The Harm of Avoiding Direct Sunlight


For years, we've been told to slather on sunscreen to protect against the sun's harmful rays. The message is simple: too much sun equals skin cancer. But what if avoiding the sun altogether poses its own set of risks? In today's post, we are going to delve deep into the lesser-known dangers associated with lack of sun exposure, from increased risks of various types of cancers to other serious health issues.

The Debate Around Sun Exposure

Benefits of Sun Exposure

One of the most polarizing debates in healthcare is about the pros and cons of sun exposure. Sunlight, in moderation, offers a myriad of health benefits. From reducing the risk of many types of solid organ cancers to lowering the incidence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, the sun can be a literal life-saver. It's also instrumental in improving conditions like seasonal affective disorder and may even help alleviate symptoms of other ailments like rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia.

Health Benefits of Sun Exposure Explanation
Reduction in solid organ cancers Sunlight may have protective effects against cancers like colon, breast, pancreas, etc.
Lower incidence of hypertension Sunlight helps in the production of nitric oxide, which can lower blood pressure.
Improvement in seasonal affective disorder Exposure to sunlight can improve mood by releasing serotonin.
Potential relief in other conditions Some studies suggest sunlight can alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric diseases.

Risks of Sun Exposure

However, the sun is not without its risks. Overexposure to sunlight can cause basal cell and squamous cell cancers, which while not as dangerous as melanoma, are still concerning. According to an article, there are 3.5 million cases per year and 2,000 deaths attributed to these forms of skin cancer. And if you've ever had to get an actinic keratosis, squamous cell, or basal cell removed, you know it's not a pleasant experience.

Risks of Sun Exposure Explanation
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers Overexposure to sunlight can lead to these types of skin cancer.
Unpleasant treatment processes Removing these skin cancers often requires surgery, which can be an unpleasant experience.

The Lesser-Known Dangers of Avoiding the Sun

Incidence of Other Types of Cancers

Now, let's look at the flip side. While avoiding the sun might protect you from basal cell and squamous cell cancers, evidence suggests it may actually increase the risk of other types of cancers like colon, breast, pancreas, ovary, brain, and kidney cancers. Not only that, but the blood cancer multiple myeloma has also been associated with lower levels of sunlight exposure.

Association with Distance from the Equator

Data suggests that as you move further from the equator, the rates of these other types of cancers increase. This raises the question of whether this is a causal or mechanistic association. Could it be that lower levels of sunlight actually contribute to the higher incidence of these cancers?

Distance from Equator Increased Risks
Further from equator Higher rates of colon, breast, pancreas, ovary, brain, and kidney cancers as well as multiple myeloma.

Morbidity Associated with Avoiding Sun Exposure

The morbidity rates associated with these other types of cancers are significantly higher compared to non-melanoma skin cancers. This means that avoiding the sun could lead to a substantial loss of life due to these other more dangerous cancers.

The Problem with Sunscreen

How Sunscreen Blocks Sun Benefits

Sunscreen, while effective at blocking harmful UV rays, also inhibits the body's ability to synthesize Vitamin D, which has numerous health benefits. Plus, some sunscreens contain chemicals that could potentially have their own health risks, adding another layer of concern.

The Paradox of Sun Protection

So, we find ourselves in a paradox. While we use sunscreen to protect our skin, we may actually be contributing to higher risks of other medical conditions.

Striking a Balance

Responsible Sun Exposure

It's not about shunning the sun completely, but rather about how we can strike a responsible balance. Here are some tips:

  • Opt for early morning or late afternoon sun, avoiding peak UV exposure times.
  • Limit exposure to 15-20 minutes for fair-skinned individuals and 20-30 minutes for those with darker skin.
  • Use protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts and hats.

Alternatives to Sunscreen

If you want to avoid sunscreen due to its potential downsides, consider:

  • Wearing UV protective clothing
  • Seeking shade during peak sun hours
  • Using physical barriers like umbrellas


The conversation around sun exposure is not as black and white as it seems. While we must take precautions to avoid skin cancer, shunning the sun completely can have its own set of grave consequences. The key is to strike a balance. Talk to your functional healthcare provider about what level of sun exposure is right for you.

By understanding both the risks and benefits, you can make an informed decision about your sun exposure habits and overall health.