Why Is Our Skin Less Resistant To The Sun Than Our Ancient Ancestors?

Why Is Our Skin Less Resistant To The Sun Than Our Ancient Ancestors?

Before The Invention Of Products Such As Sunscreen And The Creation Of Umbrellas And Sunshades, The Human Skin Resisted Sunlight In A Better Way.

Man’s relationship with the sun is contradictory and strange. People are often interested in the sun, but after some exposure, they gradually get hot and tiny beads of sweat to appear on the face and around the eyes. To all these conditions, we must add various protective measures to deal with the sun: sun creams, hats, and sunglasses.

If you stay outside for a long time or don’t take enough precautions, your skin will get sunburned. Sunburn can be considered the skin’s reaction to the sun and desperation to deal with its burning rays.

The question is, have humans always been so sensitive and obsessed about the effect of the sun on their bodies? Nina Jablonski, a biological anthropologist who has studied primate adaptation to the environment, believes the short answer to this question is “no.”

According to him, our ancestors did not need to do such things against the sun. Human skin has resisted the sun well for thousands of years.

Skin a boundary between man and the surrounding world

Humans somehow evolved under the sun. Sunlight was present in people’s lives as a constant and constant phenomenon, and it gave them warmth during different days and seasons, and in a way, it moved their lives forward. The skin was the main link between the body of our ancestors and the world around them. The wise man has spent a large part of the prehistoric period and the period of human history outside the house, primarily naked or semi-naked.

Placed Human skin was adapted to almost any condition. If possible, people took shelter in caves and rock shelters. On the other hand, their living conditions made them skilled in building portable shelters from wood, animal skins, and other collected materials.

Humans of those days gathered together at night and probably covered themselves with “blankets of fur.” But people were often outdoors during the active hours of the day, and their primarily bare skin was the only clothing or protection they had against the sun.

Human skin responds to exposure to sunlight in different ways throughout life. The surface layer of the skin, or epidermis, becomes thicker as more layers of cells are added. For most people, the skin gradually darkens; Because with the entry of specialized cells, a protective pigment called melanin is produced.

Exposure of human skin to sunlight

Exposure to the sun’s rays causes the production of melanin, A substance that darkens the appearance of the skin.

This remarkable and essential molecule absorbs the most amount of visible light and causes the skin to appear dark brown and almost black. Eumelanin also absorbs harmful UV rays from the sun. Different people produce different amounts of melanin in their skin depending on their genetics.

Some have a lot of melanin and can produce more of this substance when their skin is exposed to the sun. Some others have lower amounts of melanin from the beginning, and when their skin is exposed to the sun, they produce a smaller amount of melanin than the first category.

Research on the evolution of human skin pigments has shown that they regulated people’s skin color in prehistoric times based on local environmental conditions and mainly by local levels of ultraviolet light. People living under intense UV light (like what you see near the equator) had darker, more tanned skin year after year, and this kind of skin could make a lot of melanin.

On the other hand, people who lived in areas with weaker and more seasonal levels of UV light (like many people in northern Europe and northern Asia) had lighter skin, and these skins had limited ability to produce protective pigments.

Our distant ancestors, who did not wear any clothes, did not move much during their lives.

Their skin had adapted to the subtle and seasonal changes in sunlight and different conditions of UV rays by producing more eumelanin and darkening in the summer and losing some pigment in the fall and winter (when the sun was not so intense). In those days, painful sunburns were rare, even for people whose skin produced little pigment.

The reason for the above rarity is that during that period of human existence on the planet, there have never been any sudden shocks surrounding exposure to intense sunlight for humans. Instead, as the intensity of sunlight increases during spring, the top layer of their skin gradually thickens due to exposure to sunlight over weeks and months.

Of course, this does not mean that it damaged the skin of people of those times, not according to today’s standards.

Dermatologists would probably be horrified by the leathery and wrinkled appearance of the skin of our distant ancestors who were exposed to the sun!

The color of the skin, like the levels of the sun’s radiation itself, changed with the change of seasons, and the aging of the skin showed itself rapidly. It is still the case for people who traditionally live mostly outdoors in many parts of the world.

Indian man

Unprotected and chronic exposure to the sun can damage the skin; Effects like what is evident in this Indian farmer.

Of course, there are no skins from thousands of years ago that scientists can study; However, we can infer from the effects of sun exposure on modern people that similar damage was present in that era. Chronic exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer.

The effect of living indoors and closed spaces on the skin

After the settlement of humans and settling in permanent settlements, the relationship of humans with the sun and sunlight changed a lot. Until about 10,000 years ago (a drop in the bucket of evolutionary history), humans lived by gathering food, hunting, and fishing. Agriculture and food storage were accompanied by the development of fixed and immovable structures. Around 6,000 BC, many people around the world spent more time confined to small towns and inside standing and roofed houses.

While most people still spent most of their time outdoors, some stayed indoors whenever possible. Many gradually began to protect themselves from the sun when going outside. By at least 3000 BC, an entire sun protection industry had grown up, including sun umbrellas, sunshades, hats, tents, and unique clothing to protect people from the inevitable discomfort and darkening of the skin—prolonged exposure to sunlight.

While some items, such as parasols and umbrellas in ancient Egypt and China, were initially reserved for the elite classes, these luxury items were gradually made in larger quantities and became available to more classes.

Achaemenid Shah Dariush of Iran

The king of Iran, Darius the Great, lived more than 2,500 years ago; This picture shows him being protected from the sun by his crew.

In some regions, humans developed protective pastes made from minerals and plant remains (early versions of modern sunscreens) to protect the sun-exposed parts of their skin. Some of those early sunscreens, such as Tanaka paste used by the people of Myanmar, still exist today.

The above measures in traditional agricultural societies had a specific and widespread consequence: people who spent more of their time indoors, from then on, considered themselves more privileged, and their lighter skin may have been indicative of their status. From their point of view, “farmer tanning” was not attractive.

Sun-tanned skin was the price or cost associated with hard work outdoors, not, say, a leisurely vacation or a prosperous life. This perception was not unique to a particular people or region. Tanned skin was associated with a hard life in different places, from Great Britain to China, Japan, and India.

Since humans in recent centuries move more and faster over longer distances and spend more time indoors, their skin does not adapt to their place and lifestyle.

Your skin’s level of eumelanin is probably not fully adapted to the solar conditions of your area, and therefore, it cannot protect you like our ancient ancestors.

Even if you are among the people who naturally have dark pigments or are so-called able to tan, we must still note that all humans are, to some extent, exposed to damage caused by intermittent exposure to sunlight, especially after long breaks entirely spent out of the sun. The “holiday effect” and sudden exposure to UV rays are terrible; sunburn is a kind of signal of damage to the skin, and it will never wholly repair.

There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanning not only doesn’t protect you from further sun damage, but it’s also a sign of damage itself. It is an unfortunate mistake you may pay for years later when you face premature skin aging or pre-cancerous skin conditions.

People may love the sun, but we must admit that we are not like our ancestors. Humanity’s relationship with the sun has changed, and we must adjust our behavior accordingly so that our skin gets minor damage.