Of course you want to wear sunscreen.
Ninety percent of skin aging is due to sun exposure. More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined.
It’s a no-brainer. The minute the weather gets warm enough to wear short sleeves and sundresses, you buy a big bottle of sunscreen…
And you use it EVERY day, on EVERY inch of your body.
But Dr. Joseph Mercola wants you to think twice.
“The recommendation to avoid sun exposure and always use sunblock when outdoors may be the greatest public health mistake of the 20th century,” he says.
Extreme Sun Protection Isn’t Working
Dr. Mercola points out a disconcerting fact:
Although Americans are now more widely educated about the dangers of skin cancer than ever before (we’re wearing more sunscreen and staying out of the sun more)…
We’re getting skin cancer at higher rates than ever.
Even worse, you know those folks who are fanatic about minimizing sun exposure, who always wear sunscreen and stay in the shade?
They may actually be losing YEARS off their life.
If that sounds crazy to you, you’re not alone.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, so I decided to dig a little more…
The Sun Exposure-Skin Cancer Link
What causes skin cancer? Sun exposure, right?
If sun exposure caused skin cancer, then the parts of your body that never see the light of day would be safe.
But skin cancer can develop anywhere on the body, including the genitals or the inside of the mouth.
The link between sun exposure and skin cancer is not straightforward. A number of factors affect skin cancer risk, including ethnicity, diet, and occupation.
That’s because all of those factors affect how likely you are to burn…
And it’s BURNING that significantly boosts your risk of skin cancer.
People with fair skin are more likely to burn than people with dark skin.
People who eat a poor diet are more likely to burn than people who eat a diet rich in antioxidants and healthy fats.
People who work indoors all day are more likely to burn than people who work part of the time outdoors.
So the link between sunburns and skin cancer is straightforward…
But the link between sun exposure and skin cancer? Not so much.
Incredibly enough, avoiding ALL sun exposure actually increases your risk of skin cancer.
In part, that’s because your skin isn’t prepared for the sun when you finally go out on a gorgeous summer evening or stay outdoors at a music festival all weekend. When you haven’t been in the sun for ages, you tend to burn easily.
But there’s more to it than that.
Smart sun exposure boosts your levels of vitamin D, which may protect against sunburn AND repair any skin damage.
What about sunscreen? Surely, if you’re going out in the sun, you need to slather on the sunscreen—the more the better.
Wearing sunscreen reduces the vitamin D your body produces in response to the sun’s rays. It also makes you overconfident. If you put on tons of sunscreen, you’re more likely to believe you can stay out in the sun as long as you like.
It’s like vitamins. Researchers have long known that people who take vitamins aren’t really any healthier than people who don’t. Why?
It may be because people take vitamins in order to compensate for a poor diet. As long as they’re taking vitamins, they don’t worry so much about what they’re eating.
Similarly, wearing sunscreen helps people justify staying in the sun too long. You think you’re protected, so you don’t keep checking your skin to see if it’s getting red.
Sunscreen can give wearers a false sense of protection against skin cancer, too. Epidemiologist Dr. Marianne Berwick found that sunscreen users developed skin cancer at a HIGHER rate than non-users in 7 of the 12 studies she reviewed. (She found that sunscreen had protective benefits in only 2 of the 12 studies.)
Nothing can compensate for being smart about the sun.
Smart Sun Exposure Adds Years to Your Life
The risks of smart sun exposure may be a small price to pay for its many benefits.
Smart sun exposure not only boosts vitamin D but also decreases the risk of heart disease and lowers blood pressure.
A powerful 2016 study found that lack of sun exposure is a mortality risk on a par with smoking.
The study followed nearly 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years. The women who actively enjoyed the sun lived up to 2 years longer than those who shunned the sun—despite a slightly higher risk of skin cancer.
So what is “smart sun exposure”?
The answer can be complicated, depending on your skin type. But in general you want a little bit of sun every day, not a lot at once.
A little bit of sun exposure, for someone who’s fair-skinned, may only mean 5 minutes in the sun. For someone who’s darker skinned, it may mean 20 minutes.
What you don’t want to do is wait until the weekend or your vacation, and then spend the whole day in the sun. You’re binging on sun exposure, and that’s what increases your skin cancer risk.
The better you know your skin, the more you’ll know your limits. Avoid staying in the sun so long that your skin turns pink.
And don’t trust sunscreen to protect you. Consider it a way to top up your sun protection, but not an excuse to stay out in the sun as long as you want.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to sun exposure. You have to know your body. Protect your skin by eating a healthy diet and double-checking your vitamin D levels. Be vigilant about burning. And do your own research.