Exposure to sunlight prevents melanoma.
Yes, you did read that correctly.
Two independent studies published in the Feb. 2005 issue of the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) squarely contradict the popular myth that UV light causes melanoma.
The first study evaluated the hypothesis that UV radiation increases your risk of developing lymphoma - a hypothesis that had become widely accepted in the 1990s and early 2000s. After studying nearly 7,000 subjects, the authors concluded that the opposite is actually true: increased sun exposure reduces the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) by up to 40%. What’s more, the reduction in risk was dose-related, which means that the more sun exposure someone got, the lower their risk of cancer was.
The second study looked at the link between sun exposure and the chances of surviving melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Guess what? The researchers concluded that increased sun exposure decreases the chance of dying from skin cancer by approximately 50%.
At this point you might be scratching your head and wondering how this could possibly be true, in light of what we’ve been told all these years about the relationship between sunlight and skin cancer. Let’s take a closer look at what explains this phenomenon, and why you likely haven’t heard about it on the news.
An editorial published in the same issue of JNCI begins with this statement:
“Solar radiation is a well-established skin carcinogen, responsible for more cancers worldwide than any other single agent.”
This is true. But what the authors neglect to mention is that the type of cancer they are referring to is not melanoma but other types of cancer. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer because it is malignant and can metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body, often leading to death.
But 90 percent of skin cancers are not melanomas. Rather, the most common forms are basal and squamous cell carcinomas, which are often benign and easily cured by simple outpatient surgery. These non-malignant forms of skin cancer are indeed caused by solar radiation (at least according to current research). Melanomas, however, are most likely caused by lack of sunlight or excess exposure to artificial light!
The editorial mentioned two other very important facts that you aren’t likely to hear about from mainstream media sources: that melanoma is normally found in areas of the body that are not typically exposed to sunlight at all (use your imagination), and that vitamin D may be important in preventing melanoma.
Here’s what they actually had to say:
“Evidence is beginning to emerge that sunlight exposure, particularly as it relates to vitamin D synthesized in the skin under the influence of solar radiation, might have a beneficial influence for certain cancers.”
Umm, like, we already knew that.
The role of Vitamin D
It has been known for several years that sun exposure might have a beneficial effect on certain cancers. A 1999 publication of the National Institute of Health (NIH) entitled Atlas of Cancer Mortality in the United States revealed that among caucasians in the United States, cancer mortality for several prominent cancers, including cancer of the breast, prostate and colon, shows a striking latitudinal gradient. Specifically, people living in northern states have much higher rates of these cancers than those residing in the southern states.
The reason for this? Northern states get a whole lot less sunshine than southern states.
As early as 1990 it was proposed that vitamin D, which is synthesized in the skin upon exposure to UV light, might be the agent that accounts for these geographical patterns. (Garland et al. 1990) Less exposure to sunshine means less production of vitamin D. It is known that calcitriol, the active form of vitamin D3, has multiple cellular affects that could confer protection against cancer. The ability to convert the precursor to vitamin D to the active form of D3 (calcitriol) is greatly reduced at northern latitudes, and populations living far from the equator are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency during the winter months. (Tangpricha et al. 2002)
Even more significant may be the observation that patients with malignant melanoma exhibit low levels of vitamin D3 in their blood, and that others have a problem with the receptor for vitamin D. (Hutchinson et al. 2000; Green et al. 1983) The incidence of melanoma of the skin on sites of the body intermittently exposed to sunlight is reduced among outdoor workers compared with indoor workers. (Elwood et al. 1985)
All of this points to a protective role for vitamin D against cancer in general, and melanoma in particular. But the final nail in the coffin of the “sunlight causes melanoma” hypothesis is this:
A comprehensive review of research studies from 1966 through 2003 failed to show any association between melanoma and sunscreen use! (Dennis et al. 2003)
Say what? Sunscreen doesn’t prevent skin cancer, that’s what.
Does sunscreen contribute to skin cancer?
One thing sunlight does cause is an injury to the inner layer of the skin (called the “dermis”), which leads to a wrinkling of the outer layer (called the “epidermis”). This phenomenon, which happens naturally with age but is accelerated by sun exposure, is called “solar elastosis”, or SE.
Sounds like a bad thing, right? But when researchers at the University of New Mexico studied melanoma, they found a marked decrease in the disease in patients with SE. (Berwick et al. 2005). To put it simply: more sun exposure equals lower risk of melanoma. For patients who already had melanoma, the subsequent death rate from the disease was approximately one-half as high in the group of patients with signs of SE.
I’ll give you a minute to finish cursing the “medical authorities” that have been admonishing us to slather ourselves and our children with sunscreen for decades in order to “prevent skin cancer”. As it turns out, if we followed this advice (and why wouldn’t we have? It sounded logical…) we have actually increased our chances and our children’s chances of developing not just skin cancer, but other cancers as well.
I’m sorry to scare you like that, but I feel I must in order to make this point as clearly as I can:
Exposure to sunlight decreases your risk of cancer, and using sunscreen increases your risk of cancer.
As we have already discussed, sunlight is a major source of vitamin D. Insufficient levels of vitamin D can result in osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases and rheumatoid arthritis - among other equally unpleasant and life-threatening conditions. When you put on those high-SPF sunscreens, not only are you increasing your risk for melanoma, you are increasing your risk of developing all of the conditions that can arise from vitamin D deficiency because you are blocking your body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D.
And while it is possible to obtain vitamin D from food, it is only present in large amounts in certain kinds of seafood - which many people do not consume regularly. The highest sources for vitamin D in food are anglerfish liver, cow’s blood (I’m not joking) and high-vitamin cod liver oil (HVCLO). It is also present in more modest amounts in chum salmon, Pacific marlin, herring, bluefin tuna, duck eggs, trout, eel, mackerel and salmon.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most Americans aren’t eating these foods on a regular basis. The lack of adequate intake of vitamin D in the diet, combined with habitual use of high-SPF sunscreen and/or lack of exposure to the sun is a perfect recipe for increasing the risk of cancer for children and adults alike.
But you will not hear the sunscreen manufacturers telling you to stop using their product, and you probably won’t hear it from dermatologists in the field who have a reputation (and a history of telling people to wear sunscreen) to protect. They’ll tell you that sunburn is an important factor in melanoma formation since that’s really all they have left in terms of support for selling sunscreen. What they neglect to mention is that 1) millions of people get sunburned every year but very few develop melanoma, and more importantly, 2) if melanoma does appear, it’s most likely to appear in areas not exposed to the sun.
Nevertheless, it’s still probably a good idea to avoid getting sunburned - especially on a regular basis. But it is not a good idea to wear sunscreen, nor is it a good idea to avoid sun exposure.
The idea that sunlight causes cancer and sunscreen prevents it is another mainstream myth that has no support in the scientific literature. Just like the idea that cholesterol causes heart disease, eating fat makes you fat, and fluoride is good for your teeth. (If you still believe any of those statements, check my archives and sign up for my free email digest!)
Before closing, I must mention (briefly) the issue of vitamin D toxicity. Vitamin D is widely considered to be the most toxic of all vitamins, and dire warnings are often issued to avoid excess sun exposure and vitamin D in the diet on that basis. The discussion of vitamin D toxicity has failed to take into account the interaction between vitamins A, D and K. Several lines of evidence suggest that vitamin D toxicity actually results from a relative deficiency of vitamins A and K.
So, the solution is not to avoid sun exposure or sources of vitamin D in the diet. Rather, it ensure adequate vitamin D intake (through sunlight and food) and to increase the intake (through diet and/or supplements) of vitamins A & K. Stay tuned for a future post on the interaction between vitamins A, D & K and their relevance to human health.
In the meantime, this is what I recommend for protecting against cancer and both deficiency and toxicity of vitamin D:
- Throw away your sunscreen. It contributes to cancer.
- Get an hour or two of exposure to sunlight each day if possible. Don’t cover your skin (or your child’s skin) completely when out in the sun.
- Avoid frequent sunburn
- In northern latitudes or during winter months when the sun isn’t shining, take 1 tsp./day of high-vitamin cod liver oil (Green Pasture or Radiant Life are two brands I recommend) to ensure adequate vitamin A & D intake. You can also eat vitamin D-rich foods such as herring, duck eggs, bluefin tuna, trout, eel, mackerel, sardines, chicken eggs, beef liver and pork.
- Make sure to eat enough vitamin K. Primary sources in the diet are natto, hard and soft cheeses, egg yolks, sauerkraut, butter and other fermented foods. Make sure to choose dairy products from grass-fed animals if possible.
As always, leave a comment or contact me with questions!
Tags: elderly, lymphoma, melanoma, skin, sunscreen, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K
I would add that people should throw away their sunglasses. Those are one more artificial thing that people use unthinkingly. The only time you ought to use sunglasses is while in a car, IMO. There is no reason to wear them while outdoors. The sun won’t damage your eyes if you use common sense. Don’t look at the sun while in the shade. Stand in an open aresa. Blink when you feel the urge to blink. Go inside or put on a hat or if your eyes feel fatigued.
Our eyes need sunlight just as much as our bodies need sunlight. Take time and enjoy watching the sunrise or the sunset occasionally. Without glasses, or sunglasses. Stand barefoot on the Earth and let the sun in your eyes. No primitive people wore sunglasses or sunscreen. Both are unnatural ploys to make money and most likely extremely unhealthy for you in the long run.
I try to go without sunglasses as often as possible for the same reason I avoid prolonged or frequent exposure to unnatural light after the sun goes down - it throws off my body’s natural reactions to light.
If nothing else, all the chemicals in sunscreen have to be causing SOME sort of damage.
finally i can prove to my mom that im not trying to get cancer by being in and by the pool all the time! lol.
of course i realize that its all about portions and control, just not staying out there for excessive amounts of time, but, think about people who work outdoors all day. do u ever hear about them getting skin cancer? i sure dont…
Pingback from Axel’s Blog » Blog Archive » Throw away the sunscreen! | The Healthy Skeptic on July 13, 2008 at 12:26 am
I feel it necessary to point out that there are also about 2,000 fatal cases of non-melanomatic skin cancers each year. That’s not a lot considering the total 600,000 annual cases (only about 0.3%). Although these statistics are less than alarming, I still feel it raises the question of whether sunscreen is more harmful to one’s health than raw (and unnaturally UV rich) sunlight. It may be a topic of debate.
Wouldn’t you say that any kind of skin cancer, regardless of being malignant or benign, is bad? Coming from a family where multiple people develop multiple types of cancer a year, I have been raised to do anything in your power to avoid all cancers. Yes, there are people who spend hour upon hour in the sun without sunscreen and have no signs of getting cancer, but if you have a family history of cancer, you should be doing anything you can to avoid it, because you are clearly not one of those people genetically.
Also, as a very fair skinned person, it is more than just a cancer issue. I was hospitalized this past spring for second degree burns on my feet from missing a few spots while at the beach. This happened within 2 hours. I am very fair skinned and need sunscreen everyday to prevent injuries like this. As the ozone layer continues to deplete, the sun’s rays are getting stronger. Everybody’s skin is not used to this kind of extreme exposure, and they should want to protect their skin. Clearly, I am an extreme case and need more than other people, but that doesn’t mean that everyone doesn’t need it.
We have all seen the leathery skin of people who have spent their whole lives in the sun. I think it is less than desirable, and I thought most people were wearing sunscreen to prevent that, rather than cancer. With so many supplements and faux tanning solutions, there really is no reason to ever be in the sun without sunscreen. You can get a healthy fake glow, and if you do it right, it looks just as good, if not better, as it is typically more even. You’ll have youthful skin and can avoid excessive dermal peels and other sun damage remedies.
Furthermore, I live in Buffalo, NY. We may get a ton of sun throughout the year, but it snows for 4-6 months of that year. I am not going to venture out in the cold to get that sun exposure you speak of, and wonder who would.
I suggest you protect your skin from sun by eating a high saturated fat, low PUFA diet. I routinely go out in the sun walking with no sunscreen and have never burned. I don’t tan, either. Having low levels of PUFAs in your skin is a form of natural sun screen, making you very resistant to burning. The fats I’d suggest are coconut oil (naturally refined or virgin), macadamia oil, butter or ghee, beef suet, beef fat, and maybe cocoa butter. Eat them and apply them to your skin if you find you are still sensitive to the sun. I have prety fair skin and have burned in the past when I was not avoiding PUFAs scrupulously.
To reduce PUFA intake, avoid most nuts and seeds. Hazelnuts, macadamia, and coconut are fairly low in PUFAs (1-10%). Most nuts are a lot higher. I’d also avoid any commercial salad dressing, mayonnaise, restaurant cooking oil, fried food, oil roasted nuts, chicken fat, and turkey fat. Duck and goose are much better if you can find them. Pork is similar to duck and goose fat. The best fats are red meat, dairy, and tropical oils IMO. Fatty liver is eaten traditionally in the Gascony region of Southern France, they also have the lowest rate of heart disease and the best longevity. Fatty liver is similar to macadamia oil, with less than 2% PUFAs, but more saturated. They also eat lots of duck and goose fat, raw cheeses, butter, etc.
Avoid PUFA vegetable oils like corn, soy, flax, safflower, cottonseed, canola, rapeseed, sunflower, hemp, walnut, peanut, etc. These are typically rancid, full of PUFAs, solvents, bleaches, and other poisons.
I haven’t seen any data, but I haven’t looked. I’ve seen anecdotal reports from many people that a low-PUFA diet makes them resistant to sun burns, and even regular burns (like at the stove). You might find references on the Scientific Debate Forum, which espouses an extremely low-PUFA diet as the solution to many chronic modern diseases. The author does eat some junk food, but only things made with coconut oil, palm kernel oil, or butterfat, or fully hydrogenated oils (100% saturated). He claims to have reversed many health problems, like rosacea, osteoporosis, and leaky gut.
Recently during a blackout I accidentally poured hot candle wax all over my hand and didn’t have any burn mark from it afterwards. I don’t burn in the sun. I don’t tan easily. In fact, I saw old tan lines disappear when I started eating the extremely low PUFAs. Tanning is DNA damage and I am virtually immune to it now. Once, my skin flaked a little, but it didn’t burn or turn red. No pain, no inflammation, no sunburn apparent from it.
Are you sure he rejected it? He moderates all posts, so sometimes it takes a day or two for them to appear. He has only rejected one of my posts, I think. There is a comment there in the Nutrition forum about “traditional wisdom vs modern science” by “the healthy skeptic.” Is that your message?
I grew up on the beaches of California. I spent nearly every day in the sun, and when I was much younger, most of those days did not involve the use of sunscreens. I’ve never had any issues with my skin. My skin is extremely healthy, and I honestly believe that my exposure to the sun at an early age is what, in part, has kept it healthy.
I always try my best to get sun exposure now (I’m 44). I like the tan, and it feels good. I’m very aware of the benefits of Vit. D as well, and that is another reason why I make sure to get a reasonable amount of exposure.
I think it’s important for everyone to get sun exposure. Fair skinned people seem to think they need to cover up and try their best to not get any sun. I think what is more important is to get sun exposure and know your limits at the same time. If you are fair skinned, then 10-20 min. might be all that you can handle before you start to burn. Keep up that kind of thinking. Avoid getting burned. But don’t eliminate exposure. Just know your limits. If you start to reach threshold, then try and get out of the sun. Then do it a couple of days later, or a week, or whatever you know you can handle.
I find it odd how over the years, we’ve become obsessed with sunscreens. Sure, they have their place, but ultimately I believe the reason for the ocean of sunscreens is corporate profits. These big pharma companies want to turn everything into a condition or disease so they can sell us another product.
The sun is an integral part of our existence. Humanity has lived in the sun for thousands of years, and it’s only been within the past 50 years or so that the sun has all of a sudden become bad. It’s marketing. it’s business. It’s desire for profits.
As for the ozone? Perhaps it is reduced. However, I think the messages sent out about ozone depletion and its effects, are simply a method of instilling fear in people so we buy sunscreen products to protect us.
I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. I think people who believe they are really smart, really aren’t as smart as they think they are. They’re simply making educated guesses, formulating hypotheses and theories.
Humanity often thinks it finds the answer, solution, or fact about a given phenomenon, only to be proven wrong many years later. I believe many of our scientists are wrong about the dangers of sun exposure, and many people are lemmings running off the cliff’s edge.
The glasses that you wear also have a UV coating (prescription) Be aware of that.
It seems like this is another case of the old adage, “Everything in moderation.” I think slathering on sunscreen every time you go outside is a poor health decision due to the resultant limitation of vitamin D production. If I’m outside for an hour or less, or in the morning or evening, I don’t wear sunscreen.
On the other hand, I love being out on the water during the afternoon, and may be out for several hours. In these cases, it makes perfect sense to put on some SPF-30. That way I can enjoy the weather and not burn horribly.
This is a very informative post, i was searching in google for Skin Cancer and came across this post. My niece is suffering from Skin Cancer, information mention in this article will greatly help me in offering her some advice.
Some issues: in your first statement you say the two articles are about sunlight and melanoma but then you say that one article is actually only about lymphoma.
The article about melanoma only looks at survival. It does not look at etiology and their assumption is actually that sun exposure may give you a better form of melanoma but not that sun exposure presents you from getting it.
Sunscreen prevents basal cell and squamous cell cancer which are usually benign but squamous cell has been seen to metastasize. Sunscreen contributes to vitamin D deficiency so get more vitamin D as you suggested or get sun when it’s not peak hours.
To suggest that no one ever anywhere needs sunscreen is a huge generalization and I don’t feel well-substanstiated in this blog. Also, if you could give the full bibliographic references for the articles you cite that would be helpful.
I am so glad to have found your common sense website as this vitamin D/sunscreen thing is one of my crusades with family, friends and anyone else who will listen.
I am a fair-skinned, blue-eyed, red-haired middle-aged woman who grew up (often sunburned) on New England beaches and now live in North Carolina. According to dermatologists, I’m a prime candidate for skin cancer and should wear sunscreen morning, noon and night, and get my Vitamin D from supplements.
But I refuse to wear sunscreen (unless I’ll be sailing all day, a rare occurrence) because I’ve long intuitively felt that I was doing myself far more harm than good. Vitamin D deficiency is a huge problem in this country — a resurgence of rickets, anyone? I’m especially dismayed when my African-American friends tell me they wear sunscreen every day! No! I tell them. You’re setting yourself up for other cancers that will be far worse than the slight possibility of a curable skin cancer. They, like so many people, have been brainwashed into thinking the sun is an evil god up in the sky just waiting to kill them. And blacks need to spend a whole lot more time in the sun than I do to get their so-called daily quota of vitamin D. This is not often made clear in articles about sunscreen and vitamin D — the “advice” in those articles seems more geared toward whites. The sun is life-giving, not life-denying — it is far more likely to prevent or cure disease than cause it. Direct sunlight also helps people feel happier, more optimistic and in a better mood. People would probably take far fewer antidepressants if they spent more time in the sun, especially without sunscreen. I know women who only spend a minute in the sun to get to their car in the morning and another minute in the evening when they leave their office yet they still wear sunscreen, often because they think their skin will stay younger-looking. The whole thing is crazy. I’m sure I have and will have more lines on my face but I’d rather be a wrinkly old lady one day than dead from colon cancer. (Just to be safe, though, I do have an annual skin check by a dermatologist. Frankly, I think she’s disappointed when she doesn’t find anything!)
That said, I think I’ll go out right now and sit in the sun…
The thing I am concerned about is the U.V. coating on my prescription glasses. As far as I know, you can’t get them without it. From my education, some of the U.V’s stimulate the pineal gland.
Are you saying that there’s something wrong with stimulating the pineal gland, as it was through most of our history without UV-coated glasses? I’ve heard about people improving their eyesight simply by wearing their glasses less, eating better, getting more sunlight, etc. The improvement may not measure on an eye exam, but people report less blurriness and improved focus, so they can function without glasses where before they couldn’t. That’s a worthwhile goal, IMO.
Looking at sunrise and/or sunset without glasses, pref with bare feet on bare ground, might also help. Stand in an open area, not shade. Blink and turn away if you feel the need. I don’t wear sunglasses or sunscreen. The only time you need sunglasses is when sitting in a car or shade with sun light coming through or looking at an eclipse. Under conditions like that, the eyes don’t dilate and contract appropriately, so they may be damaged by sunlight. Otherwise, we should be less afraid of the sunlight and more afraid of unnatural sunglasses and sunscreen.
Dr. John Ott supposedly talked with Albert Schweitzer’s daughter and she told him that primitive groups developed cancer even on their natural diet if they wore sunglasses. They sometimes didn’t wear clothes, but they adopted the white man’s habit for sunglasses and developed cancer from wearing them. Ott also believed that being exposed to artificial light and filtered light through windows causes cancer. Contact with civilization brings the modern diseases, whereas healthy primitive groups knew how to stay healthy naturally. They didn’t have sunglasses or sunscreen.
@bruce, I’m saying that sunlight is natural and that I wish I could find an optical lab that didn’t put the U.V. coating on my glasses without my permission. The pineal gland needs to be stimulated by sunlight for proper function. I need glasses and as far as I know most optics venders coat their lenses with a U.V A, and U.V. B coating as prescribed by the doctor. Screw sunscreen. Sorry that I didn’t state that clearly.
Sorry, I mis-read your comment somehow. You said you were “concerned” about the UV coating. I thought you meant you were concerned about not having it, and that it was bad not to have the UV coating.
I still think you should try wearing glasses less, esp when outdors in sun. Exposure to sunlight may improve your vision, along with good nutrition. Some people benefit from raw milk, cheese, and meat.
What chemicals in sunscreen are coarcinogenic?
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