It’s no secret that we’re afraid of the sun.
We blame sunlight for rising cancer rates and premature aging, we avoid its “destructive” rays at all costs, and when we have no choice but to be outside, we slather ourselves and our loved ones with toxic sunscreen for protection.
This is perhaps one of our society’s greatest absurdities—fear of the very force that allows all life to exist on this planet. Sadly, it’s a perfect example of the kind of fallacy that haunts conventional science and medicine.
In many ways, our society is created in opposition of nature, and science acts as the guardian of society. Science prides itself on its neutrality, its objectivity—but a closer look nearly always reveals an underlying slant, assumption, or dogma. Theories and data are twisted into justifications for previously held beliefs.
Case in point: our society is not one that leaves much time for being outside (let alone placing any importance on it). How convenient, then, that science postulates that sunlight is harmful. The sun is bad for you anyway…staying inside and working is good for both your career and your health!
Let’s take a look at how this fear took hold…and how it’s being overturned by new research.
Unpacking the sun conundrum
Let’s start with the age-old assumption that sun exposure increases your risk of cancer. This is a true statement.
But not so fast…this increased risk is not what you think it is. This is where the twisting of facts occurs—it’s this correlation that caused our sun-fear to begin with.
Luckily, medical science is beginning to correct its errors. A revolutionary new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that sun exposure only increases your risk of cancer because it increases your life span (and the longer you live, the more statistically probable it is that you’ll develop cancer).
It turns out that the real danger isn’t sunlight itself, but avoiding sunlight.
The study in question, which examined the sun exposure habits of women aged 25-64 over the course of twenty years, found that those with greater sun exposure were at lower risk for all-cause mortality.
The researchers even reported that “nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking.”
That’s right: it seems that sun avoidance is the new smoking.
But how could this be? What about all the evidence linking sun exposure to rising rates of melanoma? Isn’t it an established fact that sunlight causes skin cancer?
It turns out that it’s not nearly that simple. While some studies have demonstrated a correlation between sun exposure and skin cancer, other experts argue that the data is skewed in all sorts of ways. For example, some researchers believe that the increased incidence of melanoma may be what is called “an artifact caused by diagnostic drift.”
Here’s what they mean: melanoma is massively overdiagnosed (even those with benign growths are included in melanoma statistics), and this false reporting may be causing scientists to adopt sunlight as a scapegoat.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only type of cancer that is overdiagnosed and overtreated. As we reported in a past article, breast cancer screenings are often hyped in order to sell mammography equipment, and even benign growths are treated “just to be safe” (when in reality, the practice is designed to sell more chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy equipment).
The more deeply you examine the evidence, the more skeptical it seems we should be of past research encouraging sun avoidance.
One study even demonstrated that melanoma rates have only increased for indoor workers, and that the increase began in the 1940’s (right around the time when sun avoidance became a common recommendation, and shortly after sunscreen was invented). This study exonerated sunlight as the main risk factor for melanoma, and posited a different one: the decreased levels of vitamin D that accompany sun avoidance.
Everything in moderation
This is not to say that getting sunburned all the time isn’t bad for you. It’s important to take the necessary precautions (cover yourself with clothing if you must be outside for an extended period of time, and only use natural, non-toxic sunscreen, if any at all).
In all likelihood, increasing rates of skin cancer (assuming they’re even increasing at all) are attributable to a complex interaction of different risk factors—toxic chemical and nanoparticle sunscreens (as well as all the other industrial toxins with which our skin comes into contact), vitamin D deficiency (as well as other nutrient and mineral deficiencies), and perhaps sun overexposure in sensitive individuals.
The bottom line is this: the first study mentioned above makes it clear that the risks of staying away from sunlight are actually greater than those of basking in it. Use common sense when spending time out in the sun, but don’t be afraid of it.
Sunlight was absolutely essential for the evolution of our species, and is arguably still one of the most fundamental necessities for optimal health. As we discussed in another article, there’s even evidence to suggest that our bodies use sunlight to produce energy through a fascinating sort of “human photosynthesis” called biophotomodulation.
This emerging field of bioenergetics uses fancy scientific jargon to remind us of a simple and primal truth: the sun is our friend, and it should be central to our lives and health maintenance protocols. Just as even too much water or too many vitamins can be harmful, so can excess UV rays—but we would never use this logic to declare water or vitamins harmful.
So always do your best to spend at least twenty minutes a day in direct sunlight…this simple practice is at least as important as drinking enough water, taking your vitamins, and anything else you do on a daily basis to stay healthy.