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sunscreen blog A Look at Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with millions of new cases each year. The prevailing advice to prevent skin cancer has long been to avoid the sun and slather on sunscreen. But is this fear of sunlight justified? At Life in Balance Wellness in Travelers Rest, Dr. Chris offers a nuanced perspective on the role of sun exposure in our health.

The Paradox of Sun Exposure

While it’s true that excessive sun exposure can lead to relatively benign skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the data suggests a more complex relationship between sunlight and our health. Ironically, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma, appears to be less influenced by sun exposure than commonly thought.

The Role of Sunlight in Health

Sunlight is essential for our well-being. It helps our bodies synthesize vitamin D, a crucial nutrient for bone health, immune function, and mood regulation. Not getting enough sunlight can increase your risk of dying and may even increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Despite decades of warnings about the dangers of sun exposure, there hasn’t been a significant reduction in skin cancer deaths.

Historical Perspective on Sunlight

Historically, sunlight was used as a therapy for various ailments. Patients were encouraged to spend time in the sun to treat conditions like influenza and tuberculosis. This therapeutic use of sunlight underscores its health benefits, which modern medicine sometimes overlooks. While it is important to stay well-balanced and be smart about sun safety, we also need to remember the natural health benefits of the sun and it’s affects.

The Swedish Study

A compelling 20-year prospective study in Sweden evaluated 29,518 women and found that those who avoided the sun had a significantly higher risk of death than those with regular sun exposure. Women who avoided the sun were 50% more likely to die than those with moderate sun exposure and 130% more likely to die than those with high sun exposure. Remarkably, non-smokers who avoided the sun had the same risk of dying as smokers who got sunlight.

Types of Skin Cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma

  • Prevalence: 80% of skin cancer cases
  • Fatality Rate: Close to 0%
  • Risk Factors: Sun exposure, fair skin, family history

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Prevalence: Second most common
  • Survival Rate: 95%, drops to 56% if metastasized


  • Prevalence: 1% of skin cancers
  • Fatality Rate: Highest among skin cancers
  • Sun Exposure: Only 22% found in sun-exposed areas

Interestingly, a study of 528 people with solar elastosis, a skin change from excessive sun exposure, showed they were 60% less likely to die from melanoma. Additionally, outdoor workers, who get significantly more sun exposure, have a lower incidence of malignant melanoma than indoor workers.

The Irony of Sunscreen

Many sunscreens contain harmful chemicals. A 2021 report found benzene, a known carcinogen, in 78 popular sunscreen brands! While protecting your skin from burns is crucial, choosing sunscreens without harmful additives is equally important.

Dr. Chris’s Advice

At Life in Balance Wellness, we advocate for a balanced approach to sun exposure. Enjoy the sun, but avoid getting burned. Sunlight is vital for your health, and with mindful exposure, you can reap its benefits while minimizing risks.

This summer, as we enjoy the longer days, water, and vacations – let’s also take a moment to appreciate the natural world around us. Step outside, soak up the sun and remember the importance of balance in all aspects of life.

Stay healthy & well, Dr. Chris and the Life in Balance Wellness Team

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