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Skin Cancer’s Real Culprit: Lack of Sun Exposure

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Skin Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

We all want to enjoy some fun in and sun this summer, but with skin cancer rates on the rise, many of us duck for cover when the intense beams shine down. ELLE.com recently posted an article about the increasing rates of melanoma, especially in American women ages 15 to 39 (the rates doubled over the past 30 years). But before you slather on that sunscreen, consider the real reason for this surge in the skin cancer rates: We might actually be lacking natural sun exposure.

David Fisher, M.D., Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained that humans need sun and the vitamin D it manufactures in order to survive. We also need to find a “happy medium” when it comes to soaking up rays.

According to the article, “…studies have shown that continuous sun exposure actually protects against (melanoma)…Instead, melanoma is associated with intense, intermittent UV exposure, the type you get from hitting a tanning salon—or a Caribbean beach in December.”

The article also revealed the dangers of frequently sunbathing in unnatural rays (i.e., tanning beds) because “58 percent of adolescents who use them get burned,” according to research performed by the American Cancer Society.

Holistic health counselor Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed., wrote in an article by holistichelp.net that the cause of increased skin cancer rates over the past 30 years involves “the food we eat and the use of sunscreen.”

“After the development of sunscreen, cases of melanoma skyrocketed,” Perkins wrote, adding, “Office workers have higher levels of melanoma than construction workers and lifeguards. As a matter of fact, people who spend the most time in the sun, like lifeguards and construction workers, have the lowest incidence of melanoma.”

Osteopathic physician Dr. Joseph Mercola suggested in an article by sheknows.com, you should “stay clear of sunscreen” unless you are planning on staying in the sun for a period longer than what’s considered safe.

The article revealed, “Sun block also prohibits our skin from naturally absorbing the much-needed vitamin D we receive from the sun’s rays, which is imperative to our well-being.”

Mercola said the best way to safely absorb sunshine includes allowing yourself to “gradually build up to it,” or use some form of clothing and/or shade to protect yourself from intense exposure.

When you do need sunscreen and no other form of sun protection is available, Mercola advised using natural sunscreen that contains none of the following ingredients:

Para amino benzoic acid
Octyl salicyclate
Padimate O
Menthyl anthranilate
Trolamine salicyclate

Always use your head when it comes to exposing yourself to sunlight. Baking pale skin in the sun or in a tanning bed for long periods of time will still result in painful, unhealthy burns, but according to Mercola, gradual exposure to natural light has numerous benefits. Natural sunlight improves cardiovascular health, cholesterol levels, muscle strength, blood pressure levels, the immune system, kidney function, and dental and bone health.

Don’t waste the summer hiding out indoors. Start (safely) reaping the benefits of those vitamin D-packed rays by soaking up some natural sun.





Reviewed July 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton

Kate Kunkel is a journalism student looking to minor in nutrition at Arizona State University. She currently interns for EmpowHER and has a passion for healthy eating and fitness.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment!

Add a Comment15 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I always had a bad feeling about sunsreens . I used it ones and I did not like it on my skin. That was back in the 60th . We used as a skincare a good Oliveoil with a bit Koelnischwasser 4711 in it . Everybody ask us ( my wife and me) Why do you have such nice skin and look not like 70years , you look like 55 to 60 . Olive oil is menschend in the Torah/Tenach and the New Testamen , so think about it and take aktion ........

September 4, 2011 - 12:30am
EmpowHER Guest

I always had a bad feeling about sunsreens . I used it ones and I did not like it on my skin. That was back in the 60th . We used as a skincare a good Oliveoil with a bit Koelnischwasser 4711 in it . Everybody ask us ( my wife and me) Why do you have such nice skin and look not like 70years , you look like 55 to 60 . Olive oil is menschend in the Torah/Tenach and the New Testamen , so think about it and take aktion ........

September 4, 2011 - 12:27am
EmpowHER Guest

Kate you didn't really address my questions, How do people in MOST of the US get Vitamin D 6-8 months a year when the sun is too weak and/or its too cold to go outside exposed? You think people are tanning indoors to get ready for vacations? This is completely untrue but a common misconception. The busiest 90 days of a tanning salon is 3/20 - 6/20 and the slowest 90 days in a tanning salon is 9/20 - 12/20. People are drawn to indoor tanning salons because their eye has detected that daylight has increased sufficiently enough for their bodies to make Vitamin D if they expose themselves. Trees, animals and humans all "hibernate" in the winter. Trees know when to drop their leaves and grow new leaves based on length of daylight. Its not temperature. March 20th - June 20th the human eye detects the largest increase in daylight and the human eye detects the largest DECREASE in daylight between Sept 20 and December 20! Humans pour into salons in late spring because their bodies are craving vitamin D. After all they just went through a Vitamin D winter! That is why salons are inundated in spring and empty in the fall. Please encourage people to get sunlight any way then can! Lives depend on it!

August 2, 2011 - 7:58pm

Generally, people do use tanning salons in the winter to prepare themselves for vacations. While the researchers in my article revealed that allowing skin to "build up" to sunlight naturally is the best choice, they also advise avoiding sunburn at all costs (as this is one of the main causes for skin cancer later on). Tanning beds can help to prevent burns for people with fair skin taking a beach vacation (for example), but the research I found reveals using natural sunlight is the best way to absorb much needed vitamin D and protect the skin against intense sun exposure.

August 2, 2011 - 7:38pm
EmpowHER Guest

Kate I was very sorry to see that tanning beds here attacked. Tanning beds dont have to cause sunburn. I never got sunburn in a tanning bed.
You quote Dr. Mercola but did you know he recommends people go to a tanning salon in the winter? How does someone in Chicago get Vitamin D from sunlight 8 months of the year? They dont! I think this article needs to be corrected to reflect accuracy no fear of indoor sunlight! As Dr. Mercola would say, first choice for Vitamin D is natural sunlight, then indoor tanning and lastly a pill! You just scared people out of a good source of "organic" vitamin D in the winter months!

August 2, 2011 - 10:14am
EmpowHER Guest

I know several people who put on sunscreen as a daily habit just in case they go out in the sun during the day. It is clear that people with pale skin need to be extra careful with the sun but the sun is not the enemy. If you know your skin, you can avoid the damage that comes from a sunburn and receive the valuable benefits of the sun. The article quoted Cynthia Perkins, M.Ed as stating that "people who spend the most time in the sun, like lifeguards and construction workers, have the lowest incidence of melanoma.” I would think that if the sun is the culprit for all the cases of skin cancer then these lifeguards and construction workers would have high levels of skin cancer.

July 25, 2011 - 4:57pm
EmpowHER Guest

This article ignores the body of research that's been published in the last 15 years. There is no peer-reviewed research to back up ANY of the claims made in this article. There is definitely a confounding effect--people who use more sunscreen are using it because they are in the sun more, so sunscreen does not *cause* melanoma--it is a associated with increased sun exposure, which causes melanoma. No amount of tanning is safe. Both tanning and burning cause melanoma as well as the more common skin cancers, basal and squamous cell carcinoma. Get your vitamin D from food and vitamins. Cover up and keep your skin healthy with sunscreen, sun protective clothing, and a hat.

July 24, 2011 - 5:56am

Correct! According to the researchers mentioned in this article, those who are pale still need sunlight because of the vitamin D and other benefits it gives their bodies. However, they should be especially careful to avoid sunburn by taking in sunlight in small doses, and also by using protective coverings if they are planning to be in the sun for a period longer than what's considered safe for a person with light skin.

July 23, 2011 - 10:37am
EmpowHER Guest

Also, maybe it could be in the DNA. For anyone with pale skin or a a family history of skin cancer, couldn't some people be predisposedto getting skin cancer? My family has "Mediterranean" skin that always gets a dark tan when exposed to sunlight. We have no history of skin cancer at all. I also worked as a lifeguard when I was young. I do have lighter hair. As a small child, people would comment to my parents that a dark tan on a blonde was so unusual. (to them). I have never tanned in a tanning booth. I have rarely to never used sun screen. I do use oil with protective and beneficial ingredients.
I do know some very pale, white skinned people who have had serious melanomas on their skin, and they tend to stay out of the sun. This was an interesting article. I am so glad that I have skin that tans and no history of skin cancer in my family.
One question, though: For the pale people I know who have had skin cancer, and who shun the sun, they should still shun the sun, right or wrong? Seems they should get some sun, but no a lot, right?
Thanks for the researched article.

July 23, 2011 - 10:26am

This article is not saying that those with fair skin should expose themselves to sun until they burn. It is simply pointing out that everyone DOES need vitamin D in healthy amounts, and studies show sunscreen can prohibit our bodies from absorbing it naturally. Rather than allow yourself to burn, researchers found that you should slowly allow your skin to get used to sun exposure and absorb the vitamins. Continue to prevent sunburn by all means, but perhaps do so by limiting your time in the sun using shade umbrellas or protective clothing. Thank you for the comments!

July 22, 2011 - 10:53am
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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.

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