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Sun Exposure and Your Health: The Good, Bad and the Ugly

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the good, bad and ugly about sun exposure and your health iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It’s summer, and time to get outside. But before you do, you may be wondering if getting some sun is really good for you.

Should you cover up or let it all hang out?

We’ve all heard the horrors of what too much sun exposure can do to our skin. You know, the wrinkles, the freckles, the sunspots, sunburn and three types of skin cancer.

But on the other hand, there are ups and downs in not getting enough vitamin D. Oh wait, it also turns out getting sunshine may have an anti-cancer effect.

If you are trying to digest all this conflicting information and your head is spinning, you aren’t alone. What’s a girl (or guy) to do?

Over the last few years, sun protection messages arose as an essential public health message in response to rapidly increasing rates of skin cancers.

Then everyone began slathering on sunscreen, which blocks out nearly all UV radiation and that caused health risks from too little vitamin D.

Let’s just get this out of the way. No one is advocating for you to bake yourself into a leather shoe. A sunburn is still a really bad thing, period.

But we all need vitamin D to stay healthy, and sunlight is the best source.

Experts say it’s a delicate balancing act based on your skin pigmentation, where you live, and what time of day you are outside, and for how long.

If you are a fair-skinned person you require way less sun at noon (only a few minutes without sunscreen) compared to someone with black skin who may require up to six times more sun to get the same amount of vitamin D.

A new population-based, case-control study released today at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges conference adds to the already conflicting data about sun exposure, vitamin D gained from sun exposure and cancer risk.

Rachel Neale, Ph.D., principal investigator at Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Queensland, Australia said that her research supports sun exposure as a protective effect against pancreatic cancer.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.