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Is it advisable to wear UV protected swimsuit that covers arms and legs for skin protection to ward off skin cancer or is it too paranoid, given that most men and women wear swimming trunks / bikinis / swimsuits? The sun provides benefits such as vitamin D. Is swimming in trunks alone actually healthier for the men's body?

  • @Narusan, that's true but I get the impression it is more ok for female swimwear to cover up more parts of the body than men. Today, most men are in swimming trunks which leave most parts of the body naked to the sun. – user781486 Jun 12 '18 at 11:07
  • @Narusan, the health aspect is more important. You are correct to point out that social aspect is irrelevant. It is stupid to follow social convention that is unhealthy. As long as the swimming pool operator does not forbid full body suit (which I don't think so), the social convention aspect of the swimming attire is irrelevant. – user781486 Jun 12 '18 at 11:16
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    I’ve allowed myself to shorten the post a bit, then. I left the hygiene aspect out because IMO it has nothing to do with the rest and would be off better with its own post. By the way, a good question and my +1 despite all my nitpicks :) – Narusan Jun 12 '18 at 11:21
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    @Narusan, Thanks. I have edited the question itself to make it gender neutral. Man or woman, we are all human beings who are vulnerable to skin cancer due to sun exposure. – user781486 Jun 12 '18 at 11:24
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As critiqued in comments, this answer possibly misrepresents the vitamin D situation, which is better described here. Proceed with suspicion!




Summary

Because of the associated cancer risk, protecting your skin from sunlight is a good idea, also when swimming, and especially by wearing UV-absorptive clothing. Sunscreen makes a huge difference too.

You can get enough vitamin D from even a few minutes of sunlight, and also otherwise from cheap nutritional supplements. Exposing your skin to solar UV is pretty much only a negative.

Whether something is "too paranoid" is for each to judge for themselves, based on the facts.

The facts

The WHO page Are there beneficial effects of UV radiation? advises this as to benefits of UV radiation:

There is no doubt that a little sunlight is good for you! But 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months is sufficient to keep your vitamin D levels high. Closer to the equator, where UV levels are higher, even shorter periods of exposure suffice.

Hence, for most people, vitamin D deficiency is unlikely. Possible exceptions are those who have very limited sun exposure such as the housebound elderly, or those with heavily pigmented skin who live in high-latitude countries where UV levels are relatively low.

They also advise on the negatives on the page What are the effects of UV on the skin?:

There is no such thing as a healthy tan! The skin produces a dark-coloured pigment, melanin, as a shield against further damage from UV radiation. The darkening provides some protection against sunburn: a dark tan on a white skin offers a sun protection factor of between 2 and 4. However, it is no defence against long-term UV damage such as skin cancer. A suntan may be cosmetically desirable, but in fact it is nothing but a sign that your skin has been damaged and has attempted to protect itself.

According to Cancer Research UK's facts page on skin cancer,

1 in 54 people will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma during their lifetime.

According to the same page, your chances of surviving after diagnosis for 1 year are 97%, for 5 years 90%, and for 10 years 90%.

According to Skin Cancer Foundation's facts page,

The vast majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. In fact, one UK study found that about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

In conclusion

Swimwear is healthier the more it protects your skin from sunlight.

There are always some obstacles to always doing the healthiest thing though. For instance—

  • More clothing means more weight and heat, which may make going swimming less convenient for you, especially if you like to swim competitively and in warm water. Since exercise is itself healthy, it would be unwise to discourage it by making it feel like a chore!
  • Cultural resistance: pool maintainers in some places (e.g. France) have been known to refuse guests with swimwear that doesn't look like swimwear, out of hygiene concerns. It might be wise to get staff permission or bring an alternative set to avoid disappointment.

I hope this helps you to decide!

  • More clothing should not be an issue as long as they are the tight-fitting type that are suitable for water activity. I don't think pool maintainers will reject proper body swimsuit just because they cover more body parts. The material is still swimsuit material after all. – user781486 Jun 12 '18 at 14:23
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    This is a good answer on Cancer mitigation but when you say you can get enough vitamin D from a few minutes of sunlight, how come vitamin D levels seem to be declining to detrimental levels? ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4288313 – Chris Rogers Jun 12 '18 at 22:19
  • @ChrisRogers Thanks for catching that, and for the excellent link. It seems the WHO page I read skips over the details, and my summary even more so. I feel I've misjudged the situation so badly that I need to re-evaluate a bunch of stuff and completely rewrite this, but I don't have the time for that right now, and I can't delete an upvoted and accepted answer. I've added a cautionary note at the top, and flagged for mod attention. – Anko Jun 13 '18 at 7:39
  • @Anko - You may not have misjudged things completely. The paper I pointed to is one side of the story. The WHO is a major organisation who advises the world on health issues. All that is needed is to look at the anomalous paper and wonder what significance it has on the question – Chris Rogers Jun 13 '18 at 7:53
  • "Cancer Research UK advises that individuals should stay below their personal sunburn threshold to minimise their skin cancer risk. This is supported by evidence that sufficient vitamin D generally can be produced in summer at UK latitudes by exposing the skin to sunlight for a few minutes only (minimising risk of erythema and cell damage) in the middle of the day, when the intensity of UVB is at its daily peak (Cancer Research UK 2010)." This is in the paper under the section titled Vitamin D and Sun Exposure. Don't give up. You may have provided a correct answer. – Chris Rogers Jun 13 '18 at 8:05

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