A Swedish study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine (March 2016) concluded that women with active sun exposure habits (ie that sunbathe) have a longer life expectancy than those that do not sunbathe.
Skin Cancer Foundation Position:
New York, NY (March 25, 2016) —The Skin Cancer Foundation believes that the results of this study could cause the public to abandon sun protective behaviors that we know are effective in preventing skin cancer. Though the researchers do acknowledge that the study has limitations, at a glance the main takeaway is that those who sunbathe (or tan) live longer. This is a dangerous message to send to the public because unprotected sun exposure causes skin cancer.
One of our concerns is that the researchers did not consider participants’ vitamin D levels, and we don’t know how this may have affected the study outcomes. There is a possibility that those who did not participate in active sun exposure also had a vitamin D deficiency. It is best to obtain adequate levels by ingesting vitamin D-rich foods and supplements than to expose one’s skin to the sun. Because adequate vitamin D levels are essential for a healthy immune system, a deficiency may have been partially to blame for the lower life expectancy researchers identified.
The researchers also did not consider the “lifestyle” variable. It’s possible that those who have the time and inclination to sunbathe are less stressed than their counterparts. Stress causes health problems, including heart disease. Heart disease is one of the health issues researchers identified as contributing to a shorter life expectancy in those not participating in active sun exposure. Clearly, the study didn’t take into consideration that the act of sunbathing may be a respite (a, “time out”) which would contribute to lower stress levels.
Finally, we believe that the study minimizes skin cancer risk. While the researchers did recognize, unsurprisingly, that the study participants who sunbathed the most are at an increased risk for skin cancer, this increased risk is not to be taken lightly. This year, thousands of people in the United States will die from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Even if skin cancer does not cause death, it can be highly disfiguring if left untreated.
A healthy lifestyle should include eating a diet with adequate levels of vitamin D, minimizing stress, taking time for regular exercise, and practicing safe sun habits when spending time outdoors. Apply a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (or SPF 30 or higher for extended time outdoors), strategically cover up with protective clothing, and seek shade during the sun’s peak hours, typically between 10 AM and 4 PM.
-- Skin Cancer Foundation Senior Vice President Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD
About The Skin Cancer Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. Since its inception in 1979, the Foundation has recommended following a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.