How fun in the sun can actually keep skin cancer away

Summer is finally upon us once again. And it’s a perfect time to revisit a few huge medical myths about sun exposure, sunscreen, and skin cancer.

Perhaps the most striking study about the importance of sun exposure came from Sweden a few years ago

For that study, researchers at the Karolinska Institute followed 30,000 women for over 20 years. They found that women who avoided sun exposure were twice as likely to succumb to all-cause mortality compared to women who got the most sun.

The researchers concluded that avoiding sunshine at all costs and slathering toxic sunscreens (which can kill helpful skin bacteria) does much more harm than good. (I cover the importance of skin bacteria in my latest issue of Insiders’ Cures, my monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe today.)

Of course, avoiding the sun and wearing sunscreen also blocks the body’s natural ability to make vitamin D. And in places like Sweden and the United States, where vitamin D deficiency is at epidemic levels, avoiding the sun is a huge mistake. In fact, we now know the sunshine vitamin, as it’s often called, actually protects against cancers ¾ including skin cancer.

Remember, melanoma — the truly deadly form of skin cancer — accounts for just 9 percent of all cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. But research shows men and women with low blood levels of vitamin D, due to scant sun exposure, are four to five times more likely to develop thicker malignant melanoma tumors than men and women with higher levels.

Back when I was in medical and pathology training, two experts really expanded our understanding of the pathophysiology of malignant melanoma.

The first expert, Dr. Wally Clark, is best known for devising the “Clark’s level” system for classifying the seriousness of a malignant melanoma skin cancer based on its microscopic appearance.

Dr. Clark’s granddaughter went to school with my daughter in Bethesda, Maryland. And I remember speaking with him several times when he came to Bethesda to meet with the medical mandarins at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Even back then, Dr. Clark questioned the medical dogma. And he told me privately that melanoma was NOT caused by spending time in the sun.

Dr. Bernard Ackerman was the other leading expert on melanoma at the time. I remember meeting him at Pennsylvania Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania. He even spent some personal time with the pathology residents in training. And I remember during our one-on-one conversations, he had an affable and open personality. Nothing like the pinched, pathological dogmatists who normally surrounded me. He also knew too much about melanoma to blindly accept the prevailing medical “doctrine” against the sun.

In fact, in 2004, before he died, Dr. Ackerman published an article in The New York Times titled, “I beg to differ; A dermatologist who’s not afraid to sit on the beach.” He pointed out that a link between melanoma and sun exposure has never been proven.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence that getting sunburned leads to skin cancer. And no study has ever shown that using sunscreen reduces the risk of getting skin cancer. (Yet manufacturers are allowed to make the claim, without any scientific evidence.)

Sunscreen — not sun exposure — linked to melanoma

In another Swedish study published in 2000, researchers found that there was a link between sunscreen use and increased rates of melanoma. That finding doesn’t seem surprising when you consider many sunscreens contain toxic chemicals that act as carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

Research scientist Elizabeth Plourde, Ph.D. believes sunscreens contain loads of cancer-causing chemicals. And she’s documented the parallel rise of skin cancers and the widespread use of sunscreens over the past 30 years.

Sadly, sunscreen also causes disastrous effects on the environment. The chemicals in sunscreens pollute our waters, including oceans, rivers, and drinking water. And they damage our coral reefs and other marine populations.

The evidence has been accumulating for decades, and I’ve been reporting it for years. So, I think my recommendations bear repeating…

  • Do NOT avoid the sun.
  • DO avoid sunscreens.

Strive to spend 15 minutes in the sun every day without sunscreen. Add 15 minutes more each day. Expose as much of your skin as possible. Plus, most people should still supplement with 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily — even in the summertime, as your body stores it away for a rainy day (literally and metaphorically).

Of course, the point of this sun exposure and supplementation is to raise your blood levels of vitamin D. Optimal levels of this essential nutrient protect against arthritis, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, Sjogren’s syndrome, rickets, and tuberculosis.

Some people have a more difficult increasing their vitamin D levels, no matter what they do. And I will tell you about what they can in a future Daily Dispatch.

So, at your next check-up, make sure to ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels with a 25(OH)D test. Ideally, you want your levels to be between 50 nmol/L and 75 nmol/L. (That’s nanomoles, which are tiny concentrations relative to other nutrients.)

You can now find vitamin D in a convenient liquid form together with the potent marine carotenoid, astaxanthin. That’s a bonus for brain health, hearing, and vision. (You can find more information about astaxanthin on my website,

So, have at it — and soak up the sun without fear. You’ll enjoy the endless, lifesaving benefits of vitamin D not only this summer, but year-round.


“Scientists blow the lid on cancer & sunscreen myth,” Circle of Docs (