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

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.

83 thoughts on “Avoiding the Sun to Avoid Skin Cancer? Recent Studies Challenge That Advice.”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!


  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

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