Avoiding the Sun to Avoid Skin Cancer? Recent Studies Challenge That Advice.

December 20, 2011

My perfect day involves an 85-90 degree day at a beach (preferably with waves), my girlfriend, other friends, a lounge chair, a cooler full of sandwiches and beer. Honestly…I could repeat that day 10,000 times on various beaches of the world an never get bored. The thing is, I’m a fair skinned German-Irish-Scandinavian mixed breed. I’ve always felt a bit of guilt for going out in the sun, because we’ve been trained that it is like playing Russian Roulette with skin cancer. Fair skinned people like me are especially warned to avoid sun exposure. Is that sound advice?

the sun and skin cancer

[Why am I writing about sun tanning in December? Well…this blog has a large readership from Australia and New Zealand. I figured I would do a summer post that would match their seasons for once.]

Should You Be Worried If You Sport a Tan In the Summer?

Are you risking your long-term health if you spend time outdoors soaking up rays? I can’t answer that question for you. In fact, I am not giving any medical advice here. You have to make your own decisions. Enjoying life in the sun has a built in calculated risk, but so does driving a car to work, or flying in a plane. That being said, there is some strong evidence against avoiding the sun. In fact the advice of avoiding the sun from 12-4pm, may do more harm than good—>At what time should one go out in the sun?

Outdoor Workers Get Skin Cancer Less Than Indoor Workers?

Here is a link, to a study which found that melanoma has been on the rise for indoor workers, but NOT outdoor workers. Some interesting findings for sure!

“Paradoxically, although outdoor workers get much higher outdoor solar UV doses than indoor workers get, only the indoor workers’ incidence of cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) has been increasing at a steady exponential rate since before 1940 (Fig. 1, World Health Organization, WHO, and Connecticut cancer registry). Likewise, the calculated lifetime risk for getting CMM follows the same pattern. In fact, outdoor workers have a lower incidence of CMM compared to indoor workers.”

…Perhaps Indoor UV Exposure is to Blame?

“In the early 20th century, people went against evolution by going indoors during the day to work, which drastically decreased their daily amount of cutaneous vitamin D3 and, along with it, their blood levels. With the addition of larger buildings and sky scrappers, people created an unnatural UV barrier when windows were developed and used in abundance. The UV barrier created by window glass divided UVB from UVA, so that the vitamin D making UVB was excluded from our indoor working environment; only the vitamin D-breaking and DNA-mutating UVA was included. Because this unnatural UV environment existed for decades in buildings and cars, CMM began to steadily increase about 20–30 years later in the mid-1930s.”

[The glass in buildings are dividing UVA from UVB…and this is creating a problem.]

UVB “Makes” Vitamin D3 and UVA “Breaks Down” Vitamin D3

Unfortunately, the glass in buildings allows UVA in, but blocks UVB. Vitamin D3 kills melanoma cells and reduces tumor growth. So vitamin D3 helps prevent cancer. UVB is what helps produce Vitamin D3 in the skin. UVA is what breaks it down. The study puts it best…

“Thus, we propose that along with decreased levels of cutaneous vitamin D3, UVA exposures, which can promote tumor formation and incidence cause DNA mutations, and break down vitamin D3, can together significantly promote melanoma.

Explanation of Chart: Outdoor workers get a good balance of UVA and UVB rays and therefore have a steady level of Vitamin D3. As you can see indoor workers typically have a poor levels of vitamin D3, except for on the weekends and perhaps summer and vacations.

Sunscreens Block Out the Good Rays as Well!

There are studies that suggest that sunscreens do not help in preventing melanoma. In effect, the sunscreen is doing a similar thing to glass…blocking UVB and allowing in more UVA. So sunscreen isn’t helping much in this regard as well.

Europe Has UVA Blocking Sunscreen and the US Doesn’t!

I just found an amazing site dedicated to sunscreen. Here’s a post you will want to read if you use sunscreen: Sunscreens Exposed – 9 Surprising Truths. “Sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds”. I want some good European sunscreen! If you are after good sunscreen you can actually look up your brand in the sidebar and they will tell you the UVA protection level.

Kinesys Kids SPF 30 Spray

[Most spray sunscreens in the U.S. rank really bad for UVA protection, but I found one decent one, Kinesys Sport SPF 30 Kids. This is the one I will be using going forward. Important: The SPF 15 version made by this same company does NOT rank well for UVA protection.]

15-30 Minutes of Mid Day Sun Exposure Every Other Day?

It doesn’t take a heck of a lot of sun to get vitamin D to healthy levels. Studies have found as little as 5-10 minutes of sun exposure 3 times per week can boost your vitamin D levels to where they need to be. My guess is that people with darker skin may need a bit more than that.

My Summer and Vacation Plan of Attack Going Forward

  • No sunscreen the first 15 minutes of my beach time.
  • Apply only the best UVA blocking spray I can find after 15 minutes of sun exposure (see picture above).
  • Walk outside mid day for at least 10-15 minutes during summer…“Run to the light, Carol Anne. Run as fast as you can! Mommy is in the light! Mommy is waiting for you in the light!”
  • Take daily vitamins that contain vitamin D.
  • Regular stops to happy hours with outdoor seating…order buffalo wings and hefeweizen (yes please)!
  • Avoid sunburns, cheap sunblock, and too much time in the office during summer.

A Strong Case for “Sensible Sun Exposure”

I want to give a shout out to Mark’s Daily Apple, which linked to this outstanding post, by a blog called “That Paleo Guy”: More Sun Science. This guys does an excellent job making the argument that sensible sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, not cause it. Again, none of this is meant to be medical advice…you need to weight the evidence and decide for yourself whether you want to go out in the sun or not.

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It's like a Ford Pinto compared to my new site...which is like a Ferrari. Click the link to head over to my new site.

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Thanks for reading all these years!


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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

registro de la propiedad February 26, 2012 at 3:47 am

Great post Rusty. Just reading the first paragraph of this post put me in such a good mood. That sounds like the most perfect day. I’ve always been a slightly tanned person but I’ve always been very cautious with the sun. I’ll never go out without sunscreen.

Omar February 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I wish you would blog more frequently Rusty. Your blog is one of my favourties.

Lyndon February 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Interesting stuff, I think it’s yet another case for moderation. Like so many other things in our lives, extremes in either direction are rarely healthy.

Rick Upshaw March 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I’m really glad I came here and saw this post. I have pretty fair skin myself, and constantly find myself in debates with my dark-skinned wife about whether or not being in the sun is harmful or helpful. Recently, I’ve heard things from various sources about how our skin gets helpful vitamin D from the sun. Now, armed with this information (and the further study you suggest), I can make better decisions about whether or not we should be out in the sun or not!

Great post! Keep up the good work!

apple wholesale March 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

This was a great post, very informative. I had no idea there were different types of sunscreen in Europe. I want some better sunscreen too, come on FDA!
apple wholesale

Jim March 9, 2012 at 5:38 pm

It’s true you definitely can’t live in a box your whole life and never see the sun but there comes a point when there is too much as well. You want to do what is best for your skin and your health.

Paul March 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

This is a great post and I really found it interesting. I personally love going to the beach but worry about getting skin cancer. I also have fair skin. I have known for awhile that vitamin D was important and one should be getting some sun exposure. I was not aware of the UVA rays and that the US does not have sunscreen that protects against that. I do my best to not be in the sun too much but I love the outdoors so it proves difficult. So interesting about the indoor workers too. I knew being inside all day was not a good thing but had no idea about what the window did.

P. Winter March 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm

The dietary connexion

In the 1970s, when kidney transplantation was pioneered, doctors first encountered the problem of tissue rejection. To combat it, they gave their transplant patients linoleic acid. This suppressed their immune systems very effectively, preventing their transplanted kidneys being rejected. But it also caused a large increase in cancers and this treatment was stopped.

Since then, linoleic acid and oils that contain it, have been shown time and again to increase the risk of several types of cancer, including skin cancers.

Linoleic acid is the major fatty acid in all polyunsaturated vegetable margarines and cooking oils:

Polyunsaturated margarines are around 40% linoleic acid
Sunflower, safflower, corn and soya oils are all more than 50% linoleic acid.

Drs B S and L E Mackie, working on Australia’s Sunshine Coast have a great deal of experience in skin cancers. They say: “In view of the work of Black and Erickson in mice and our own work in humans, we believe that human subjects who are at high risk of melanomas and other solar-induced forms of skin cancer should be advised to be moderate in their intake of dietary polyunsaturated fats.” (28)

Patricia Holborrow also points out that the increase in melanomas could be a result of dietary changes to PUFs.”Recently, I followed up four families that started in 1976 to use a diet with preferred oils as safflower and sunflower oil and low in salicylates and additives (that interfere with the metabolic pathway of these fats). There had been three cases of cancer resulting in two deaths in these families.” (29) “The issue is further complicated by dietary factors that are cofactors for the metabolic pathways for the fatty acids and which may in addition favour or have a negative effect on the anticancer or cancer enhancing properties of the various prostaglandins (eg the negative effects of vitamin E and the positive effects of vitamin C).” (30)

The Australians are as paranoid about heart disease as the Americans. I was in Australia in 1995 and noticed that it is even their custom to remove the cream from milk and replace it with polyunsaturated vegetable oil.

One of the recommendations for reducing the risk of skin and other cancers is to reduce intakes of fats and take vitamin supplements. But this approach doesn’t seem to work. The findings of a huge study by scientists at the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; the Division of Human Nutrition and Epidemiology, Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands; the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York; and the Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, of 43,217 male participants of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, did not support the hypothesis that diets low in fat or high in specific vitamins lower risk of basal cell carcinoma. (31)

It’s usually saturated animal fats that get the blame for all diseases today. They are not the culprits — ‘healthy’ vegetable oils are (see Polyunsaturated Fats in The Cholesterol Myth)

exercise bike reviews March 21, 2012 at 2:17 am

too much sun is dangerous..
we need moderate sun..don’t we for producing enough vit D

Jamie March 22, 2012 at 12:47 am

Hi Rusty! I purchased Visual Impact a while back and I was wondering something. I have a fairly high BF percentage (25%). Should I be starting the program in Phase III, instead of Phase I? I’ve been dieting down and mainly working in Phase III… Just not sure if that’s optimal.

Thanks… Any other details about me that you need to know (training experience etc) just ask…

Megan Jones March 22, 2012 at 9:30 am

Great post. I really appreciated your tone in that there are so many things we are still unsure about regarding sun exposure. I think you have provided some really good advice and information for your readers to make some educated habit changes. I am quite fair skinned as well and I find that I burn less if I wait a bit before putting on sunscreen. Now I know why!

James51 March 25, 2012 at 3:00 pm

AUSTRALIANS BEWARE. We have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world and Queensland, our most popular vacation centre, is the nation’s capital of skin cancer. This is why the Govt runs the skin cancer awareness programme.
I’m not aware of many (if any) countries that have as high a portion of white skinned (Anglo – Celtic) population living so close to the equator (within 20 deg of latitude).
The amount of sun exposure you are subjected to can depend a lot on where you live. In Australia in mid summer you can get a very definite colour change of your skin with as little as 3 – 5 minutes exposure (as a friend of mine demonstrated while were on vacation in Qld. on summer). If you don’t have some tanning to protect your skin, you can get sun burned within 20 minutes.
My doctor told me (Mediterranean decent) when checking out a mole on my skin, “you don’t have to worry too much about skin cancer. Its Celtic people like me with white skin (he also had red hair) that are most at risk.” He had had some skin spots removed from his arms by the time he was 50 y/o.
My understanding is that we do need some sun exposure to get a dose of Vit. D to aid bone development and help ward off osteoporosis in old age. But be responsible about how you get it – especially if you are of Anglo, Celtic origin.

Herman March 28, 2012 at 11:23 am

I’ll quit my indoor job right away!

will o'dwyer March 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm

What happened to you, Rusty? Did you have a heart attack?

Austin @ No Nonsense Fitness Tips March 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I have feeling the younger generation of today will have great problems with skin cancer when they’re older. Only sun exposure in moderation is healthy.

– Austin

Kiya March 31, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Great blog Rusty! I’ve actually read through the whole thing over the last week or so, and I’ve picked up some wonderful tips and information from it.
I hope life is treating you well, and you haven’t posted because you’re spending plenty of time having fun in the rest of your life – but I look forward to you updating!


Katy April 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

Awesome article and good to know. There are so many contradicting facts and theories out there that it’s hard to know which ones are right. I guess moderation in everything is the key.

Kathy Stumm-Bogale Calgary Alberta April 12, 2012 at 9:36 am

Great article! Everything in moderation including the sun. We need sun for our bodies to produce Vitamin D and keep us healthy … on the other hand too much sun can be dangerous. There are still so many things we are unsure about sun exposure. So I no longer bake in the sun and I do protect myself and my family while we are enjoying the sun!

vans kopen April 13, 2012 at 10:59 am

Love this article! Good job ! Finally somebody came out with the article like this. Love sun, love to do some sport on sunny beach and this article really encouraged me to keep going! Always believed the sun is my friend and try to spend any minute to enjoy warm sunny day.

Personal trainer melbourne April 23, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I definitely agree that we’ve gone too far some children don’t get enough sunlight.

John Oxnard April 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Some sun is good for you because when you are outside vitamin D is absorbed. However, going to the beach for 6 hours without putting sun screen on because we just forgot is very bad for you. Make sure you put on sunscreen every hour.

casas de madera May 10, 2012 at 8:25 am

Thanks for this amazing post. It’s really appreciable work. Some facts are interesting such as UVA and UVB . You should blog more about it. I just love the content.

Ross Currie May 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I think what is important is to have some level of sunlight exposure every other day, and using that sunlight expose to exercise. What I would do is sneak in a little jog every few days in the sun so that I not only get some sun, I get some exercise too.

zep101 August 25, 2012 at 11:53 am

I have a lot of skin damage because I got way too much exposure as a kid. I have had to have 2 growths removed with surgery. I sure wish my parents would have kept me out of the sun when I was little. I’m sure I look much older than I am now in my mid fifty’s

Christa October 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

This is a great topic. I have recently been told about your blog by a patient and have liked what I’ve read so far. What I find interesting about this particular article is the fact that I was 23 when diagnosed with advanced melanoma. As a former ballet dancer, I spent most of my life in an artificially lit studio rather then in the sun, yet I battled the most deadly of skin cancers. My own research led me to other melanoma survivors with similar stories and resources that dispel traditional beliefs that the sun is dangerous. Try reading “The Healing Sun” by Richard Hobnay. It may be over a decade old, but research continues to back his theories.

Seth November 6, 2012 at 9:20 am

Mind: Blown.

Hahahaha! This totally makes sense, but has shifted my paradigm a bit [I did aquatics in High School, put on the sun screen religiously, etc] Awesome post.

Candice November 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Awesome article. I live in Olympia, WA so I know all about not getting enough sun. I spent a few years down in Arizona at college and I really enjoyed all the sunshine. I probably overdid it. I’m trying to be smarter now and find a balance though.

Mark November 28, 2012 at 1:56 am

Great article.

The evidence seems pretty solid against roasting yourself to a crisp each and every day. It never seems to stop those unnaturally tanned leather skinned folk which seem to frequent each and every beach.

I think the best option is to slap on the sunscreen and grab a panama hat – as missing out on the beach is not an option for me!

Dr. Charles L. Foster December 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm

The pendulum is swinging. It never made sense that the sun was bad for us. It is necessary. Moderation and conditioning are they key. Some studies suggest the sunscreen lotions pose their own threat to health. Get more information. Check out this article from our site.


Dr. Charles Foster
Rutland, VT

Dave January 23, 2013 at 12:49 am

Great article, it all boils down to moderation. I try and get as much sun as possible if I can. During a hot and humid day, I managed to get a heat stroke, I learned from that one! I carry a water bottle with me at all times.

Kelly Williams March 26, 2013 at 7:18 am

Love the information you shared. I guess sun exposure can be good for your body but TOO MUCH EXPOSURE now that is not good.

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Trevor November 21, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Great article Rusty 🙂

There is a lot of controversy around this subject. I was watching one of ” The Random Show ” episodes where Tim was trying out a supplement that might act as sunscreen.

– Trevor

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