Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance

Lather on the sunscreen. Put on a hat. Cover up. Get in the shade.
But be sure to take that Vitamin D supplement.

Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t the best advice.

It’s the 1st day of summer. And I’m feeling fired up to talk about the sun.

Since I was a kid I’ve been told the sun is dangerous. But I’m here to argue that the health dangers of sun avoidance is what people should actually worry about.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: Modern Guidelines

The American Academy of Dermatology has a zero-tolerance policy with the sun.

“You need to protect your skin from the sun every day, even when it’s cloudy… all people, regardless of skin color, [need to] protect themselves from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.”

I think “sun’s out, guns out” is a better policy.

It seems like all I talk about is how modern health guidelines are killing us.

But in this last century we “discovered” meat was bad for you. It was laced with saturated fat and cholesterol that caused heart disease. We were told to ditch the animal-products. Trade in your butter for margarine. Replace animal fats with vegetable oils. Replace animal protein with carbs.

And of course, the results are epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes, ever-increasing heart failure and cancers, and a chronically sick population.

Sunscreen and Lab Meat: The “Margarines” of Today


Health danger of sun exposure

It can take awhile for people to wake up.

It wasn’t until 2015 when the US finally banned trans fats. It turned out it wasn’t the butter that was killing us after all. It was the margarine. The industrialized, processed, hydrogenated trans fats – who would have thought?

Seems so obvious in hindsight.

Real Meat vs. Lab Meat

Marketing and propaganda can blur what’s plainly obvious. Just take meat for example. In many cases the “meat-is-bad” propaganda still persists. Some people still think meat and its saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease and cancer (it doesn’t).

There isn’t a more natural food for humans to eat than meat.

But this anti-meat crowd thinks fake meat grown in labs is going to revitalize our health.

This is a “margarine” moment.

Lab Meat Ingredients

Surely we’ll look back on the “Beyond Meats” and the “Impossible Burgers” and say how impossibly stupid we were not to see it. It will be plainly obvious how these vegetable oil synthetic meat-look-a-likes are far from health food.

Sunscreen is a similar kind of story to me.


Sunscreen wasn’t invented until the 1940s.

I don’t know how the human specie survived that long without it. For millions of years humans didn’t have sunscreen AND we lived outdoors, spending countless hours with little clothing under a blazing tropical sun. Could it get more dangerous than this?

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution when we abandoned our ancestral outdoor lives for our modern indoor captivity.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: Our Natural Sunblock

We know humans evolved outdoors under a tropical sun.

And through 3+ million years of human evolution we devised a way to protect our skin from the sun’s radiation (long before the 1940s and the first sunscreens).

We developed a natural, built-in sunscreen. It’s called melanin.

When exposed to UV radiation, like that from the sun, the skin produces melanin for protection. It’s better than the best sunscreen you could get your hands on. It absorbs light and the pigment can dissipate over 99.9% of absorbed UV radiation. (r)

As we, humans, evolved into apex predators and persistence hunters, one adaptation was a loss of body hair and an increase in exocrine glands. We could run and hunt in the heat all day. But without our fur coats, we had an increase for potential UV radiation damage. A counter-balancing adaption to this hair loss was an increase in melanin-producing melanocytes which resulted in darker skin and better sun protection.

Loss of Melanin

As humans sprawled across the globe to areas with less sunlight, the selective pressure for melanin decreased. These people started to produce less melanin which resulted in the range of human skin color we have today.

Skin pigmentation and sun exposure is an extremely important balancing act.

The Melanin Shield

People with darker skin (more melanin) can stay out in the sun much longer without the downside risks of UV radiation. But they also need to stay out in the sun much longer to absorb the amount of sunshine they need.

People with fairer skin absorb (and store) sunshine more readily. They don’t need as many hours in the sun to get the dose they need. But they are at a higher risk from UV rays.

A helpful analogy is to think of melanin like a shield.

Some of us have thicker shields (darker skin) and some of us thinner shields (fairer skin). The thicker the shield the more protection you get from UV radiation, but also the more time you need to spend in the sun to get adequate levels. The thinner the shield, the less sun exposure you need, but the greater risk you have from UV radiation.

While modern health guidelines have focused on the UV radiation risk part of the equation, they have neglected the sunshine part. It’s a balancing act, one in which the modern world is wildly out of balance.

We need sunlight.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: SPF vs Marlboros

We know cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes as well as overall mortality increase the further you move from the equator. And we know there is a strong correlation between blood levels of vitamin D and the latitudes at which people live.

The risk of heart disease and heart attack dramatically drop in the summer, and go way up in the winter.

The more sunshine you get (the higher your vitamin D levels) the healthier you are. We have known this. It is why vitamin D has garnered so much recognition. Many people think vitamin D deficiency is the root cause of our downward spiraling health.

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with nearly every chronic illness you can think of.

And most of us are deficient. (r, r)

Up to 85% of Americans and nearly 95% of senior citizens don’t have adequate levels of vitamin D. Deficiencies are even more common in people with darker skin because not only are they living indoors like the rest of the modern world, but they have a “thicker shield” as well.

Less sunlight + more melanin = people with darker skin suffering higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Diseases that are all lessened with more sunlight exposure.

Sunscreen or Cigarettes

The association between the sun, vitamin D, and health are so strong it led Dr. Lindqvist to wonder:

Could a lack of sun exposure underlie so many of our chronic illnesses?

After years of research, the evidence is compelling. So compelling, in fact, Lindqvist equates SPF 50 to a pack of Marlboros.

“Avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor of a similar magnitude as smoking in terms of life expectancy.”

Avoidance of sun exposure as a risk factor for major causes of death: a competing risk analysis of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden cohort. (r)

Sun exposure is known for increasing Vitamin D production, which is immensely important. But that’s not it.

Sun exposure also releases a number of other critical compounds in the body like nitric oxide which lowers blood pressure and serotonin and endorphins which make you feel good. It regulates circadian rhythms that improve sleep. It’s been shown to decrease the risks of cancers, mental health disorders, autoimmune diseases, and even improve fertility and metabolic syndrome. (r, r, r, r, r, r)

Is it a coincidence that people with darker skin, living further away from the equator, and largely indoors with a modern lifestyle have increased risk of many of modern diseases of civilization?

Popular media and medicine advocate for sun avoidance. Lather on the sunscreen, put on the gigantic hat, cover up. But could doing so severely undermine your health?

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: Skin Cancer

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Skin cancer.

Yes, we know that sun exposure is linked with skin cancers. However, not all skin cancers are the same. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are rarely fatal. For every 100 people that die from cardiovascular diseases, about 1 dies from skin cancer.

The deaths associated with sunlight deprivation far outweigh that from sun exposure.


Melanoma is the deadly type of skin cancer. It’s quite rare (1-3% of all new skin cancers).

Sun exposure isn’t the problem though. Outdoor workers have half the melanoma rate as indoor workers. Rather, the risk stems from being indoors 24/7 and then vacationing for a week and getting burnt to a crisp.

The evidence is that long-term sun exposure is inversely related to melanoma. More sun, less melanoma.

The risks the sun poses is:

  1. Not getting enough
  2. Getting burned (because of 1)

Getting regular sun not only decreases your chances of getting melanoma but various other cancers too. Regular sun exposure increases your life expectancy and decreases the likelihood of developing most of the chronic diseases of modern world. (r, r, r, r, r, r, r)

Updated Sun Exposure Guidelines

The current sun exposure guidelines need to step out of the dark ages. They are on par with a dentist recommending people not to eat because food causes cavities.

Moreover, the current sun exposure guidelines seem to be written for the highest “risk” population – pasty white people like myself. I put “risk” in quotes for a reason. Because it ignores the risk associated with not getting enough sun exposure.

Further, even this high “risk” category of white people on a whole don’t get enough sun. And guidelines completely disregard that people with darker skin need more sun.

Darker people rarely get melanoma. If you look a various races of people, 1 in 100,000 African Americans get melanoma (and it’s generally not the kind caused by sun exposure), 5 in 100,000 Hispanics, 26 in 100,000 Caucasians.

Whether white or black, the amount of sun exposure we get in today’s modern culture is woefully inadequate. Unless you work outdoors the probability is close to certain you aren’t getting enough sunshine to optimize your health and longevity.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: The Changing Tide

The good news is that several countries have realized avoiding the sun is dangerous.

In Australia the dermatologists adopted a more balanced approach to sun exposure:

“Ultraviolet radiation from the sun has both beneficial and harmful effects…. A balance is required…the benefits of sun exposure may extend beyond the production of vitamin D…[like] reduction in blood pressure, suppression of autoimmune disease, and improvements in mood.”

The Australasian College of Dermatologists (r)

They go on to say that when the UV index is below 3 “sun protection is not recommended unless near snow or other reflective surfaces. To support vitamin D production, spend some time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered.”

Here’s my simple guidelines:

  • Don’t get burned – if this means using sunscreen – than use it. If you have fairer skin and need sunscreen to avoid burning, spend some time in the sun without the sunscreen applied and some time with it. If you have darker skin, know that you need more time in the sun and need less protection.
  • Get some sun every day you possibly can. Not only will you be getting the huge benefits associated with sunshine, you will also be less likely to burn, and thus decrease your risk from UV radiation.
  • Mid-day is the best time to get sun. This is when UVB rays, the wavelength that produces vitamin D, is highest.
  • Fair-skinned people can nearly maximise vitamin D in about 20 minutes during solar noon with adequate skin exposure. The darker the skin, the more time you need.

Or even more simply: Sun’s out, guns out.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: Vitamin D

We need to talk about the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D. Because that description is a half truth.

Sun exposure is important for many reasons beyond Vitamin D. But Vitamin D production via the sun hitting our skin is important.

As I mentioned, the research is quite clear – low Vitamin D in the blood is associated with nearly every chronic illness – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, osteoporosis. You name it.

Of the 30,000 genes in your body, vitamin D affects nearly 10% of them.

And most of modern society is deficient. (r, r)

Vitamin D Supplementation

Vitamin D3 is a soluble steroid hormone. It forms when the sun hits your skin thereby converting a cholesterol derivative into vitamin D3.

[FYI – You need adequate cholesterol in your diet to produce sufficient D3]

The problem is that sunscreen blocks this process.

The solution, of course, is just take a vitamin D pill, right?

But there’s been a lot of research on vitamin D. Numerous clinical trials show that supplemental vitamin D confers no benefits. It doesn’t prevent cancer or heart disease. It doesn’t even reduce the risk. (r)

Further, vitamin D is connected with other molecules and processes many of which are not fully understood. Take Vitamin K2 for example.

If you are taking vitamin D you need more K2. And taking a Vitamin D supplement without balancing K2 can have adverse health effects. K2 helps direct calcium. It can send it to your bones and teeth making them strong. But if you mess with this balancing act it can direct calcium to your arteries, hardening them, and leading to atherosclerosis.

As far as supplementation, all we have is best guesses. From the research I’ve done, my best guess is that for every 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3, you need 100-200 micrograms of K2.

But instead of guessing and trying to supplement your way out of deficiencies and create an appropriate balance via pharmaceuticals, I’d recommend going the natural route – sun and diet.

Vitamin D and Diet

We have epidemic levels of vitamin D deficiency because we live indoors, lather up with sunscreen, and cover up with any hint of sun exposure.

But our modern diet is exacerbating the situation. The modern diet is a plant-based diet. And while it’s tough to get enough Vitamin D via diet the only chance is via animal-based foods. (r)

Arctic Populations

Many people, like the Inuit who lived at latitudes up to 80° as well as our ancestors of the Ice Ages, had perhaps less sunlight than we get today. They didn’t take Vitamin D supplements. They stayed covered up in the cold. And evidence suggests they didn’t suffer from vitamin D deficiencies.

There was a study on the Inuit living in Greenland that showed the more modern foods they ate including fruits, vegetables, and breads, the lower their vitamin D level was in the blood. But the Inuits who ate closer to their traditional animal-based diet had higher vitamin D levels.

A similar test was done in Russia among two groups of Komi. One group still ate their traditional diet of reindeer, and the other group, which lived in an adjacent town, had adopted a westernized diet. Although both groups got similar sun exposure, the group with the modern diet were deficient in Vitamin D while the those eating their traditional meat-based diet had normal levels. (r, r, r, r, r, r, r)

Vitamin D – Active vs Inactive

When we get Vitamin D (from the diet or the sun) it is mostly in the inactive version. It has to be converted to the active version. Fructose disrupts this conversion.

The combination of eating less animal-based products (that provide the major source of dietary vitamin D that we need) and the increase in carbs and sugar, particularly fructose that blocks conversion of inactive to active D3, has led to widespread vitamin D deficiency.

Some plant-based foods have Vitamin D2, a version we have to convert to D3, but this conversion ranges from not-so-good to downright awful. Vitamin D3 that we make from the sun or get via meat-based food is nearly 90% more effective than D2.

Further, in areas with limited sunlight, meat has shown to be protective against rickets, a bone disease caused by vitamin D deficiency. (r, r)

Vitamin D is important and the best way to get it is sun, red meat, and fatty fish.

I’d recommending testing your Vitamin D levels. There are two tests commonly offered, you want to order the 25(OH)D (aka 25-hydroxyvitamin D). I’d say optimal ranges are 40-80 ng/ml, though you’ll often see 20 as the bottom range cutoff, which I think is too low.

Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance: Conclusions

Modern health guidelines seem to be always directing us to replace something natural with something artificial. And it’s usually a mistake.

A vitamin D pill can’t replace the sun. The sunscreen they recommend wearing at any hint of sun exposure covers your skin in a endocrine disruptor. The ingredients also often contain oxybenzone which mutates DNA of corals and destroys reefs. (r)

The advice to smear on synthetic block to protect you from the life-giving sun is a curious one. I’m going to stick with “sun’s out, guns out.”

If you would like to learn more about optimizing your health and fitness, I’d highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

20 Replies to “Health Dangers of Sun Avoidance”

  1. What about mineral sunscreens vs. chemical ones? I too am worried about the absorption of the chemicals in most sunscreen, especially for my grandson…..wouldn’t it be better to only use zinc oxide? Your thoughts……

    1. Use clothing that blocks the Sun rays instead. Sunblock typically doesn’t block the harmful rays and any man made chemical will put anyone at risk of cancer. Make sure to cut out seed oils and your grandson will be able to spend more time out in the Sun as his skin gains color.

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