Does Avoiding The Sun Shorten Your Lifespan?

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A few weeks ago I was at a conference in Tuscon, Arizona. Two things really surprised me while I was there. First, quite a few people ordered egg-white omelets for breakfast. Huh? Didn’t they get the memo that dietary cholesterol doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease, or even raise blood cholesterol levels? Egg-white omelets are so 1995!

Second, I noticed that a number of people were slathering themselves with sunscreen and wearing long sleeve and pants or wide-brimmed hats every time they stepped out the door in order to avoid the sun.

This kind of “sun phobia” is the unfortunate—but inevitable—result of national guidelines in many countries over the past 30–40 years advising strict restriction of sun exposure.

Too much sun exposure isn’t a good thing, but not enough may be even worse. Read this to find out why.

These guidelines were based on the observation that light-skinned people of European ancestry living in Northern Australia had the highest risk of malignant melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer, in the world. However, as you’ll see below, applying guidelines that were originally developed for people living in an area with a high ultraviolet (UV) index, such as Northern Australia, to areas with limited sunshine and a much lower UV index (such as many parts of North America and Europe) is not only unnecessary, it may be harmful.

Not enough sun exposure may be just as harmful as too much

In a new study, researchers tracked the sun exposure habits of 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years. They found that the women who strictly avoided the sun during that period had a two-fold greater risk of early death than women who received normal amounts of sun exposure.

What’s more, they found that women with normal sun exposure habits were not at significantly increased risk for malignant melanoma or melanoma-related death. (1) This is consistent with the results of a previous Swedish study that followed 38,000 women for 15 years and found that sun exposure was associated with reduced risk of both cardiovascular and overall death. (2)

I’d like to emphasize that these studies are observational in nature, and thus do not prove causality. It’s possible that the women who got more sun had healthier diets and lifestyles than those who avoided the sun, and those factors led to the lower mortality, rather than the sun exposure.

However, it’s also possible—and probable, in my opinion—that completely avoiding does increase the risk of death. There are several possible mechanisms that explain why:

Vitamin D

One of the primary benefits of sunlight is its ability to stimulate vitamin D production. Vitamin D deficiency is a major predisposing factor in at least 17 varieties of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, birth defects, infectious disease and more. (3) It’s not a stretch, therefore, to imagine that women who avoid the sun have lower vitamin D levels (especially in areas with limited sun, like Sweden) and thus a higher risk of death.

Blood pressure

Scientists observed a connection between sunlight and cardiovascular disease as far back as the 1970s, when clinical trials on hypertension showed that blood pressure was consistently lower in summer than winter. (4) Later studies showed that the both the prevalence of hypertension and average blood pressure is directly correlated with latitude; in other words, those living at northern and southern latitudes (with less sunlight) had more hypertension and higher average blood pressure, while those living closer to the equator had less hypertension and lower average blood pressure. (5)

Clinical experiments have also provided direct evidence that ultraviolet light reduces blood pressure. In one study, researchers exposed one group of people to lamps that gave off ultraviolet light as well as heat, and another group to lamps that only gave off heat. In the group that received both heat and ultraviolet light, blood pressure dropped significantly after just one hour of exposure. (6)

How does sunlight lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease? Sunlight stimulates the production of a chemical called nitric oxide in our skin. Nitric oxide helps our blood vessels to relax and expand, which in turn reduces blood pressure. This is important because high blood pressure is one of the strongest risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and even relatively small reductions in blood pressure can dramatically reduce the deaths from both heart attack and stroke.

For example, a drop of 20 mmHg in systolic blood pressure (blood pressure is expressed as a fraction, i.e. 120/80, and “systolic” refers to the number on the top) leads to a two-fold reduction in the overall risk of death in both men and women between the ages of 40 and 69. (7)

Inflammation

Sunlight may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease—and by extension, the risk of death—by putting the brakes on inflammation. (8) These beneficial effects of sunlight are likely to extend to other organs and tissues as well, since both blood pressure and inflammation have widespread effects in the body.

Immune function

Another effect of sunlight that isn’t mediated by vitamin D is its ability to regulate immune function. Studies have shown that the the more hours of sun there are where you were born, the lower the risk you’ll develop multiple sclerosis. (9) Along the same lines, the more exposure to sun people have where they work and live as adults, the lower their rates of MS, and relapse rates for MS are higher in winter than in summer. (10) Evidence for benefit from sunlight is strong for other autoimmune diseases as well, such as type 1 diabetes.

Other effects

Exposure to sunlight may improve endocrine function, elevate mood (via its effects on certain brain chemicals like serotonin) and increase DNA repair capacity, all of which could conceivably extend lifespan. (11)

The “Goldilocks” effect: How much sun exposure is “just right”?

With all of this in mind, how much sun exposure is “just right”? How can we minimize our risk of skin cancer while optimizing vitamin D levels and getting the additional cardiovascular and immune benefits of sunlight?

Just follow these guidelines for you and your family members:

  • If you have fair skin, aim for spending about half the amount of time in the sun that it takes for your skin to turn pink (without sunscreen) two to three days a week. This could be as little as 10 minutes for those with very fair skin. If you have dark skin, you may need up to two hours per day to generate the same amount of vitamin D (which is why supplementation may be necessary for those with darker skin).
  • Never burn yourself in the sun. Cover yourself with light clothing, wear a hat, shade yourself with an umbrella, tree or canopy, wear sunglasses, and/or use a safe sunscreen to prevent sunburn if you’re going to be exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period. (But see the section below for important information about sunscreen.)
  • Pay attention to the time of day, latitude and season. This probably goes without saying, but you need less sun exposure at mid-day during the summer on the equator to generate a given amount of vitamin D than in the late afternoon during the winter in New York City. Vary your exposure accordingly.
  • Infants under 6 months old don’t have much of the protective pigment (melanin) in their skin. It’s best to avoid direct sun exposure at mid-day, use protective clothing and a hat, and limit exposure to the morning or late afternoon hours. Infants may be particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of some sunscreen ingredients, so use clothing or shade when possible.

Sun protection is important if you plan to be out in the sun for a long enough time to get burned, but most sunscreens on the market are not beneficial or even safe. Stephan Guyenet explains on his blog how typical sunscreen fails to prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Most commercial sunscreens have a slew of chemical ingredients such as fragrances, parabens, alcohols, chemical solvents and petroleum oils that break down when exposed to sunlight.

Unfortunately, even natural sunscreen materials like zinc oxide could be problematic. (12) Researchers have recently discovered that, in vitro, zinc oxide may generate free radicals when exposed to UV radiation, which could damage cells and raise the risk of cancer. (13) More testing needs to be done, but this preliminary research shows that even natural sunscreen ingredients could have unforeseen consequences to your skin health. Until we know more, however, using a natural, mineral based sunscreen is still a better choice than the chemical sunscreens that are commonly available.

Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself from melanoma—while ensuring you still get the benefits of sun exposure—is to tan gradually, without burning.

Final thoughts

It’s entirely possible that public health recommendations that significantly restrict sun exposure may be doing more harm than good in regions with limited sunshine and a low UV index, such as many parts of Europe, the UK, and North America. Yet many people are unaware that the advice they’ve been given about avoiding sun exposure doesn’t reflect the current scientific evidence on this topic.

This reminds me of the situation we’re in with dietary fat and cholesterol. The mainstream media and medical establishment spent decades scaring us away from egg yolks, cheese, meat, and other high-fat, high-cholesterol foods. The result of this advice was an increase in the consumption of highly refined carbohydrates—which, ironically, contributes to the epidemics of metabolic and cardiovascular disease that fat and cholesterol restriction was supposed to address.

As I mentioned in a recent podcast, the current evidence suggests that (on average) dietary cholesterol and saturated fat do not affect blood cholesterol levels or increase the risk of heart disease. Yet I think it’s safe to say that most people still perceive a breakfast of cold cereal, toast, and OJ to be “healthier” than bacon and eggs. It took years to convince people that natural fats found in real foods are bad for them, and unfortunately it’s probably going to take years to relieve them of the burden of that misunderstanding.

I’m afraid the same will be true for sun exposure. I often see parents putting sunscreen on their kids as soon as they step out the door, or adults that wear long sleeves and big hats whenever they go outside. Current research doesn’t support this, but I think it’s going to take a while for the public policy to change and the message to get out. (Though you can help speed that along by sharing this article with people you know that are still sun-phobic.)

Now I’d like to hear from you. How much sun do you get? Has your attitude about sun exposure changed in the last few years? What about the attitude of your friends and family? Let us know in the comments section.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. says

    The number of comments on this thread is a bit overwhelming but good to see this topic has stirred such interest. As a physician, I’ve been telling patients about the dangers of sunscreen for about the last 4 years and I realize that the processed oils in our diet has fundamentally changed our cell membranes, leading to all the problems mentioned above, including cancer, heart disease, depression, rise in chronic illnesses, inability to recover from trauma, concussions. The list goes on. When the underlying problem gets corrected, it’s amazing how well the body recovers. Our DNA is amazing for giving us the tools that allow us to adapt to the bombardment of insults that we currently exposed ourselves to, but processing and genetic modification of our food supply has to stop. It’s killing us all.

  2. says

    I live in Tennessee and start my sun exposure early in the year. Every day I have to walk my four dogs so i do it without sleeves and in shorts for a minimum of 10-20 minutes each day in the morning. I also work in the garden and can see how gradual sun works for me. I rarely use sunscreen unless I am going to be at the beach. My vitamin D levels have stayed normal for the most part since cleaning up my food and getting more sun.

  3. pam says

    I grew up in Florida….many hours in the sun….English ancestry but olive complexion… I can count on one hand the times I overdid sun exposure….never blistered. My skin gets very dark quickly without burning. I rarely sunbath(sometimes sitting with friends in conversation with intermittent swim breaks)…rather always active outdoors…swimming, surfing, biking, hiking, gardening.
    I only use sunscreen occasionally during midday of all day sun exposure. Continual sunscreen use results in rashes. I have lived in Colorado now for 30 years. A friend made me some sunscreen with zinc in base of healthy moisturizers and now I use that on those heavy sun exposure days. I have an appt yearly with a dermatologist. When she asks me if I use sunscreen and reapply it regularly….I lie and say yes. I am curious of thoughts in response to this. Oh I am 63.

  4. Mr. Micawber says

    Chris,

    Great piece and I agree entirely. Two questions:

    1. What do you think about using a tanning bed? Appropriately of course.

    2. What is the definition of “burned” – or too much sun exposure for a given period of time?

  5. Lixing says

    I totally agree with your points. Deaths by cardiovascular diseases are much higher than skin cancer. But one should always always use sunscreen on their face and neck if that person desires a younger appearance when they are older. Also the study about zinc oxide is shape and size specific. Most companies use micro-sized and polymer coated zinc oxide in sunscreens, so I doubt it will have any negative impacts on the skin.

  6. says

    Thank you chris for this article. For long time I was wondering if that all avoid sun thins is real. I agree with you that it does more harm then good to our society today.

    • Amanda says

      I can’t believe anybody would endorse tanning beds! eeek…. Now THAT is so 1995..more like 85…if you are simply looking to get vitamin D, please do so from a food source like so many others suggested. ..Tanning beds are a fantastic way to cause premature aging and damage your skin. Of course Fred or Dr. Mercola aren’t going to tell you that because that’s how they make their money! I suggest you go to a source of studies like Pub Med that don’t have an agenda. l’ve lived in FL and CA my entire life, and bet your arse that there is a reason to limit your UV exposure! At 31 many people I know have already had basal cell carcinomas removed and I even lost a friend to melanoma. If your going outdoors, where sunscreen! Period. From my personal rifling through loads of conflicting research and politics, from what I can see, non nano zinc and mexoryl are winners in the sunscreen race, as well as wearing a hat and purchasing clothes with spf. And for the love of God, tanning beds?! REALLY?! And be aware of your lifestyle, including diet, and genetics. This was such a disappointing, simplified article…please don’t knock people for covering up, you don’t know what’s going on in their personal life- family history, previous exposure to harmful radiation etc. etc…and telling people not to worry about sun exposure is insanity. Even in cold climates there is a good chance that you have less natural defenses of melatonin in your body and as Marco mentioned, often these areas are closer to the sun, so the damage can go unnoticed due to the cold while it’s happening faster… Don’t follow every trendy whim or study or suggestion from a random blogger – especially with advertisements adoring the website, be aware of laws that are changing within the industry so that you can determine if you’re being marketed to, or given real, legitimate information. many studies are generated with an outcome already in mind. Skin cancer is real, it’s not a myth, and neither are cellular damage or premature aging. While the author may not be wrong in suggesting that people may have issues from not getting enough vitamin d, the answer isn’t necessarily UV rays and doesn’t take away the fact that many people are over exposed at the same time. . Skin cancer is one of the few cancers you can actually prevent! Be sun smart!

      • Evan E says

        You have fallen into the same mindset that Chris was talking about in the article. Do any of you naysayers even try to think beyond your forgone conclusions? Even with substantial evidence refuting your concerns? Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic. Skin cancer is not. The harm from the former will outstrip that of that latter many many times over. The vast majority of the world’s population are not fair skinned nor do they have access to cod livers so the BEST advice for them is to get plenty of sun (without burning of course) to make sure they have ample D3. For the fair skinned folks (which is a low single digit number world wide), yes, use more caution with sun exposure. But these grand sweeping generalizations are dangerous to mindlessly throw around. Fortunately none of the less well off people in Africa and Asia will ever worry themselves with all this sun paranoia garbage and be better off because of it.

        • Amanda says

          All I have to say, is that comparison is the devil’s sword. You can’t compare people here to people in Africa or Asia. First of all, I’m white. My ancestry is 100% different than that of any human being done in these areas. You are largely neglecting ancestry and exposure to other elements as well as lifestyle. And genetically speaking, these people have been native to that area for as long as you personally feel humans have existed, so their bodies are made to live off of that land. I’ve been to places like Nicaragua, and while the people may not have skin cancer because they are BROWN, they DO NOT go out in the sun mid day!! You will not see a soul on the street during peak hours in any latin country near the equator, which can be from 10am to 4pm! Workers and people waiting for buses etc. are wearing hats wearing hats, long sleeves, totally covered, clustered under trees. I am not going to argue that people are vitamin d3 deficient. But studies should be taken at face value, because while i respect the research, it is often not complex enough to take and apply to a vast a majority of individuals, with completely different genetic makeup, lifestyle, and geographic residence. What works for one person does not always work for the next person. Research is subjective, especially when it is SO new, and valid until proven otherwise, which is usually is, with a constantly changing world that we live in. While Pam and her English ancestry, but noted OLIVE skin (sounds like some other genetics are being expressed here rather than your English counterparts), rarely used sunscreen and is 63 and just fine, it would be stupid for me and my fair skin to think I could follow the same regimen. Oh dear, and Pam I hope this isn’t true, but what if something pops up when you’re 70?? Although I’d definitely say hats off to you, because that would still be incredible! :) But, you lived in a different era with the food industry and environment, so again, Pam’s story is great, but not applicable for today. For every example you can find to support something, usually there exists a case study that will prove you wrong. For those of us that have already been over exposed, and are extremely health conscious, sunscreen and caution are the only things that will prevent me from burning in an 8 hours session in the water in Southern CA. General advice is just that- it’s general and applicable to a small, select group of people that could come remotely close to being similar to the folks in these studies. For those of us that are outdoor enthusiasts with a healthy diet, from what I’ve seen is that people who didn’t wear sunscreen are getting skin cancer. That’s pretty simple and has nothing to do with Vitamin D3 or building up natural defense. It’s prolonged exposure. I just believe that when people have a lot of power in what they say, they need give advice responsibly when concerning the health of the many people that are being reached via this this website. Broad statements are very dangerous and often inaccurate to each individual. I appreciate all of the thoughtful comments and research out there being shared regarding health, and I hope that readers are cautious when interpreting and disseminating all of the information out there for themselves, and realizing that we, in the end, are all very, very unique, and there is no concrete answer out there.

  7. Bill says

    You are directly contradicting the recommendations of leading dermatologists, who have proven that for many people, prolonged sun exposure leads to an increase in the likelihood of developing melanoma. Let me remind you, sir – you are not a doctor. You are an acupuncturist. Please stop pretending to be one on the internet.

    Folks, please, please, please research everything this charlatan says before believing him.

    • Evan E says

      Yeah, too bad the ‘leading dermatologists’ are stuck in their little career box of staring at moles and having little inclination for health overall where D3 plays a major role.

      You stick with your skin doctors, I will side with the top vitamin D researchers who ALL say to get sun exposure (in a responsible fashion) if possible, not to mention that skin cancer was never an issue in any culture in any part of the world until recent times despite HEAVY sun exposure for many of them (sun up to sun down for agrarians). All cancers have exploded in occurrence. The problem isn’t UVs, it’s modern living.

      It’s truly embarrassing to see people still playing the authority card in this day and age. Degrees mean less and less these days, and if anything, just pigeonhole thought. I commend Chris Kresser for having the courage to take a holistic approach, which, by the way, is the future of medicine. All these specialized MDs run around in circles while the general health further deteriorates. That is not a coincidence. Blame the sun all you want, but skin issues all still a BODY issue and problems will arise because of a BODY problem. It’s all connected. The sooner you realize that the sooner you might stop being a close minded arrogant fool ragging on a talented honest individual like Chris Kresser.

      • Miranda says

        Dear Evan,
        Thank you. I was not going to speak out with Bill, but you encouraged me. I was a Cornell U grad Bio/pre-med, and when the time came to take the MCATS, I decided to bypass them and go on to acupuncture school because no MD had ever helped me with shin splints, moods, stomach troubles, or preventing more thyroid troubles. I test things on myself, and I feel better when I get out into the sun without sunscreen. Had I not read some “charlatan’s” article, I might stay indoors and get depressed more. My sister believes quackwatch and thus denies the benefits of (Weston Price) animal products from sun-exposed animals. Again, how many people don’t need braces on their teeth in the USA? The US doctors have got to learn what real prevention – for the whole body – means or they’re complicit in making us the sickest, fattest nation on earth.

        • prioris says

          Regarding your sister … It’s sad when members of one’s own family embrace the – ignorance is bliss – mindset. It’s harder when the people are closer to us.

          I use quackwatch as a guide to see what to look into. You just gotta read between the lines.

          Most US doctors simply don’t care. They march in lock step with the state. You are right – they are complicit. Many are sociopaths.

          It is just a job for many or a way to generate income. Many of the most talented and caring doctors who did care over the decades have been persecuted by the state medical boards. Many have lost their licenses even without a complaint. One doctor lost her license because she opposed vaccines.

        • Evan E says

          Quackwatch is a complete joke and a contradiction in terms. It’s nothing but an AMA and Big Pharma funded smear machine that endlessly talks trash about anything out of step with their current dogma.

  8. Mari says

    Oh… Cannot read any further than initial comments Chris!
    Why do some authors do that? Making out that some people are idiots or just plain ignorant?
    If they want to wear floppy hats and long sleeve shirts for comfort in the sun, what’s wrong with that? ( uv rays are still getting through the clothing.)
    If they’ve been enjoying egg white omelettes since 1995, let them eat them til the cows come home!!!

  9. Onur says

    What about UVC ? There are UVC lamps that claim to give your dose of vitamin d in a quarter of time that UVB lamps do…

  10. Marco says

    Greetings from Sweden! I have a really interesting comment for you Chris which i would be very very glad if you responded to! Acc. to a study you referenced, mitochondrial dna damage and collagen damage will occur using EITHER large molecule zinc (non-nano) and nano-zinc <100 nm.

    Is not wearing homemade sunscreen with unrefined coconut oil, squalene oil and non-nano Zinc mixed together, BETTER than having naked skin absorbing 100% UVA rays all day long?

    Listen to this: There were a study conducted in the US i believe, that concluded that the IR-rays from the ozon layer, is far worse than UVA. Having no antioxidants on the skin (like Squalene oil, pomegranate oil, raspberry oil etc.) than you would be far worse esthetically than if you were to wear the oils. So not only a need for antioxidant oils against IR-rays, but also Zinc against UVA, is talked about these days. But who's talk should a layman trust?

    I mean, the swedish winters when the Sun is far more close to the earth, is generating A LOT MORE UVA rays and i guess a 100% SPF SCARF or Hat or protective clothing wont work if i buy these from high-rep companies, as UVA is reflected by different lights and objects, and thus generated 40x stronger than traditional UVA light….

    So on this basis Chris, wouldn't you be really scared NOT wearing Zinc??

    • Evan E says

      People bathe too much these days and that removes protective skin oils. Applying a natural skin oil like you mention is probably a good idea.

      • Marco says

        Yeah. I recommend Squalene and Red palm oil (not from rainforest) but from Aman prana, in colombia to restore youth oxygen and internal SPF levels. Also a protocoll of intermittent fasting and perhaps to try R-lipoic acid and ALC for a short time, to repair damaged mitochondrial. But i think the best advice is to wear protective 100+ SPF clothes like SCARFS and HATS during autumn and winter especially, when the sun is so close to the earth, and reflected sometimes by local objects/lights, to generate 40x more uva-rays to your skin and damage collagen in theorie studies.

        I think coconut oil as skin oil, and red palm oil and squalene internally, with protective SPF clothes, will to the trick to both externally and internally, maximise an SPF naturally. I would so love to hear of Chris explaining if the studies were about non-nano zinc or nano-zinc. A personal anecdot: I have been out +8 hours a day for +13 years i think, as a 22 year old nowadays, student. I am amazed that i managed to repair youth collagen levels with raising IGF-1, but minimizing cortisol, and processed foods/oils, and going very natural with alternate days lowering IGF-1 with intermittent fasting for autoghapy – repairing neural kognition and mitochondrial damage from UVA-rays… I am amazed that i am just a bit bloated by expectations of dreams, mental theory based stress… I am a tad behind in science subjects than my friend and i feel so dumb when comparing, but everyone have had their upraising by parents, which i have to objectify and see as something i had no control over. But to the subject: I have very good collagen now after reading for 2 years about health so sun damage is definietly reversible. I will try a protocol with R.lipoic acid and ALC for a few months to repair dna damaged mitochondria as i yet, dont have the collagen levels of a younger me which i theoretically should have due to i eat so healthy. But the stress and already existing dna damage is blocking that i think (glykation end products – A.G.E – so loosing up this chemical bonds and repairing cells with real immune tree colostrum is also a definitive suggestion for you guys worrying about sun damage. Kind regards, marco

  11. prioris says

    It should be noted that as people get older, their ability to create vitamin D3 thru sun decreases. There may be underlying health reasons for this so may not apply to all people. Even though I get sun, I notice I need to still take more D3 when taking vitamin K2.

  12. Bailey says

    I’m a lifeguard. I’m in the sun for 7-8 hours a day and I never burn. I have horrible tan lines and I am so white in some places and so dark in others.

    • prioris says

      One possibility on why you don’t burn as much is that you may have a lot of anti-oxidant in you. There us something called Grounding. It is suppose to deliver a good dose of radiation. This would apply at a beach. You will be in touch with the earth. This is only a possible theory.

      Some areas of the body will get higher concentration of sun.

  13. Anna George says

    I would also like to make a new comment about beta carotene. In summer I eat alot of raw fruit and throw in some carrots…and I get a yellow colour from too much beta carotene, which I understand the body is storing the excess. When I spend moderate time in the sun I discovered I developed an easy nice base tan and dont burn. The yellow tinge disappears. I also quench my skin with aloe vera. Worth a try if you are a burn no matter how long you spend outside person!

  14. Anna George says

    I should mention also that we use sunscreen when at the beach in direct sun for prolonged periods and in the water. Just not every time we are out and about. I think the message came about because you see everyone lying in the sun baking for hours to get a tan! The Australian sun is harsh, no doubt but its often too hot to be outside at peak times anyway so air con runs and we all stay indoors more.

  15. Anna George says

    Hi Chris
    I grew up in New Zealand and NEVER wore sun screen. I believe a natural base tan and stored beta carotene under the skin is protection. As a teen I burned alot…oops! Im very fair. I now live in Australia, for the past 19 years, and get the sunscreen message bombarded here! I use sunscreen on my face now but not every day. My children have a light olive complexion and tan without burning. I adhere to the hours of the day rule and let them out to play before 11am or after 4pm. Everyone I know lathers sunscreen on their kids so they look sticky and white and stinging eyes. I cover up sensitive areas with clothing and once we get hot we come out of the sun. Everyone i know has vit D deficiency and pop pills. Where is the balance and common sense today?

    • Evan E says

      I agree with your post except that I think you are keeping your kids inside during peak UVB hours, which would limit D3 production in the skin. Might want to consider that.

  16. ivy says

    hello, please i have something interesting,

    i am hypothyroid i.e. hashi….and i tested my D lvl -25 one, and it was slightly below minimum range , so i started supplementing with 3000 i.j vitamind d3, and after 6 days i sensed my mole on the face started beeing sensitive like burning sensation….i ignored then after 10 days of supplementing a mole on my back started beeing so painful that i immediately stopped taking vitamin d3 …..and it got better 5 days after….

    did you ever hear about moles sensitivity when supplementing d3? is that a connection between moles, sun and melanoma??

    thank you

    • prioris says

      One needs to understand that vitamin D3 doesn’t work alone. D3 needs K2, calcium and A. Most people are usually missing the K2.

      Here is one brand formulation

      Vitamin D3 (as Cholecalciferol) 2,000 IU 500%
      Vitamin A (as Retinyl Palmitate) 3,000 IU 60%
      Vitamin K2 (as Menaquinone-7) 100 mcg 125%
      Tocotrienols (as DeltaGOLD® Tocotrienols) 5 mg

  17. paulette says

    I have been lucky enough to be in the sun a lot this summer, and I wear sunscreen all the time, but I still get tons of sun. I’ve even gotten sunburned because I didn’t apply it enough. A friend of mine, who is hispanic, got extremely burned under an umbrella with a hat on who put no sunscreen on. How does putting sunscreen on hurt you? You still get sun–just not as much. So unless you are only going to be in the sun for an hour, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to put it on.

  18. Landsteiner Philipp says

    That all reminds me of this:
    If you allow yourself to get uses to something, step by step,
    then you may be able to get more immune.

  19. Barb says

    Any thoughts on Red Light beds? (as opposed to tanning beds) The local firm makes claims about stimulating nitric oxide, among other things. It centers at 633 nm.

  20. Jean says

    Wow, great conversation!

    I’ve had trouble for years with assimilating oils. Using enzymes and eating close to all-raw for about 2 years didn’t help with that. Besides feeling many weird sensations (some of them good) during that time, when I went out on the roof deck, I felt that the sun shining down on me was not good! Which was significant, since I partly grew up on the beach in San Diego and got lots of sun, without sunscreen or sunglasses.

    So when I realized I couldn’t handle all-raw, and started eating red meat, etc. (which I have always loved), sunshine began feeling good again. Years later, still having trouble assimilating oils, and not able to tolerate D3 on a regular basis, I learned about K2. And now I’m really enjoying sunshine again.

    I’ve been told that white spots on the skin are par for the course as we grow older. I assume that mine are from sun damage when I used to bake on the San Diego beach. Have had no skin cancers, though.

    I’m wondering if any of you older people (I’m in my mid-60’s) have had white skin spots go away. I long for the look of the evenly sun-tanned skin that I had growing up.

  21. tricia says

    For the past year or so I’ve been doing the Weston Price “diet” and/or taking suppliments (Mk7-vitk2), resveratrol, eating as much fermented foods as possible, gelatin (not often enough) and when I go out in the sun, I’m using Maui Babe that has vitamin E in it among other vitamins and coffee! But it has no sunblock. I live in Ohio and all my life never tanned, only burned. And like some of you had sun rashes (especially when I went vegetarian). Well. I was in the sun all day yesterday and didn’t burn one bit. I’m actually surprised!

  22. Phill says

    Great article Chris. This roughly sums up my own attitude towards sun exposure.

    Do you have any comment on how the ratio of UVA to UVB light can affect your health, either positively or negatively?

    To give you an example the UVA to UVB ratio obviously changes throughout the day, year and lattitudes, with midday summer sun for a location having a higher ratio of UVB. However I have read that UVA tends to stay more constant due to its ability to penetrate barriers such as the ozone layer more effectively than UVB. I have also read that there is only enough UVB for adequate Vit D production when the sun is over a certain angle (over 50° if I remember correctly) which usually only happens around solar noon during summer in locations further away from the equator. In winter the sun may never reach over 50°. Does then, this extra UVA radiation cause any negative effects?

    • Denis says

      Sorry Chris is wrong with his advice for being in the sun early morning or late afternoon! The opposite is true!
      Phili is quite correct about the angle of the sun. Quite simply a good rule of thumb at any location and any time of the year is to stand outside and look at your shadow. If your shadow is shorter than your height that is a good time to be in the sun as UVB rays will be prevalent. The longer your shadow the less UVB rays and the more UVA rays which are the ones responsible for melanoma.
      Another useful piece of info is when you have had a good dose of sun exposure and take a shower or bath do not wash with soap or detergent for 24 hours as Vit D3 is formed from the action of UVB rays on the cholesterol in your skin. As the cholesterol is a lipid it is fat soluble and you will simply wash away all the benefit of healthy sun exposure.
      Obviously it is OK to use soap underarms and the groin area!
      A final piece of surprising info is to limit time spent under glass as UVB rays are filtered by it and harmful UVA rays penetrate.
      Further info and research results can be found at D Action .org which is an organisation set up specifically to research Vit D and it’s effects.
      Hope this is useful!
      Denis

  23. Adrian says

    Based on the research I have done Chris has missed the very important fact that UVB is the one that produces vitamin D and it gets through to the surface ( duration depending on where you live) only during the middle hours of the day, and any many places only from mid Spring to mid Autumn.

  24. Laura says

    I also have heard that midday sun is the best for us because it is a higher proportion of UVB to UVA rays. Late afternoon sun is proportionately more UVA. Is this true?

  25. Laura says

    Is the reduction in autoimmune diseases because of higher vitamin D levels from the sun, or is it from some other effect? Does taking vitamin D supplements have an equally beneficial effect?

  26. joebtsflk says

    Australia has really high rates of melanoma. Australia is a high sun country, beaches, exposure etc. There is no doubt that overexposure in the Australian sun will guarantee melanomas eventually. Seems to me that you avoid melanomas by staying out of the sun but by doing that you don’t get the vitamin D you need.

    There is no easy path with this.

    • Catherine says

      Yes, I think the problem is that the recommendations to decrease sun exposure occurred in parts of the world that don’t really need to be as careful as more equatorial regions. It makes sense for light skinned people living in places like Australia to limit sun exposure. It makes less sense if you live in Canada. I have a relative who lived only in norther Europe and Canada, with no history of burns, and still ended up with melanoma. Sun exposure just isn’t the only factor at play.

      People from norther latitudes got around the ‘Vitamin D winter’ by ingesting foods high in Vitamin D, so I think that supplementation is an option for people who need to avoid intense Australian sunlight. But apparently 10 minutes of sun exposure is enough to produce good Vitamin D levels, so some Australian sunlight in the mornings could still be an option.

  27. Carol says

    I was once totally caught up in the low fat craze. During that time I could not get in the sun without a horrible reaction of hive like ruptures (some called it sun poisoning). Fast forward a few years when I switched to a high good fat diet and the sun was no longer a problem. I stay out till I see any pinkness then head for a spot of shade. Also noticed if I put coconut oil on my skin after showering and totally let it sink in, that day I seem to be able to be in the sun longer without getting pink. By the way I turn 70 this year and frequently get compliments on my skin.

  28. Debbie says

    There has been strong evidence for many years now that the consumption of industrial seed oils, which are high in omega 6 PUFAs, is linked to cancer.

  29. Shanntini says

    I have loved the sun as long as I can remember. However, I have lived in Minnesota all (almost) 40 years. I live for summer. But sadly, days spent outside are few for me, as well as many others who don’t enjoy our frigid winter.
    Through my twenties, I was in the sun less than in my teens, due tommy busy life. Luckily the last 6 have been filled with summer fun, due to my wonderful man & his boat. We live near wonderful lake Minnetonka & spend as much time there as we can! The first few summers I would break out into a rash early in the season. Was it the sunscreen? Or was it a sun allergy? As the years go on, I am less & less sensitive. And I get tanner if that’s possible, with less effort. Is it my new found paleo diet (journey has been 4 years to full paleo)? Or am I just becoming “immune” to sunburn? I still use some sunscreen on my face & chest especially if we are spending long hours or multiple days.
    Anyway, I will take my chances. It makes me feel alive! Happy summer, everyone!
    -shanntini

  30. says

    I have always loved sunbathing and never bought the whole sun-is-dangerous story but I’ve also been careful not to burn. I am still sunbathing (when I can) and I just love it! I always feel “better” after doing it and I plan on continuing to sunbathe as long as I am able. My husband loves it, too!

  31. RM says

    Grew up in Florida. Moved north to upstate NY in my 40s, after 15 years there I got a melanoma in a spot on my body that was never exposed to sun. Now retired in Fl and trying to get sensible sun exposure for vitamin D.

  32. says

    In Australia there is an epidemic of skin cancer: every kid knows ‘Slip Slop Slap’ before their ABCs! Yet in spite of a huge campaign to use sunscreens, long sleeve shirts, bathing onesies, hats and sunglasses, it would seem the already high rates of skin cancer to have doubled.
    Don’t sunscreens decrease the skins’ ability to produce vitamin D by blocking UVB radiation?
    And though polyunsaturated fats are essential in our body, never in our history have we consumed polyunsaturated oils (and their highly processed versions at that) in large quantity like we do now: excessive polyunsaturated oil intake replaces the saturated fats of the cell membranes—which in turn reduces the integrity of cell membranes.
    So, we’ve not only lowered our food sources of vitamin D, and filtered the very free version of vitamin D needed for it’s conversion in our body (sun), we’ve also changed the way the very structure of the lipid bilayer in our skin cells to receive and convert any vitamin D that might come in.
    Perhaps like much of nutrition, sun exposure is neither good nor bad just in or out of balance.

  33. says

    I live in Beijing, China and you haven/t seen any culture as phobic about the sun until you meet the sunophobic Chinese females . Not the males.. All you can see is a sea of umbrellas. And watch out you don’t get poked in the eye as you walk by.
    I often wondered why the men don’t use umbrellas as much as the women do.

    • prioris says

      China has a long history where the upper class avoided the sun. The lower class was associated with sun exposure. Many chinese have their daughters avoid sun for marriage purposes. I have heard some young chinese people being very critical of this behavior. They even think the too pale skin does not look good.

  34. Jessie Walczak says

    I have systemic lupus erythematosus. I love the sun but my doctors all tell me to stay out of the sun because it may trigger or worsen a flare? Should I completely stay out of the sun?

  35. JB says

    This is amazing… I was recently diagnosed with extremely low Vit D and given an Rx for 50,000 units once a week. I am fair skinned and have always tried to protect myself from the sun.

    • Shira says

      Hi, Just a heads up. It you were prescribed vitamin D, and at such a high dose, it’s likely a synthetic vitamin D2 rather than the D3 that you need. Suggest looking at the prescription, and if it’s D2 and/or synthetic, find some D3 (along with K2 and the other things mentioned to help the D3) to take instead.

      Last year I wasted a couple of months trying to get my levels up taking doctor prescribed vitamin D2, so thought I’d mention.

  36. Jesse Roberge says

    I just wear soccer jersey and shorts and don’t worry about the sun. You only need to cover up if you are laboring 100% in the sun (hard work without movement) for an hour or longer. I only bother with sunscreen on the face if I’m out for awhile – its the only place I burn with a shirt on.

  37. Anne says

    I’ve been using the d-minder app on my iphone for the past month and I’ve started recommending it to others (it’s also available for android). The primary use is to keep a running record of your vitamin D levels — with food, supplements, and sun exposure as the inputs and various body factors as the outputs.

    That would be value enough for me, but I find (as a fair-skinned person) that the sun exposure tracker is valuable by itself. Let the app know about your skin tone, what clothes you’re wearing, and how cloudy it is, and then the app takes the time of day and your latitude and computes the UV for the day. Press “start” and you’ll get 3 audible tones — one for your minimum exposure, one for “hey, you’re starting to burn”, and one for “you’ve made your maximum D for the day.”

    I started using the app shortly after getting a D level from my doctor and I’m excited about comparing their estimate of my current level with my actual level down the road.

    And it’s completely circumstantial, but I’m feeling better since going out and getting in the sun more (for sensible 20 minute sessions)

  38. says

    Having lived in Tucson for 12 years, it should be understood that that city has the highest incidences of skin cancer in the USA. My forearm scars bear vivid testimony.
    Prudent precaustions are mandated in that 1/2 mile high desert.

  39. Cloudchaser says

    A cheeky comment I know but I’ve always wondered what the health profiles of lifelong naturists might be compared to the population as a whole. Could the regular exposure to the sun have positive or negative affects on overall health?

  40. john ayres says

    This is just an observation. Here in Antigua many of my friends sailed out in the 60s to take part in the burgeoning yacht charter trade. The evils of sun exposure were relatively unknown and many worked and played out in the full Caribbean sun day in, day out for years and got dark, dark tans.
    Now, in their old age some of them have easily treated superficial skin blemishes but not one has had anything threatening like melanoma. And yet the sun ‘abuse’ was about as extreme as you can get.

  41. Janet says

    Yesterday I spent an hour in the sun @ Colorado. No sunblock. My white shoulders were a little over-pink but doesn’t bother me. A visor protected my face. If I don’t get a 1/2 hour of sun every day I feel terrible. Ideally I would do this every day gollowed by a 2 hour nap. Although it’s sunny here and a high dry altitude the winters make me depressed. I can spend long winter days outdoors without a tan. Supplementing with Vit. D does nothing for me. I’m eating lunch outside right now

    • prioris says

      > Supplementing with Vit. D does nothing for me.

      There are many reasons for this.

      Your not using D3

      You didn’t take vitamin K2 MK7

      You don’t have enough calcium in you

      You don’t have enough vitamin A

      Vitamin D3 requires K2, A and calcium.

      Here is one brand formulation

      Vitamin D3 (as Cholecalciferol) 2,000 IU 500%
      Vitamin A (as Retinyl Palmitate) 3,000 IU 60%
      Vitamin K2 (as Menaquinone-7) 100 mcg 125%
      Tocotrienols (as DeltaGOLD® Tocotrienols) 5 mg

  42. sylvia says

    I originally came from England and now live on the Mid North Coast of NSW Australia, at Lighthouse beach, Port Macquarie. I am fair with blonde hair. Despite that, I walk on the beach every morning ,Winter or Summer and spend time sitting on the beach or by the river before midday. I have a healthy tan all year round, and I am often told how well I look. I stick to a Paleo eating plan, and also take D3 for my immune system I am almost 70, and feel about 50!

  43. says

    I’ve heard a number of speakers teach of the value of essential fats, or “vitamin/cataplex F,” in preventing sun-damage. I have found I tolerate the sun more when I regularly apply a thin layer of olive oil to any areas that will be exposed a week before going in the sun. I learned this at Bastyr University in a class on essential oils.

    Ingesting and applying more essential fats, in conjunction with lots of veggies that also give a good omega-oil balance is what my super fair-skinned Florida friends do, with their kids. None of them wear sunscreen. It’s amazing their tolerance to the sun. An hour at high noon! When we were kids I remember us using sunscreen, and she’d still burn. She ate more trans-fat junk back then though. :)

    • says

      You’re right. The proper Omega-6 in your diet will protect against burns. Your skin has almost all Omega-6 and virtually no Omega-3 in it, most of our diet contains adulterated Omega-6 which leads to sun sensitivity.

  44. Nicky says

    I have a difficult time in the sun. On the one hand I love being in the sun, it lifts my spirits and I enjoy the warmth on my skin. On the other hand I am rather sensitive to it – I have suffered from polymorphic light eruption (not heat rash) all my life and spent most of my childhood summers smothered in sunscreen and long sleeves and sun hats.
    I recently have used a device to measure heart rate variability (HRV) and noticed that my HRV becomes v poor after 10 – 20 minutes outside. This is way before any rash develops. My pulse goes up and has none of the variation it should have with my breath. I have experimented and it is definitely the effects of the sun and not anything else. To be honest it freaked me out a bit because I know how beneficial the sun is but it showed me clearly how even a little is provoking a strong reaction in my body. It’s difficult to know what to do for the best. PME is inflammatory so does that negate the usual anti inflammatory effects of being in the sun?
    I would be interested to hear if anyone else has any experience like this, or suggestions re the pros and cons of sun exposure for someone in my position.
    At the moment I am just trying to be balanced about it and not have too much exposure in one go and the rest of the time, just to enjoy being outside but stay in the shade as much as I can.

  45. Pete says

    Speaking as one of those often maligned Dermatologists, even if you don’t mind keeping us busy having the only occasionally fatal skin cancers like squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma cut off and stitched up, at least protect your face. Who wants to go back to their class reunion looking 10-20 years older than their peers with a face covered with wrinkles and scars? ;)

    • says

      Dear Pete,
      I mean no disrespect, but I’m seeing more research about skin cancer rates going up despite all the sunscreen use. Medial journal abstract here says what I suspected to be true: http://www.jabfm.org/content/24/6/735.full

      Spreading fear of wrinkles is what my Avon Lady mother used to do. She’s just as wrinkled at 80 as anyone else who ate as well as she did throughout her life. I love her to death because 50 year later now she confesses that maybe those creams weren’t so important.

      Healthy eaters seem to age the best. Maybe it’s the food they eat that re-creates their skin in a good way on a daily basis. ….But that’s not medicine. (Nothing ‘ceutical about it.)

      Don’t worry. There is enough cheap junk food available to ensure you will continue to have cancers to cut out.

      • Pete says

        Hi Miranda, thanks for the reference-it was a nice balanced article. First, though, remember that association does not imply causation. Second, if you read it from start to finish, you will notice that it is talking about CMM (cutaneous malignant melanoma) which I was not speaking about. Also, they did relate CMM to sunburns and UVA radiation, which the older sunscreens didn’t block, and they ended up saying that REGULAR use of sunscreens will prevent the sunburns that are associated with melanoma. And of course, UVA blocking sunscreens are available now. I do agree with your beloved Avon lady, that those creams didn’t do anything to prevent wrinkles later on. I also agree with your comment about healthy eaters, and actually I don’t want to do surgery on patients. Would MUCH rather that they avoid the need entirely!

    • Catherine says

      Well, Chris advocates moderate sun exposure without burning, and a healthy diet, so I feel that your comment is unnecessarily fear mongering. Skin cancer seems to be more complex than just staying out of the sun. As for wrinkles, I live in the north and don’t really go out in the sun much, and I already have wrinkles in my 20s . . I think the missing key for me is gelatin, which is still only really advocated by traditional nutrition circles, since in the mainstream glycine and other collagen nutrients are considered nonessential. I think maybe endogenous production is not high enough for some people. My dermatologist was the first doctor who actually ordered tests to rule out whether or not I had PCOS based on my dermatological symptoms, so I’m sure there are dermatologists who have a more functional/holistic approach to skin health, and it would be great to see that applied to the various skin cancers, instead of just the old ‘stay out of the sun’ advice that leaves people with deficient Vitamin D levels. I think you’d agree that moderate sun exposure is healthy?

      • Pete says

        Catherine, thanks for your comment, but “fear-mongering”, really? :) I haven’t even dipped my toe into fear-mongering, and don’t intend to by describing, for instance, what locally invasive or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma which is clearly related to sun exposure, can look like. You don’t want to know! On the flip side, I don’t object to “moderate” sun exposure, moderate being based on skin type. I think that the jury is still out on the difference between the effects of sun exposure-induced and supplement-induced vitamin D, but it’s a really interesting question. Sorry about your premature wrinkles-easy to fix with laser if desired, or if just from hyperfunctional expressions with Botox (unless you are of the “I earned them” camp. Certainly IMHO an early indicator that you should watch your “moderate” sun exposure though. I don’t believe I said anything about “stay out of the sun”… As you say, more complex than “just” sun exposure…but you might want to “listen to your body” if you are young and already showing skin damage. Your choice, of course. btw, glad your Derm picked up the PCOS! Not sure how that relates to the discussion at hand but bully for her/him for catching it early so you can avoid the consequences of metabolic syndrome at least.

        • tricia says

          Pete. I’m hearing you and completely appreciate your input and your polite and friendly disposition :)

          • Pete says

            Thanks, Tricia! While intensely interested in the subject, and a Dermatologist for many years, I actually occupy a somewhat “balanced” middle position and don’t feel the need to advocate any extreme views. It is challenging sometimes though when people like to segregate into polarized camps. We often are so into our beliefs that we want to proselytize. I made that mistake in the past, for instance about high carb diets being beneficial, or smoking being bad, then gave up trying to convince people of anything, realizing that I can be proven wrong later and people will make their own choices anyway. I think Chris takes a similar refreshing viewpoint based more on science than polemics. He just presents the evidence and let’s you choose your own path.

        • Catherine says

          Hey Pete, in retrospect I may have read into your comment too much, so, sorry about that. My point about the PCOS was that I don’t malign dermatologists doing their jobs, since my own dermatologist was clearly competent enough to test for PCOS even though I do not show the more obvious symptoms of metsyn (ie/ I am thin). I think we may be speaking past each other, so I don’t think you quite understood what I was getting at, since I was not very clear. You stated “easy to fix with laser if desired” when I mentioned wrinkles, which is basically the opposite of what I was getting at, ie/ prevention, as opposed to treatment. The question is, why wrinkles so early in life? When I say that I don’t get much sun, I really mean I basically avoid it: never been burned, only light golden tans throughout childhood, and now I am pale year-round. So what factors influence wrinkles other than sun exposure? (rhetorical question) This is the same question for skin cancer, ie/ is there anything other than moderate sun exposure that dermatologists can recommend? After all, people get skin cancer in areas that barely get any sun. There do seem to be other factors that interact with skin cancer risk: omega-6, saturated fat, and antioxidant intake. Perhaps dermatologists should look towards these preventative factors as well as advocating moderate sun exposure. Diet is easily modifiable, and preliminary research shows it has a potential to have a pretty large impact on skin cancer, but at this point we really need more research. The “stay out of the sun” comment was not accusing you, but rather making a point that a lot of people now recommend zero sun exposure, or only while wearing sunscreen, etc. It has an interesting parallel to the whole saturated fat situation, as Chris mentioned, and is counterproductive when considering that sun increases the Vitamin D levels that reduce cancer risk.

          • Pete says

            Catherine, thanks for your clarification. You may have ruffled my tail feathers a bit. lol I’ve spent my life trying to stay on the leading edge of not only Derm and cosmetic Derm, but also fitness and health, and I suppose that I don’t like the feeling of being stereotyped as a Derm who is blinded by the issue of sun damage/skin cancer and clueless about vitamin D and it’s relationship to other cancers. Actually, the issue of nitric oxide production through sun exposure is interesting also! In any event, just like with skin cancer, I would much rather you avoid wrinkles, though if that doesn’t happen, as I pointed out, they can be addressed for cosmetic and self esteem reasons. Actually, it sounds like you have done a much better job of protection than I did, having been raised in the Coppertone generation. I am wholly in favor of your healthy diet/fats/exercise also as I firmly believe that the foundation for healthy skin comes from within. When you say “diet is easily modifiable” however, I am frequently discouraged by how little people want to hear about it, (or else listen politely and ignore it) excepting when I am “preaching to the choir!” And if I am brave enough to bring up the issue of excess weight, I am treading on really thin ice even as a doctor. The interesting societal drive to “be happy with our bodies appearance” no matter how it affects our health is a shipwreck in progress. Maybe they just think that they didn’t come to a Derm for dietary advice, so I have cut back on it. I don’t have a great answer to what else you should be doing for prevention of sun damage. I suppose you could consider a genome or epigenome that is inefficient in UV damage repair, second-hand smoke, air pollution, (I live in L.A.) indirect sun exposure, impure thoughts…no, just kidding! ;)

  46. Peter says

    I had a mole test positive for melanoma when I was 54 and when my sister-in-law heard about it she said “You got melanoma? You’re the one who is always trying to stay out of the sun.” My oncologist told me that there was nothing I could do diet wise or by supplementation to reduce my odds of a repeat event. I started researching on the web and ended up supplementing with vitamin D and some other things that are deemed to fight cancer and so far haven’t had a recurrence. It’s been 8 years and I take 10,000 IUs of D3 a day and that keeps my blood level at about 80 ng/dl and I don’t worry about staying out of the sun anymore. Now I enjoy any opportunity to get sun exposure ( without burning) and I take conventional wisdom with a grain of salt.

  47. Deanna says

    I have three young kids. I don’t use chemical sunscreens but I do see moms spraying stuff all over babies less then one year all the time! Even in January, all the time!!! I try to be polite and say that vitamins d is good but people have been taught that the sun is evil! Marketing about the dangers of sunscreen for kids has got to increase just like the importance or organic foods. Many new moms are very picky about what their babies eat but still fear the sun.

  48. Alaskan says

    I live in the interior of Alaska. We experience 9 months of winter where much if the season has zero sun exposure. While it may be light outside for 3 hours, the sun may never rise above the horizon. I recently bought a tanning bed with much reluctance. My mind was torn; I feel this may help with the depression I experience during winter, but what about skin cancer? I am finishing up an MPH so I really felt like a hypocrite! When I have visitors, I feel I should hide it. After reading this article I am a bit empowered. Presently, the sun shines nearly 24 hours so I have not used it much but I am excited to see if it will make a difference this coming winter!

  49. Teri says

    What about people who have had several skin cancer (basal cell). Do the recommendations change?

    My husband, a fair-skinned red head spent summer roofing shirtless in Texas when he was young. He’s had many spots removed, as well as the basal cell carcinomas. He’s very averse to being in the sun now.

    I’d love to know from Chris or the gang if the recommendations change in this scenario. Thanks!

    • prioris says

      I would have covered myself working on a roof all day. Red heads are going to be more sensitive to sun also so I would have taken added measures or avoided long exposures.

      There is a Black Topical Salve formerly known as Cansema that helps with skin cancer and many other skin things.

    • Michael says

      Gingers are a completely different story. A couple minutes max of midday sun showing lots of skin, the rest of the time shade or cloths which block uva are a must. Gingers also have a harder time converting the hormone, so making sure to have lots of calcium & cholesterol, and a properly functioning bile system are crucial. This goes without saying, but it’s probably a wise thing for gingers to seek northern climates (or southern south america) as the sun is more manageable in those climates.

    • prioris says

      Interesting information. Thanks.

      Indicated that cholesterol and D3 are almost similar molecular.

      D3 synthesized from cholesterol.

      Sulfate makes D3 water soluble

      Reseachers don’t understand how cholesterol transports itself.

      She thinks it is the Sulfates connected to synthesized D3 that allows this to happen.

      Unsufficient sulfated cholesterol can cause insulin resistance, oxidation, calcification etc

      Sunscreens (Vitamin A – Retinoic Acid) interfere with synthesis of D3

      Recommends the use of sun lamps if you live in northern climates. Get plenty of sun. Plus eat sulfur containing food – even beer. Throw out sunscreens.

  50. Beth says

    I get compliments on my skin all the time and I no longer sunburn or need sunscreen. As a fair-skinned person, this was one of the most surprising and delightful outcomes of switching to a nutrient-dense, Weston Price-style diet, eating plenty of traditional fats and oils and getting the harmful, man-made versions out of my system. This means pasture-fed tallow, lard, eggs, butter, raw dairy, organ meats, meats, coconut oil, smaller wild-caught fish, cod liver oil and olive oil. These and lacto-fermented foods support gut and immune function, and thus skin health.

    I practice moderate tanning several times a week in summer, with limbs and face exposed. After some relatively short exposures in the spring to build a nice base tan, I find I’m good to go for the summer. I can go for quite a while without turning pink. If I do get a little pink, it quickly turns to tan. This was not the case in my earlier years, eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and then a low-fat, deficient vegetarian diet. I feel that the reactivity of my skin has gone down as the nutrient density and careful food sourcing/preparation have gone up.

    • prioris says

      I am fair skinned and light tanned. I don’t use sunscreen. I think the Astaxanthin helps. I go to the pool often. I am there for about 75 minutes but in water most of the time.

      If I was out in the sun for longer periods, I’d cover most of myself and wear a hat. I’d just use a healthy natural sunscreen for just a few small areas.

      I think getting sun is healthy. I just use moderation.

      • Catherine says

        +1 for the astaxanthin. I’ve seen that even very fair-skinned Irish types can get a light tan and not burn while supplementing with it.

  51. gabrielle says

    my bloodpressure is really good on hot days,but goes up when it is cooler.this is problematic,ido not want more meds. any suggestions? G.

  52. Kathryn says

    I’m fair skinned and never wear sunscreen. This because I usually only get sun in the early morning when I’m gardening and that’s not every day. I don’t enjoy frying myself in a lawn chair so, I don’t really get a lot sun.
    I do take a Vitamin D supplement daily and have not had a cold or flu for the past 3 years. No colon cancer as of last, recent scope. Maybe it’s the placebo effect but hey, I’ll take it!

  53. Michael says

    Great timing. Just this morning a medical doctor was on TV telling people to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 minimum and to apply it twice to the body, cover up, etc. If the sun is that bad people who work outdoors at resorts, theme parks, landscapers, etc should all be getting skin cancer….

  54. Wafaa says

    I know that sun is good for you, but having lived in Tucson for a while, I can tell you right now why people are slathering themselves with sunscreen. They’re in the desert. I have had bad sunburns even while wearing a hat from sun reflected off of the side walk in the summer and that was just from a 15min walk. I’m not even very pale skinned. I learned my lesson pretty quickly that sunscreen is not optional if you are spending any time outside on a 100 degree plus day. Heck I’ve even gotten sunburned while wearing low SPF sunscreen because the sun/heat combination is so strong.

    In the winter, sit out in the sun all you want. In the summer, you better protect yourself.

  55. Anja-Karina says

    I grew up in Australia and my family never used sunscreen – my mum avoided chemicals at all costs and I was allergic to it! In my twenties, I was a geologist, spending all day every day out in the broiling sun and have been badly burnt three times [when I was five, my mum covered me in honey as an antiseptic and made me sit covered in it, till the inflammation died down]. Anyway, I should have terrible sun damage. But skin doctors are super surprised when I tell them my age and origin. Apparently my skin looks years younger than it ought and better than many of my age born in England. I firmly believe this is due to our diet and spiritual outlook – we lived chemical free, on macrobiotic and paleo-like food, being thankful for these gifts, before it was in vogue. No way known am I changing my habits and I’m so happy that others are speaking out about the insane pseudo-science propaganda of modern advertising against good food, sun or trusting our intuition on these matters.

  56. says

    Great post Chris! I have been spreading the message on this topic myself, and have had quite a few interesting conversations as a result.

    I’m a fair-skinned blue-eyed guy, and I’ve learned how to deal with intense sun with no sunscreen. Balancing w-6/w-3 is important, and so is having a nutrient dense diet in general. Gelatin seems to help too.

    I like your recommendations for exposure. It’s just about exactly what I’d recommend. I didn’t know about infants not having much melanin, however. That’s good to know!

    Thanks.

  57. says

    I am not sun-phobic and fully understand the importance of getting sun exposure. However I live in Tucson and know why you found people here slathering on sunscreen. We see badly sunburned tourists here all the time that don’t understand how intense the sun is here. Many of our outdoor attractions have sunscreen dispensers in the restrooms! In the summer our UV index normally tops out at 11. Many places never see a UV index that high. UV index is affected by many things besides latitude, season, and time of day – cloud cover, air pollution, altitude, and even your surrounding surface. Whether you’re outside in the snow, at the beach, or picnicking on a lawn can affect how much UV radiation is reflected back at you by up to 40 fold.

    However, after living here a year I was tested for vitamin D and was deficient. I was surprised considering I spend time outside every day and am of northern European ancestry so should be an efficient vitamin D producer. My routine now is to get controlled sun. This mean sitting outside for 10-20 minutes a few times a week around midday. But when I’m hiking or biking I cover up relying mainly on clothing and a hat instead of sunscreen. I use a mineral sunscreen on my face. I had a precancerous spot on my nose so am not taking chances with that.

    Everyone’s circumstances are unique and there is no “one size fits all” for how much sun one needs to stay healthy.

  58. Emily says

    I stopped using sunscreen a few years ago, but my mother had a small cancerous spot removed from the bridge of her nose a while back and is one of the people who wears long sleeves, pants, and hats to avoid the sun. Do the recommendations change for those who have previously had skin cancer? Is it still safe for her to be in direct sunlight for some time, provided it is not in the middle of the day or would it be better for her to supplement with vitamin D?

  59. Alex says

    What about those of us who simply seem to not tan? I used to be able to tan when I was younger, but even with good Vitamin D levels now all I do is develop freckles and moles and burn.

    Also, do you have an opinion on the theory that you can only get sunlight that stimulates Vitamin D production from UVB rays, which you can only get when the sun is above 50 degrees of the horizon (something that happens here in the Bay Area from around 1030 to 1530 in the summer, but for shorter times in the spring/fall, and eventually not at all from mid-October to mid-March)? There’s a Navy website where you can calculate how high the sun is above the horizon depending on the date and your location.

  60. Robert says

    Big difference between nano zinc oxide and non nano. You failed to mention that. Also, many people, including myself, will pay no attention to this article. I take 5000IU daily of D3 and have no worries about this. Sun damage is cumulative and the UV rays age the skin the fastest. Also what was not mentioned was that older people and dark skin people do not absorb D3 from the sun near as well as younger people. Hence the need for supplementation.

    • Evan E says

      Then why even comment if you ignore the article? If you HAD read the article you would see there are other benefits specific to UV exposure that D3 supplementation cannot duplicate. Hey, you want to live in the dark, slap all kinds of stuff on your body to block UVs, be my guest, but stop trying to criticize the rest of us who enjoy some sunlight. It’s not like we evolved in direct daylight for millions of years or anything…

    • Evan E says

      It’s amazing how many people just assume they get enough sun. “I go outside” is something I hear constantly. To which I reply, “You go outside enough during peak UVB hours to the point where you have a nice golden tan?” And then begins a lecture typically. People should get their blood levels checked if they do not tan regularly during UVB producing hours, and even then every few years get checked anyway. Vitamin D is something better to err on the high side than low (not really high, but around 100 ng/mL would be preferable to being under 30 from all the research I have read). Every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor (along with thyroid hormone receptor), so that indicates this isn’t just another vitamin (which is technically incorrect as D is actually a hormone) but a major player in body mechanisms and genetic expression. Of course don’t be foolish with sun exposure and risk burns but the paranoia I continue to hear (even on this website’s comments) is completely backwards. The concern should be about NOT getting enough sun first and foremost, especially in kids as they typically do not take supplements. Take the time and teach your kids how to get the most out of the sun while not burning. Start slow and build up a base tan during the summer (or keep one year round like I personally do with a properly designed tanning unit, like the kind Dr. Mercola sells). Once that is achieved then kids don’t have to worry nearly as much about getting burned and of course they continue getting crucial UVB exposure as they play outside. But instead most parents buy all these chemical filled UV blockers. How much time do parents spend applying the stuff over the years? I would reckon working on a base tan would not take much longer. It’s just a different habit.

      Trust me, it’s great having a tan as I can go outside at any time and not be worried about burning within minutes (for longer treks I wear clothes; I haven’t used sunscreen in 5 years except at a waterpark because all I had on was swim trunks for 8 hours in direct Colorado sun). I do often wear a hat however to keep the sun off my face as the skin is considerably thinner there than the rest of the body (Mercola has tanning units that instead of UVs they actually emit red and blue wavelengths in the face region to assist cell growth and repair). I never wear sunglasses either as they block blue wavelengths which also play a role in our brains (however I have brown eyes and tan well; blue eyed fair skinned folks might need to temper SOME rays if outside a lot, but I would still recommend not immediately putting on shades).

        • Evan E says

          I mistyped again! I should just spell it out: Vitamin D should be between 50-80 nanograms per deciliter.

          • Hallations says

            I heard recently from a doctor that a magnesium deficiency will prevent the body from properly regulating/making vitamin D. So if you’re not getting enough magnesium, it’s possible that you could spend ALL of the time in the sun, and still have low vitamin D.

            • Hallations says

              Also, supplementing with vitamin D is not so helpful if you’re magnesium deficient, so it’s something to keep in mind as well, whether you go outside or not.

  61. Debbie says

    Thanks so much for this post, the gist of which I’m familiar with – but, for me there is a problem. I absolutely hate the sun; it feels not energizing and calming, but debilitating, enervating, painful, etc. I’m very fair with blue eyes – but I don’t know if that’s the reason. When it’s hot I automatically run to the shady side of the street, and if there isn’t one, I’m inwardly miserable.

    So, I wonder if sun is good for me, when I seem to physically recoil from it? Any thoughts on this?!!

    • says

      I don’t mean to be rude, but have you had your DNA checked recently to make sure you’re not a some type of vampire or zombie?

      Or maybe see a shrink to see if there’s was some physical abuse in your past perpetrated by the sun?

      Just a couple of serious suggestions.

      • penelope says

        I have never heard anything so stupid. Have you not heard of bio-individuality. Plenty of very fair people are super sensitive to the sun. Not only do they burn but they are over sensitive to the heat as well.

        • Barbara says

          At age 71, I just had my first surgery for skin cancer (basal cell) on my lower jaw area — and the dermatologist keeps spraying suspicious looking pre-cancerous areas on my face every few months. Apparently these are from the times in my youth that I sunbathed and/or got sunburned, going without sunscreen (which we never knew about way back then), and are just now starting to surface. I’m fair-skinned from East European descent, and live in Northern California. So it bothers me greatly when I hear people recommending that we get out in the sun and ignore the cautionary remarks we might hear about in the media. I’m proof that they’re based on reality! Whenever I’m outside now, I always use a sunscreen of at least 30 and wear a hat and sunglasses (my eyes also show sensitivity to the sun). Also, be aware that you can get too much sun from reflected light from the pavement or beaches.

          • Sarah says

            Thank you for this comment, I completely agree! I live in Arizona and am 32 and just came back from the dermatologist who sprayed a spot on my face that was pre-cancerous.. and I hardly go out in the sun for a long amount of time. Living in Arizona, those people he described as covering and up and such, thats how we have to be because we are exposed to extreme sun conditions EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just on vacation!

    • Michael says

      The science is though to digest, so I’ll try to keep it simple.
      Seeking shade means your issues are with either/or UVA & UVB spectrum of the sun, not the visual color spectrum that is light. Many people for varying reasons, cannot tolerate UVA which is highest 1-2 hours after sunrise, all the way to 1-2 hours before sunset, so basically all day. The health benefits of the sun is the conversion of UVB into vitamin d in your body. UVB is present in the sun 2 hours before & after solar noon, during the summer. There is no UVB present in winter sun in the USA. Be grateful that you are fair skin, as it’s a blessing with your situation, as you don’t need much contact with sun to produce the hormone. Also being fair skinned, I take 2-3 minute breaks 4 times b/w 11am &2pm where i go outside with shorts & no shirt. I seek shade all other times b/w the times 9&6.

    • Allison says

      I’m very heartened by your good news. I’m in my fifth year of dealing with metastatic melanoma. If I stay alive until October, I’ll have outlived 50% of people who got the same diagnosis as me at the same time. With the fantastic new drugs, odds are looking really good. I don’t use sunscreen at all anymore, except when I’m going to be in a LOT of sun. For instance, when I visit my in-laws on Fripp Island, SC (so close to your Hilton Head!) and go to the beach. Even my dermatologist told me to get more sun when she saw my initial vitamin D levels soon after diagnosis (they were at 9). Anyway, I love to hear good news from melanoma survivors anywhere, so thank you for the link and I send you really good wishes.

  62. says

    Unfortunately, in my day job I work in cubicle row, away from natural sunlight. Most of my scant free time is spent studying, which I try to do next to a large west-facing window that provides ample natural light. Is this at all helpful in combating the effects of a lack of sun exposure, or does the glass screen out the helpful radiation and convert it to infrared?

    • Michael says

      Good for the eyes (light spectrum), but glass only allows UVA through while blocking the UVB. It’s the UVB (present usually 2 hours before to 2 after solar noon during the summer months in the north east) that uses cholesterol on the skin to produce the hormone Vitamin D in the body.

  63. John McDonell says

    Thanks for the info (even if misguided), Chris. I am afraid that like most folks, you tie UV RADIATION to daytime (heat) radiation. But if you think about it, the sun does not generate any radiation on circadian cycles but the cycles themselves exist due to daily planetary rotation. The only space-filter between the earth and the sun are the Van Allen Belts. They do deflect some magnetic radiation, but no UV. the only effective block is the Earth’s mantle.
    Is there nighttime-UV? absolutely! But it depends on lunar cycles. This UV is reflected sunlight … off lunar surfaces. It wains and peaks and even disappears in typical lunar rhythms.
    The major reason this should not be simply dismissed is the very huge microbial/fungal death toll that results from this UV exposure. It peaks vitamin D3 levels by sleeping outdoors (with no glass blockage).
    The effect IMHO is huge and not minor. Might even have limits on S.A.D.!

  64. Wenchypoo says

    My doctor noticed a little light rosacia on my cheeks after doing an annual physical on me, and she proceeded to lecture me about sunscreen because I mow the lawn every week. She couldn’t lecture me about vitamin D, because she checked my levels three years ago, found them low, and worked with me to find the adequate supplementation level. She then sent me to a dermatologist for further evaluation.

    Good old Derm Doc took one look at my cheeks, and said “where’s this rosacia? I see pink cheeks, but you’re fair-complected, and it’s 87 degrees outside.” I told him the story of Primary Doc seeing it, and noting concern. I then told Derm Doc about my weekly mowing, and about how I do it between 9-10 a.m., then it’s in the house for me the rest of the day–the humidity around here prevents me from doing anything else outside.

    Derm Doc says if it doesn’t bother me, then I don’t need medication for it–apparently, it’s so light a case, he didn’t bother treating it. He sent me home.

    My secret? I looked up rosacia on the web to see what caused it, and what I could do about it–for me, too many processed meats (bacon, bratwurst) were the problem, and 600 mg. of black currant seed oil (GLA) did the trick in reducing inflammation and redness.

    Thanks to my D-3 supplementation, I no longer burn at the drop of a hat, and no longer need sunscreen. I keep my levels in the 80’s range, and test levels annually (along with a CMP and NMR). I may start smearing a little sunscreen on my cheeks when I go out to mow, but that’s about it.

    Personally, I think hot flashes is what brought the whole rosacia thing on to begin with. Now that those are over, I get to deal with the damage left behind.

    • Laurel says

      I had a mild case of rosacea several years ago. It cleared up unexpectedly when I did an herbal liver cleanse.

      • Susan says

        Can you tell me more about the cleanse? What products did you use and the details about frequency, etc. Thanks.

    • Susan says

      I’ve tried borage oil and EPO and haven’t seen a difference. Can you tell me which black current oil that you use. It sounds like just 600 mg per day? Did it help with minimizing the hot flashes too, or just the rosacea. I’m fighting both and they are winning.

  65. says

    I’ve noticed my health and skin are waaaay better in the summer. I live in Iowa; however, and for 4-5 months of the year it’s impossible to get enough sun. Any recommendations for how to compensate for lack of sun in the winter?

    • nicole says

      This was my question. Are tanning beds (once per month or so) an option for people who live in places where its impossible to go outside with exposed skin in the winter?

        • fred says

          you have been grossly misinformed as a salon owner for 8 years my staff and myself have been trained to assist our customers as to the proper rate of exposure without sunburning.I suggest do some research before you start advising people based on hearsay.

      • Josh says

        Living in the UK, I get as much sun as I can from late April – October, and travel as much as I can in the winter. However in the weeks and months in winter that I am at home, it’s just not possible to get enough sun exposure in the grey, cold winter days. Vitamin D and CLO help, but I also use tanning beds once a week and have only seen my health improve by doing so. Whilst tanning beds aren’t ideal, I do think the scaremongering is of the same nature as the ‘stay out of the sun’ stories.

    • Jenny D. says

      Curious about this too, Heather. I know Dr. Mercola endorsed a line of tanning beds a few years ago (and may do so today…they weren’t cheap when I saw them), but would love to hear if anyone has details on whether certain types of tanning are a safe alternative in climates/seasons lacking sunshine.

      • penelope says

        yes Dr Mercola does endorse a brand of tanning bed and so that’s why I said “most” Maybe his are safe although I know he personally spends half the year in Hawaii (or Florida?)

    • Michael says

      Options for wintertime include, eating foods rich in vitamin D. My preference is sun drying mushrooms during the summer, and eating throughout the winter, as well as buying bulk grass fed butter and freezing it for winter. Using a tanning bed which uses UVB bulbs (a reptile bulb or two will also work.) Worst case, if other options are not available, I will put some vitamin d3 drops on my wrist/arm so my body can absorb through the derma system which is safer. Keep in mind the body needs to have adequate cholesterol, calcium, bile production, etc, to properly produce and hang onto vitamin D.

  66. Ozquoll says

    Its not just Northern Australia (which is sparsely populated, so the stats may be misleading) – the Australian continent as a whole leads the world in melanoma rates. I believe the sun safe message here in Australia has got completely out of hand. When I was pregnant, the obstetrician commented I was one of the few expectant mothers she had seen with an adequate level of Vitamin D. I aim for a light to medium tan, and I am careful not to let myself burn.
    I don’t have the link (yep, too lazy to google it), but in the last year or two a group of Aussie researchers put out a study that suggested our very high rates of allergies in children were due to inadequate sun exposure in both the children and their mothers (during pregnancy, obviously). Food for thought….as long as that food is not peanuts, egg or shellfish ;-)

    • says

      I totally agree that the sun-safe message is way out of hand in Australia! I am an Aussie living in San Francisco, and while I have skin that does not burn easily, it most certainly does not here in North America.
      I think we should get some exposure to the sun every day possible; we should not use sunscreen, but we should never expose our skin to the point of burning. The redness, pain and inflammation of sun burn is our bodies’ way of saying “get out of the sun” and we should respect that.

      • Betty says

        I am in the sun quite a lot but with very little skin exposed because the winter here is cold just now. ( live on the Darling Downs in Australia which has temperate climate with heavy frosts in winter.) My question is this “Can exposure to sunlight in winter clothing help? “

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