Talking Points

Talking Points

Is the sun good for your health?

October 16, 2014 at 11:36 am

At this time of year people are looking forward to their summer holiday in the sun. Everyone likes to escape the British summer to soak up some sun and relax on the beaches of the Mediterranean.

There has been a lot of publicity about the harmful effects of the sun on the skin. There is no doubt that excessive sun exposure increases the likelihood of skin cancer, including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

And exposure to the sun increases skin aging. But is sunbathing always bad for you?

This question was raised by a group of researchers from Edinburgh whose work hit the headlines recently. The headline message was that sun exposure could reduce blood pressure and as a result, improve life expectancy by reducing the risk of death from ischaemic heart disease and stroke.

So is it true that the beneficial effects of sunlight could save more lives than would be lost as a result of skin cancer.

Should we all be sunbathing more as a result of this message?


Risk of skin cancer

The evidence of a link between sun exposure and skin cancer is well established. It is particularly important that children and young adults are protected from direct sun exposure as it has been shown that these early years are particularly important in reducing the risk of skin cancer later in life.

We also know that sunbed use increases the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer and in studies of mortality from other causes, sunbed use has been shown to be a risk factor. The message is therefore clear that sunbeds increase your likelihood of skin cancer and of death from other causes.


When is sunbathing good for you

There are some robust, large studies from Scandinavia that show positive associations between sun exposure and lower mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease and all cancers. Most of these have focused on the vitamin D that increases with sun exposure, but some of the results are conflicting. Regular sunbathing seems to be associated with a reduced mortality from all causes and from cardiovascular disease. The issue of vitamin D levels and health is more complex but most studies have shown higher vitamin D levels are linked with longevity.


What is the best advice about sunbathing?

With available evidence it seems that sunbathing is not all bad but sunbeds should be avoided. Children and young adults should still be protected from sunburn. However sunbathing seems to be protective for some diseases of adulthood including heart disease, stroke and some cancers. It is likely that the beneficial effects sunbathing will be achieved by moderate sun exposure so we should all still take measures to protect ourselves in hot climates. That includes seeking the shade, wearing a hat and protective clothing and applying a good high factor sun block.


When should I seek medical advice?

Skin cancer rates have been increasing progressively and remain an important health issue. It is important to look for any moles or marks on the skin that are changing in size, shape or colour. Changing moles do not always imply that you have skin cancer but they should be examined by a medical professional.



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I had just been told after attending the Mole Clinic at my local pharmacy that I could potentially have a melanoma on my right leg. Obviously I was very worried and upset by this and when I met Dr. Herd he did his best to try and reassure me. The mole was removed and after a few anxious weeks my results came back fine. I have since seen Dr. Herd on a regular basis over the years for annual skin check ups and I find that his calming and friendly manner gives me peace of mind.