The Benefits of Sun Exposure vs. the Risks

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Skin cancer is the most common form of skin cancer in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, with one in every five people developing skin cancer sometime in their life. We understand that exposure to the sun’s UV rays contributes to skin cancer. Even so, some scientists aren’t sure that limiting our sun exposure is good for us.


    We know that our bodies need sun exposure in order to manufacture vitamin D, an essential vitamin. But the sun may help us in other ways as well.  Researchers in the United Kingdom have recently completed a study suggesting that sun exposure can lower blood pressure, potentially decreasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

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    In the study, scientists found that when we are in the sunlight a compound called nitric oxide is released into our blood vessels. This compound helps to reduce blood pressure. Researchers compared participants who were exposed to heat only vs. those who were exposed to UV rays and found those exposed only to heat did not receive the same reduction in blood pressure as those who were exposed to UV rays.


    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The researchers believe the potential benefit of reducing blood pressure, and therefore reducing heart attack and stroke risk, could outweigh the risk of skin cancer.  The researchers believe that separate research, showing that rates of high blood pressure and heart disease rise during the winter months and by geographic region; for example, those living in northern regions have much higher rates of heart disease than those living near the equator. According to the scientists, for every one skin cancer death in northern Europe, there are 60 to 100 deaths resulting from heart disease or stroke, both tied to high blood pressure.


    The sunlight also provides the benefit of Vitamin D and some studies have shown that it may help prevent infectious disease, such as in a 2011 study performed at St. George’s Hospital at the University of London, the sun’s rays may have inactivated the chickenpox virus on the skin.


    While we do receive benefits from the sunlight, this most recent study has not compared those who were exposed to UV ray without protection vs. those who were exposed to UV rays using sunscreen. Maybe it is possible to receive the benefits of sunlight while still protecting ourselves from the harm it can also do by being careful to not allow our skin to burn and using sun protection while out in the sun?

    Based on this study, it is not time to throw away the sunscreen and to walk straight out in the sun unprotected. More research is needed.




    “Heart Disease Facts and Statistics,” Updated 2012, Oct. 16, Staff Writer, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


    “Skin Cancer Facts,” Updated 2013, Feb. 12, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation


    “Sun Exposure Benefits May Outweigh Risks Say Scientists,” 2013, May 8, Catharine Paddock, Ph.D., Medical News Today


Published On: May 16, 2013