Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020
Dalkey Literary Awards - 20th June 2020

Dr Skin: Paul Sharad and the history of skin

The spitting has turned into a bit more of a downpour here at the Seafront Marquee, bringing out the fragrances of the manicured Dalkey gardens which might be enjoyable if we hadn’t just stepped into a puddle in our canvas shoes.

We’re with the man that the festival has begun to refer to as Dr Skin, aka Sharad Paul.

Sharad is Indian and lives in New Zealand and has come to prominence thanks his research into the history of skin which he writes about in his book Skin, A Biography.

David McWilliams is introducing Aifric Campbell who will be moderating the talk, and Dr Sharad, saying that he was at a the Jaipur literary festival when he and Sian stumbled upon Sharad’s talk.

Aifric Campbell who is moderating the talk intros Sharad saying he’s a skin cancer surgeon but he’s also a novelist and philanthropist, which makes his writing very particular.

He was born in England, brought up in India, and now lives in New Zealand where he’s based out of Auckland. He started a skin clinic in India where he’s treated 100,000 patients for free.

We’re into the first part of the talk, with Dr Sharad’s presentation.

Sharad is introducing himself, saying that he teaches children writing and treats animals as well as practicing medicine. He shows a picture of an orangutan that he operated on, saying that when he went to his next patient, a prominent kiwi woman, he decided to not tell her that his last patient was an orangutan lest she thought he was “trained in India, so must be a monkey doctor.”

Sharad is telling us about Vitamin D and how really it’s an ancient hormone, not a vitamin at all. He’s discussing the role of Vitamin D and folic acid in skin pigmentation.

“Why did African skin become dark – higher levels of folic acid.” Sharad then points out the connection that folic acid has to fertility, saying that, “you can predict the populations of the world based on their skin. If you’re darker you’re a better breeder!”

Sharad is talking about how early ideas of white superiority were rooted in some ways in how unhealthy dark-skinned people became when they moved to countries with less sun which caused the production of less Vitamin D.

“Imagine you have dark skin and you go to Ireland – where do you get your Vitamin D? If you’re dark skinned and you end up being in places like Ireland, you start producing less folic acid. It took 28 million years for Africans to develop their dark skin,” Sharad says.

“When dark-skinned people would come to places like Ireland they’d get rickets, which is Vitamin D deficiency.”

Sharad is really stressing the importance of Vitamin D to a human being’s health.

“In the 1970s the Russians figured out that African athletes had four times the Vitamin D, and realised it was improving their performance. They started injecting Vitamin D and it was actually the first sports doping.”

The world has a problem with Vitamin D deficiency, Sharad is saying now. “And God bless the celts as they keep my practice very busy.”

Sharad poses the question “Where was Darwin wrong?” when it came to evolution. “Darwin did not take into consideration diet,” Sharad says.

“I come here and I see you guys eat alcohol. It’s true that the Irish have twice the alcohol capacity actually,: Sharad says as a clearly hungover audience laughs.

“Why is the eskimo dark? Why is the polar bear’s skin dark? If you eat salmon twice a day you get all the Vitamin D you need,” Sharad says.

“I predicted why Ms Norway would have more of a tan than Ms Estonia. In Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, they had a grain-based diet so their Vitamin D levels remained quite low, whilst the Norwegians were clubbing seals and eating salmon, so their skin remained dark because of their high Vitamin D levels.”

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But Sharad warns, you don’t get a great tan from eating salmon,.”It take 300 or 400 years to change the colour of your skin through diet.”

Sharad is now onto a part of the talk that’s close to his heart: “On one side we have biology and one side we have bigotry.”

“This misunderstanding over skin colour has ruined the world. I wish everybody a symptom, maybe the one of colour-blindness, because the myth of race has not served humanity well,” he says.

Sharad then reads a poem he’s written, (the guy does not stop pulling different tricks out of the bag,) “I’m saying dermocracy,” the poem begins.

We are onto question time with Aifric.

Sharad has started developing a cosmetic serum, while also saying that most of the cosmetic creams do nothing. He’s talking about how Vitamin C is probably the most important thing to use for your skin, but he mentions that it’s better to eat it in oranges as opposed to capsules – apparently sometimes the body doesn’t absorb the vitamins in a capsule format because it doesn’t recognise it in pill format.

“In many years people will start to look the same due to our diets becoming more and more similar.”

And with that prediction of homogenous doom, we’re over and out.