Sun Exposure, Tanning Beds, Skin Cancer, and Overall Chance of Death

At this point, I think most people have heard that strictly avoiding the sun or blocking with sunscreen is not a sound recommendation. Let’s discuss a study that found that sun exposure decreased your overall chance of death, cardiovascular disease, and melanoma.

Clinicians – for a detailed write-up of this study, see

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Sun Exposure, Tanning Beds, Skin Cancer, and Overall Chance of Death

Dr. Michael Ruscio: Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio. And let’s discuss sun exposure, tanning bed use, overall chance of death, and skin cancer. A very interesting study Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source was recently published that really helps us better understand the way to look at the sun. I think, hopefully, most of us are now starting to understand that the recommendation to strictly avoid the sun, either through not being outside or wearing clothing, protective-blocking clothing, or using umbrellas, or using sunblock, is not a very sound health recommendation.

Yes, we want to avoid the extreme endpoint of habitual sunburns and excess, in terms of, tanning. But the data are very strongly suggesting that strict avoidance of the sun is actually worse for you. It actually contributes to making your health worse. And there are some details here I want to quote for you, from the study, that really helps provide some information that can help update the way we think about the sun.

Whether you choose to act on this or not is your prerogative, but it is important to understand that a dogmatic recommendation to slather your body with sunscreen, because you’re trying to prevent skin cancer, may not be the most sound recommendation. I think there was some possibility to that argument before, but now that we’re seeing more and more data being published on the health benefits of the sun, that idea needs serious re-examination. Here are some of the data, the details, that contribute to that re-examination.

So a study entitled “Can UV Exposure Reduce Mortality” was published. And this was a…and I’ll put the details up here on the screen. I’m just going to quote for you. “A perspective study”—meaning going forward in time, so this really strengthens the argument when you’re going forward in time and tracking people—“of over 38,000 Swedish women and who are followed for 15 years”—so this is a large group followed for a long period of time in a perspective fashion, so this is very high-quality level information. And to quote, “a significant reduction in all-cause mortality”—that means death from any cause—“and in cardiovascular mortality”—that means death from heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease—“were associated with several measures of sun exposure.”

So looking at different, various measures of sun exposure, they all showed that the more sun that these people obtained, the less their overall chance of death, the less their overall chance of death from cardiovascular disease. A very compelling point there.

Here’s another important point: “In addition, ultraviolet exposure from tanning beds is associated with a significant increase in all-cause mortality and cancer mortality.” So what this tells us is that tanning beds are bad. There’s been some debate whether or not judicious use of tanning beds may help people in winter months obtain the sun exposure or the UV exposure that they need to maintain optimum vitamin D levels and/or obtain the other health benefits that we get from light exposure. And this evidence, I think, answers that question, which is, for some reason, tanning beds are not protective and the sun is.

And here is another very important point. The authors make the note that intermittent sun exposure was associated with a 1.6 increased risk of melanoma skin cancer, while chronic sun exposure was protective. So what this tells us, and this is very important, is that if you’re having chronic sun exposure, that may help reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Now, of course, we want to take some individual variants into account on this. If you’re someone that has a very high predilection towards skin cancer and you’re very prone to burn, this does not mean that you should go out and spend so much time in the sun that you’re habitually getting sunburned. We don’t want to go from one extreme to the other. But what this information, I think, clearly shows us is that the sun, if you’re obtaining constant and chronic exposure to it, is actually protective for your health.

Yes, we want to avoid sun burning. And yes, it may not be a good idea to spend eight hours a day out in the sun with sun tan oil on and become incredibly dark. But to be practical here, it’s fairly clear now, based upon the data, that avoiding the sun is not good for you. Yes, chronic overindulgence, overexposure may not be healthy, either. And tanning beds are not healthy according to these data. But getting a dose of sunshine every day, with your skin unprotected, is good for your health from the perspective of cancer mortality, overall mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and is even protective against melanoma of the skin.

So if you’re someone who’s been avoiding the sun—I understand where that comes from—but it’s time to update our opinion based upon these new data. And what this means is you can just live your life, spend some time outside in the sun, enjoy that, and not be overly fearful that’s going to be something negative and detrimental to your health.

So if nothing else, hopefully this information helps you understand that you can get some time outside in the sun, enjoy the vanity of having slightly tanned skin, and actually understand that you’re doing something beneficial for your health, rather than detrimental. Avoid excessive sun exposure to the point where you’re burning habitually, and also avoid tanning use. But enjoy a daily, weekly dose of sun and all the benefits that you obtain from being outside.

This is Dr. Ruscio. And I hope this information helps you get healthy and get back to your life. Thanks.

If you need help using this information to become healthier, click here.
To be notified when my print book becomes available & get a free gut health eBook, click here.
If you are a healthcare provider looking to sharpen your clinical skills, click here.

What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.

Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.


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