Sunscreen Protects Skin, But Does It Also Cost Lives?

Experts say avoiding the sun could be as bad as smoking.

Sunscreen Protects Skin, But Does It Also Cost Lives?
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Here's a true-false test: 

Sunlight is good for your health. True? False? 

Sunlight is bad for your health. True? False? 

Research shows if you answered "true" for both statements, you passed. 

Consider this expert opinion: "The risk factor for melanoma appears to be intermittent sunshine and sunburn, especially when you're young." 

But there's evidence that "long-term sun exposure is associated with less melanoma," according to a University of Edinburgh dermatologist. 

"We do know that melanoma is deadly, and we know that the vast majority of cases are due to sun exposure. So certainly people need to be cautious," per a Yale University dermatologist. 

Sun exposure. Sunscreen. Sun worship. Where's the line? It's widely known that certain exposure to sunlight can cause skin cancer — melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. 

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can damage the DNA in skin cells, which can then accumulate and cause cells to grow out of control.

A lot of factors influence the degree of skin cancer risk, including frequency of exposure, repeated sunburns, fair skin, time of day, time of year, age. But studies suggest the singular focus on skin cancer has obscured the benefits of moderate exposure. In fact, not only are there benefits, but avoiding the sun can be dangerous.

Here's one of the key reasons why: While soaking in sunlight, your skin makes Vitamin D, and staying out of the sun has been linked to a Vitamin D deficiency.  Diet and supplements can't always make up the difference. 

A low level of Vitamin D is linked to higher rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, depression, cognitive impairment, autoimmune conditions and more. Sunlight also is linked to the production of nitric oxide, which lowers blood pressure. And it stimulates the release of serotonin and endorphins and improves sleep rhythms.

One researcher actually found that women with active sun exposure were at a lower risk of death by cardiovascular and other non-cancer disease and found that avoiding the sun carried the same death risk as smoking. 

An article in a journal focused on skin health concluded that "the message of sun avoidance must be changed to acceptance of non-burning sun exposure." 

The establishment advice remains the same: sunscreen all the time for everyone. The skeptics point out we shouldn't be slathering on baby oil and popping open the old reflector — getting burnt to a crisp is bad. But they argue skipping the sunscreen sometimes, and getting a healthy glow, might be good.