Thursday, 14 April 2016

Viewpoint: Brain tanning and the alchemy of road kill

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Author and "earth skills" expert Claire Dunn explains why she scooped a kangaroo carcass off the road for the sake of fashion.
On the Australia Day long weekend, I did something more traditionally Aussie than snags [sausages] on the barbie or sunburn on the beach. I tanned a kangaroo hide.
It was only after I had mentioned it casually to a friend on Facebook who replied "Ba ha ha - what a message!" that I remembered hide tanning was not your usual backyard hobby.
Nor was it mine, until 2010 when I embarked on a year-long Independent Wilderness Studies Program, living off the land in a forest on the north coast of New South Wales.
The experience quickly dispelled any romantic notions of wild living. I remember one night, my palms bleeding from fire-lighting blisters, standing under a shelter with rain pouring in and wondering what I was doing.
But overall I loved it. The rawness and physicality of living outdoors, the intimacy with the elements, and the time to just wander without time or destination.
Alongside a curriculum of matchless fire-making, shelter building, hunting and gathering, primitive pottery and bird language, I learned the art of "brain tanning".
'Ick factor'

Every animal, so I'm told, has enough brains to tan its own hide, the fats and chemicals contained within being the alchemical ingredient to turn skin into suede.
I still struggle to imagine by what experimental process this equation was first discovered, but the proof is smooth against my own skin on the occasions I don my matching hide skirt, top and bag.
Claire Dunn works a kangaroo hide on Australia DayImage copyright Claire Dunn
Image caption Claire Dunn works a kangaroo hide on Australia Day
On Australia Day, it's been a year or so since my last tanning effort, and I'm a little daunted as I rescue my 'roo hide from the lime bath it has been soaking in and fling it onto the fleshing beam which is used to scrape off flesh and skin.
With the hair half falling out, it's hard to connect the object in front of me to the animal I scooped off the side of a road in far north Queensland last winter.
During the "bush year", roadkill roo provided me with a regular source of food, as well as leather. I didn't eat this one but salted and dried the hide for safe keeping.
My tanning companion is Michelle Yang, who is working on a deer hide from a nearby venison farm. She emerges from the kitchen with a bucket of what appears to be strawberry milkshake. Submerging her hands and the hide within it, Michelle looks up at me with a grin.
"I'm fine with the ick factor now, but the first time I saw brains being mushed up for tanning I almost upchucked," she says.
My shoulders soon remember the arduous process of turning stinky skin into leather. Into the night I lean my weight against the beam, and painstakingly scrape off layers of snotty epidermis until the matrix of small fibres underneath appear, each patch as unique as a fingerprint.
Claire Dunn (right) and friends dressed in clothing made from tanned hideImage copyright Claire Dunn
Image caption Claire Dunn (right) and friends dressed in clothing made from tanned hide
Looking closer I'm struck again by how incredible skin really is - thin, flexible, water wicking and so strong.
Michelle is several steps ahead of me, working the deer's skin with practiced fingers. She turned her suburban Melbourne backyard into a traditional tannery after learning the skill during a visit to the US. She works with rabbits too.
It's a passion that's turned into a business. Michelle ran her first Backyard Buckskin course this year.
"I just love the craft of it, the re-learning of what used to be such a part of indigenous life," she says.
"I also love that I'm making use of something that would be otherwise thrown out, and turning it into beautiful, durable clothing that I can also throw in the washing machine."
'Cherishing life'

Tanner Michelle YangImage copyright Claire Dunn
Image caption Tanner Michelle Yang (left) says she loves making use of material that would otherwise go to waste
Michelle is not the only hide-tanner of my acquaintance. She's part of a loose east coast collective who gather occasionally to practise these and other "earth" skills.
Among them is Dan White, a life coach from northern NSW who picks up carcasses of wallabies near his home to feed both his dogs and his penchant for hides.
"If anyone took a look in the back of my van and saw plastic bags, knives, and rope they might be a bit worried," Dan says.
With a house adorned with "chicken bits, possum handbags, roo hides, wings and bones", Dan seems to loves the shock value it provides his guests.
"People think I'm a fruit loop, but then when I explain to them why I do it they get it," he says.
"Rather than about death I'm cherishing the life of these animals, it makes me feel closer to them. What's not normal to me is buying meat wrapped in plastic at the shop."
I feel that same sense of closeness to the roo on Australia Day, although the holes I'm accidentally scraping are making it look more like Swiss cheese than a potential pair of shoes.
My hide emerges from the brain bath like a cross between chamois, modelling clay and a rubber mat. Rain dampens our plans to soften and smoke the hides (another long and tiring process), so I return mine to the freezer until a later date.
Perhaps I'll make it an Australia Day ritual, an honouring of a lost art that also honours the lives of our wildlife.
Claire Dunn is a writer, rewilding facilitator and barefoot explorer. She is the author of My Year Without Matches: Escaping the City in Search of the Wild.

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Welcome fellow pastie people! ;)
I have decided to finally create a tanning blog so that I can somehow share my tanning obsession with all of you who might be tan-curious or also tan-obsessed!
So, the best way to start this would be simple ...

Hi, my name is Erica and I'm a tan-a-holic.

Now that we got that out of the way, I will try and explain to you exactly why I have created this page. For the last 15 years (wow, now I feel old) I have been a victim to tanning in every possible way. It started out as a fun thing to do with my friends back in high school as we would lay out for hours basking in the gorgeous Southern California sun. Then one day, I was old enough to utilize "the enemy" ... a tanning bed. I went to the tanning beds on a regular basis, sometimes 5 days a week. I was a beautiful bronze in my late teens and early twenties due to "the enemy". My also tan-a-holic friend, who I will be introducing to you throughout this blog, Lisa would accompany me in the traditional tanning bed, then backyard, then beach excursions. We would literally lather our bodies in skin accelerator lotions, go to a tanning bed for 30 minutes, put more tanning skin accelerator cream on, top it off with baby oil and lay in the sun for hours. You can imagine how amazing our color was, right? Yes, it was incredible! And the more red we would get or the more we would peel, the happier we were! Until "the enemy" caught up with me folks. One day in 2003, my boyfriend (husband and father to our son now) noticed a mole under my breast. I hesitantly went to the dermatologist and found out that it was a very "high risk red flag celled" mole. They took out a lot of my skin and inside my breast. I WAS LUCKY PEOPLE! If my husband didn't notice that, who knows what could have happened. Here is my point ... DO NOT ENTER INTO A TANNING BED "THE ENEMY" FRIENDS! IT WILL KILL YOU. DO NOT LAY OUT IN THE SUN FOR HOURS ON END! DO NOT GO OUT INTO THE SUN WITHOUT PROTECTING YOUR BEAUTIFUL SKIN. If I had just listened to my beautiful Mother when she would say "Erica, please stop tanning in the tanning beds and in the sun, I got Malignant Melanoma that way" I wouldn't have the awful sun damaged skin issues I have today. People, if you or a family member have ever had skin cancer ... DO NOT BE STUPID!
So, here I am, still a tan-a-holic ... the only difference is for the past 7 years I have been forced to use an alternative method to being tan ... a FAKE TAN! I am obsessed! And when I say fake tan I do not mean orange, I mean a bronzed brown fake tan ... a real feeling fake tan. That is my mission! I have used almost every product out there on the shelf! I have used multiple spray tan artists! I am open to use and blog about new products.
And hey ... just because I am a Mom doesn't mean I don't want to feel beautiful.
So, welcome to this tanning journey with me, Erica ... The Tanning Mom! ;)

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I am not aware who invented the myth, but I am quite sure it's the tanning bed industry that propagates it: Tanning in what Germans call the "Asi-Toaster" (literal translation "a toaster for nackers") is safe!

If we put some faith into the results of a recent study from the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota this is a fatal error. "Toasting" yourselves on a tanning bed increases your risk of developing skin cancer by 287%! Or, if you like that better, it almost quadruples (4x) it!

The results Rachel Isaksson Vogel and her colleagues from the University of New Mexico Cancer Center and the Brown University present in their latest paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) will probably be quite shocking for some of you who relied on the ability of the UV-filters in tanning beds to reduce the increase in cancer risk (Vogel. 2014).

If you look at the data that's based on an analysis of the tanning practices of 1852 subjects, it becomes pretty obvious: The protection the filters appear to offer against sunburns does not translate into cancer protection! On the contrary!

Figure 1: Risk of melanoma by ever use of indoor tanning among individuals who tanned indoors without burning and never users stratified by lifetime burns from sun as estimated using logistic regression (n = 1852; cf. Vogel 2014).
If you scrutinize the data in Figure 1 you will have to admit that it is obvious that those of the subjects who were cautious enough not to expose themselves to "real sun" to avoid getting burned, were the ones with the highest melanoma risk due to tanning bed radiation! Those who avoid the sun like a plague have a 4x higher risk even after adjustment for
What else can protect you? Peer reviewed evidence for skin cancer protective effects exist from:
milk thistle (Katiyar. 2005)
melatonin (Janjetovic, 2014)
calcium (1g) + 400IU vitamin D3  (-37% in women with increased risk; Tang. 2011)
retinol (25,000IU/day; cf. Moon. 1997)
retinol and zinc + riboflavin and niacin + vitamin C and molybdenum (at 1-2x the RDA; cf. Blot. 1993)
Too much antioxidants, on the other hand have been shown to increase cancer risk in women (#68%; cf. Hercberg. 2007). Against that background, a reasonable amount of controlled sun exposure and a coretene rich diet offer  probably the best protection. sex, age at reference date (in years),
eye color (gray/blue, green, hazel, or brown),
hair color (red, blond, light brown, or dark brown/black),
skin color (very fair, fair, light olive, vs dark olive, brown, very dark brown, or black),
freckles (none, very few, few, some/many),
moles (none, very few, few, some/many),
income (≤$60,000, >$60,000, missing),
education (completed college, did not complete college),
family history of melanoma (yes, no, missing),
lifetime routine sun exposure (continuous),
lifetime sun exposure from outdoor activities (continuous),
lifetime sun exposure from outdoor jobs (continuous), and
lifetime sunscreen use (continuous)
using propensity score methods in two-sided statistical tests. In other words, while the raw data on the left hand side is confounded by being at high risk and avoiding the real sun, the data on the right hand side (orange bars) is not!

Now you want a supplemental alternative / adjunct, right?

Against that background the promised "supplemental tanning formula" which consists of pretty ordinary supplements, you can find on the shelves of every larger Internet-retailer will probably become even more interesting, right?

Table 1: Tanning of different body regions before and after treatment with the supplement combo ()
I have to admit, the results scientists from the Laboratoire OENOBIOL in Paris recorded are not very impressive (see Table 1), but the difference was significant and - and this may be even more important - the ingredients, i.e. 3mg beta carotene, 3mg lycopene. 5mg vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), and 30mg vitamin C (ascorbic acid) were ingested in a no-tanning scenario.

You want to kill two birds with one stone? Try "Tomatorade(R)" and get your daily tanning (Postaire. 1997) and cancer protective (Aust. 2005) dose of lycopene right from nature.
Bottom line: The fact that the "supplemental tanner" worked even in a no-sun-exposure scenario is interesting, because lycopene, in particular has been shown to be preferentially destroyed by UV radiation, in the course of the tanning process. The slight tan the subjects developed upon it's supplement restoration is thus only the cosmetic side of the benefits one can derive from this combo. What makes it really interesting, though, is that it will simultaneously build the skins defenses against UV-radiation and could thus be used in conjunction with reasonable (=partial shade) sun exposure to develop a beautiful and healthy tan without havin' to resort to the aforementioned "Asitoaster" and/or drugs like melanotan.

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