the salient features of a British summer - scarlet limbs and shoulders crossed with livid strap marks; peeling skin and pain - are consigned to a dustbin marked nostalgia. We know the risks.

Public understanding of skin cancer and the wrinkle-inducing effects of sunshine is high. Health educators kick off every summer with dire warnings, while suncream manufacturers drive the message home with millions of pounds' worth of advertising. Every day the Meteorological Office tells us just how long we can spend in the sun before "burning" - and yet the majority of us ignore the advice. Some may now sport a hat, slop on a little more suncream than previously, or seek the shade at midday, but the obsession with "getting a tan" persists.

Admittedly, it is no longer the deep, orange-gold perma-tan popularised by Brigitte Bardot and assorted jet-setters in the Sixties and Seventies. Instead, what we are after is more of a sporty, healthy glow that makes eyes look brighter, teeth whiter and enhances skimpy clothing.

What the health police fail to realise - and why so many ignore their pleas to cover-up - is that a little exposure to warming rays does wonders for the aesthetically challenged British body. Everybody looks better for spending time in the sun.

And the health educators have ignored the other proven effects of sunshine that make their warnings harder to stomach: the surge of feel-good hormones known as endorphins triggered by ultra-violet light, and the rise in male and female hormones which really does make people feel sexier in the sun.

Sunshine is probably the ultimate seducer, and attempts to curtail its impact on our health have met with limited success. Some doctors now believe less strident messages must replace the "do's and don'ts". They must make allowances for our enjoyment of sunshine, and appreciate the allure of a tan.

Dr John Hawk, a consultant dermatologist at Guy's and St Thomas's Hospital Trust, takes a refreshingly relaxed view. "Although one shouldn't go on holiday with the sole object of getting a tan, I am in favour of enjoying oneself in the sun. Avoid wanton exposure in the middle of the day if you can. But if you can't, make sure you are protected [factor 15 or higher] and keep applying it. If you come back with a tan having adhered to the warnings, it is not going to be associated with enormous damage."