By Marc Sorenson, EdD, Sunlight Institute
An article in a South-East Asia online paper[i] has some good points on sunlight and disease, but is sullied by some unfortunate quotes by two people that I have great respect for, Drs. Richard Weller and Robyn Lucas. The article starts well enough by stating that health benefits of sun outweigh the risks. A statement by Dr. Weller is then quoted: “Dermatologists only think about the skin whereas the benefits of sunlight are predominantly in general health rather than skin health,” So far, so good. He also says that vitamin D tablets will not provide the same benefits as sunlight. That is also true.
Next, Dr. Weller says that the only major problem caused by sunlight is melanoma, but melanoma is often linked to sunburns that occur in childhood. The fact is, melanoma is not caused by sunlight, as I have reiterated in this blog many times. As people have moved out of the sunlight in the U.S., the risk of melanoma has increased exponentially; outdoor workers have a fraction or the risk of melanoma as indoor workers, and melanoma has increased only in indoor workers since 1940.
Later in the article, in trying to explain why melanoma incidence is low in South-East Asia, Dr. Lucas makes this statement: “this is probably due to the culture of not being sun-seeking in South-East Asia as well as a small contribution from having generally slightly darker skin. Even though the UV levels are high in these countries close to the equator, the burden of UV-related skin diseases is low” [italics mine]. Dr. Lucas has obviously bought into the idea that sunlight causes melanoma and must look for a reason to explain the fact that high sunlight exposure in South-East Asia associates with a low risk of the disease. In the italicized statement above she has answered the question. The reason that there is a low risk of melanoma in the area is because regular, high sunlight exposure prevents melanoma.
Nevertheless, the article is well-written until the last paragraph, which quotes a Dr. Emilie van Deventer: “Sunlight exposure for the purposes of vitamin D is better earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the risk of skin damage caused by UV is much lower.” Anyone who makes such a statement has not read the research; almost no vitamin D is produced in early morning or late evening. Early-morning sunlight, of course, is associated closely with slimmer bodies, but not due to vitamin D.
So, I continue to fight this battle, separating the truth from the fiction, the gold from the dross. Regular, non-burning sunlight is good for us. Enjoy it safely and do not burn.