BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM. For years the medical establishment has been bombarding the public with advice to stay out of the sun, slather on sunscreen, and in general consider the sun as an enemy rather than as a friend. Fortunately, the public has been slow to accept this message and most people still like to be in the sun and consider a suntan to be a sign of good health. The original reason for the restricting sun exposure was to reduce the incidence of melanoma. Some studies had shown that a severe sunburn, especially at a young age, and intermittent exposure to strong sunlight are indeed strong risk factors for melanoma. Other studies, however, have shown that regular exposure to sunlight reduces the risk of melanoma. Melanoma is a relatively rare disease. In 1995 fewer than 1400 people died from this condition in England and Wales combined. In comparison, during the same period over 130,000 men and women died from ischemic heart disease in the same geographic area. Researchers at the University of Bristol are now sounding the warning bells. They point out that some sun exposure (without sunscreen coverage) is required in order to produce enough vitamin D to prevent rickets, osteomalacia, bone fractures, and perhaps multiple sclerosis. They also point to a recent study which found that adequate vitamin-D levels protect strongly against heart attacks. There is also considerable evidence that sunlight exposure improves mood, may combat depression, and in general creates a subjective feeling of greater wellbeing. The researchers conclude that the benefits of sunlight exposure may outweigh the widely publicised adverse effects. Says one member of the research team "Those of us who enjoy spending time in the sun can rest assured that the chance that we will be one of the people dying from our tan is small."
Ness, Andrew R., et al. Are we really dying for a tan? British Medical Journal, Vol. 319, July 10, 1999, pp. 114-16