A Swedish study5 published last year followed nearly 30,000 middle-aged to older women for up to 20 years. The average follow-up was 15 years. At the outset, they asked a number of questions about sun exposure, such as: Do you sunbathe? Do you take vacations in sunny areas in the winter? Do you garden with short sleeves and shorts? And, do you use sunbeds? What they discovered was that women who avoided the sun were twice as likely to die over the course of the study.
The researchers attributed this finding to the influence of vitamin D. What this study shows is that chronic sun exposure appears to be associated with less mortality. It’s also the first study to show that women who use tanning beds live longer than those who don’t. This is in direct conflict with what almost every dermatologist will say, including the former US Surgeon General, who was a dermatologist. It’s unfortunate, but the danger of almost any specialist is that they fail to take the broader perspective.
Dermatologists see and treat the effects of UV overexposure every day, and therefore tend to ignore or minimize the other side of the equation, which is that sun exposure has a wide array of health benefits—one being a reduction in overall mortality as evidenced in this study. Such benefits are easily overlooked though, since no one will think to attribute a longer life and/or absence of disease to the fact that they spent time in the sun!