STUDY: Health Benefits of Sunbathing FAR Outweigh Risks, World Health Organization Says

Sunbathing dramatically reduces the risk of several types of cancers, autoimmune diseases, bone diseases, type 1 diabetes, depression, and, in proper doses, can even reduce the risk of melanoma, a meta-analysis of studies finds

A growing number of scientists are concerned that public campaigns to protect people from the sun are causing more harm than good. Lack of sun exposure has caused massively more disease than overexposure, say the authors of a meta-analysis weighing the pros and cons soaking in the sun.

Excessive sun exposure accounts for less than 0.1% of the total global disease burden, according to the World Health Organization. And the diseases sun exposure is associated with tend to be relatively benign. The only concerning disease associated with the sun is malignant melanoma, which occurs mainly in the elderly, who lack pigment from underexposure and then get burned when they are exposed. Only one thousandth of a percent of the global population gets melanoma each year.

A much larger annual disease burden of 3.3 billion disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) worldwide is caused by underexposure to the sun, the organization says. DALYs measure how much a person’s expectancy of healthy life is reduced by premature death or disability caused by disease.

This figure includes bone disease, autoimmune diseases and far more life-threatening cancers.

If that’s not enough to get you in your bathing suit and out in the sun, here are 7 more reasons:

1. Vitamin D. The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply. Most cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of outdoor sun exposure. At least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body are now thought to be regulated by the active form of the vitamin.

Clothing, excess body fat, sunscreen, and the skin pigment melanin can make it harder to absorb Vitamin D.

A half-hour in the summer sun in a bathing suit can initiate the release of 50,000 IU vitamin D in white-skinned people and 8,000–10,000 IU in dark-skinned people, meaning dark skinned people may need to spend 5 times as long in the sun to get adequate vitamin D, especially at latitudes farther away from the equator.

“The primary physiologic function of vitamin D is to maintain serum calcium and phosphorous levels,” says Michael Holick, a medical professor and director of the Bone Health Care Clinic at Boston University Medical Center.

2. Avoid Rickets. As humans migrated out of Africa to higher latitudes, they had less ultra violet radiation exposure and wore more clothing, the report says. By the 1600s, peoples in these regions covered their whole body, even in summertime.  By the late 1800s, approximately 90% of all children living in industrialized Europe and North America had rickets, a bone softening disease, which can cause bowed legs and seizures.

Even today, one in 5 British children and 70 percent of Mongolian children suffer from rickets.

3. Treat Tuberculosis. A  meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that high vitamin D levels reduce the risk of active tuberculosis by 32 percent.

As awareness of the sun’s power against rickets and TB spread in the late 1800s, attitudes toward sun exposure shifted radically. The suntan became a status symbol that signified health and wealth, as only the affluent could afford to vacation by the sea and play outdoor sports.

Phototherapy became a popular medical treatment TB, but rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, gout, chronic ulcers, and wounds.

4. Prevent Cancer . It wasn’t until the 1930s that the U.S. Public Health Service began issuing warnings about skin cancer. While skin cancer can result from too much sun exposure, other cancers can result from too little.

Living at higher latitudes increases the risk of dying from Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as breast, ovarian, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and other deadly cancers.

Additionally continued sun exposure after melanoma is diagnosed is linked with increased survival rates, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and occupational exposure to sunlight actually reduced melanoma risk in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Many studies have shown that cancer-related death rates decline as one moves toward the equator.

“As you head from north to south, you may find perhaps two or three extra deaths [per hundred thousand people] from skin cancer,” says one of the studies authors. “At the same time, though, you’ll find thirty or forty fewer deaths for the other major cancers.”

Maintaining a serum vitamin D level of 55–60 ng/mL could cut rate of breast and other cancers in temperate regions by half, said Cedric F. Garland, a medical professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Garland calls vitamin D “the single most important action that could be taken by society to reduce the incidence of cancer in North America and Europe, beyond not smoking.”

5. Prevent Diabetes. A Finnish study published in The Lancet showed children who received 2,000 IU vitamin D per day from 1 year of age had an 80% decreased risk of developing type 1 diabetes later in life. Vitamin D also helps protect type 2 diabetes patients regulate their blood sugar.

6. Sleep Better. “When people are exposed to sunlight or very bright artificial light in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner, and they enter into sleep more easily at night,” says the study’s lead author, Mark Nathaniel Mead, a nutritionist and integrative oncology consultant at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Exposure to bright morning light has been effective against insomnia, premenstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), he says.

“The light we get from being outside on a summer day can be a thousand times brighter than we’re ever likely to experience indoors,” says melatonin researcher Russel J. Reiter of the University of Texas Health Science Center. “For this reason, it’s important that people who work indoors get outside periodically, and moreover that we all try to sleep in total darkness.”

7. Enhance Your Mood. Sunbathing helps us produce the happy hormone seratonin and has opiate-like effects on our brains.

So go soak up the sun! Just start in small doses and very gradually increase sun exposure day by day, so you don’t burn!





61 responses to “STUDY: Health Benefits of Sunbathing FAR Outweigh Risks, World Health Organization Says”

  1. Anne Sabin Avatar
    Anne Sabin

    I hear you, and I dearly miss sunbathing, but I am a melanoma survivor, so that is a cancer Inam sure Inneed tonguard against for the rest of my life. I can still go out before 10 and after 5 with my lotions on! ☀️

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Additionally continued sun exposure after melanoma is diagnosed is linked with increased survival rates, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and occupational exposure to sunlight actually reduced melanoma risk in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

    2. sarah Avatar

      I wish this woman would get her facts straight. this article is complete garbage! Speak to the Melanoma organisations, there is enough of them!

      1. Sara Burrows Avatar

        There are two studies linked in the article about how gradual sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, and continued sun exposure after diagnosis increases chances of survival. Argue with the studies.

        1. Cathy Schroeder Avatar
          Cathy Schroeder

          Please show the study you used for your article sun is killing me. Melanoma will kill you. Since I have heard surgery and infusions I would like to see what you saw

        2. Johnny Walker Avatar
          Johnny Walker

          Well DUH. Of course gradual introduction to the sun will reduce chances of melanoma. That’s what a tan is: Protection against the sun, and it takes time to build one up naturally.

          That doesn’t mean that being exposed to the sun is better for cancer than NOT being exposed to the sun.

    3. Kerry Avatar

      Read the article again, you missed a very relavent part you may benefit from

    4. Marilyn Avatar

      If you are a melanoma survivor then I am truly shocked to read that you miss sunbathing. Sunbathing is what likely caused your melanoma. How can you miss something that has the potential to kill you? Sounds like a ridiculous thing to say.

      1. Joe Avatar

        Sorry but our science is far behind the updated knowledge. Melanoma is a disease caused by artificial BLUE light in all our homes and offices. If you look at the actual stats … Most people get Melanoma in places on the body that get little direct sun exposure. Also people who work outdoors get less Melanoma then people who work indoors. People who get more sun exposure get less Melanoma. Its because sunlight has a protective affect against cancers and disease … its the artificial blue light causing health problems. Seems like our Cancer Societies are always many years behind admitting they were wrong and getting up to date on new current research data. Most likey to protect their hundreds of millions of dollars of funding YES, many people will lie to you when millions of dollars are at stake ! Now telling people to get some sun is free, no reason to lie here … no money at stake as anyone can go outside in the sun anytime for free. Also think of the new data this way. If sun bathing actually prevents so many diseases … imagine all the money lost by the drug companies and cancer societies when people do not need expensive treatments anymore. They stand to lose billions of dollars. Thats why we have the great sunshine was bad lie years ago. But the truth and the data cannot be hidden anymore. The lies are up ! There are 4 books now writen about all the health benefits of sun bathing … 4 … but people don’t seem to even have a clue about all this new information backed by science and real data. People who get less sun die younger of all kinds of more deadly diseases. That’s a true fact ! Time to do some research people and get up to date on life saving info. THE WORLD HHEALTH ORGANIZATION just said the HEALTH BENEFITS of sunbathing FAR OUTWEIGH any risks !!! Time to wake up about sun tanning and your health !

        1. John Avatar

          Big Pharma has made billions out of convincing doctors to tell us we must use sunscreen. We now have a generation that lather their children with these chemicals. Has it reduced skin cancer rates, answer is a definite “NO”.

        2. Dave Avatar

          Hey Joe,

          You should come to Australia or NZ before you talk crap about what causes Melanoma. We have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.. which are cause by.. the sun!

          We are also affected by the hole in the ozone layer so the sun here is particularly harsh. But the science is there it is a fact skin cancer can and is caused by the sun and sunburn. I think you’re also wrong to say that people who work outside have less skin cancer.

          I agree it is good to get some sun for things such as vitamin D, good mood and some other things but in Australia in Summer the sun is dangerous.

          1. Viv Avatar

            We also slap on the sunscreen in NZ like it’s a survival blanket, which when you read studies, sunscreen is actually a factor in increasing the chances of getting skin cancer. So maybe it’s not just the ozone layer we have here in NZ. A good book to read on the subject is Ian Wisharts books on Vitamin D and Show me The Money Honey on Pharmac.

      2. Laura Moulton Avatar
        Laura Moulton

        I miss smoking.

      3. Jenna Avatar

        From You are severely misinformed. Sunbathing is not usually a cause for melanoma. You have more risk from tanning beds and family traits.

        “Some melanomas occur in parts of the body that are rarely exposed to sunlight. These melanomas often have different gene changes than those in melanomas that develop in sun-exposed areas.

        When melanomas run in families, gene changes (mutations) that greatly increase the risk of melanoma are often passed from one generation to the next. Familial (inherited) melanomas most often have changes in tumor suppressor genes such as CDKN2A (also known as p16) and CDK4 that prevent them from doing their normal job of controlling cell growth. This could eventually lead to cancer.”

    5. Kees Avatar

      Most sun lotions create cancer!

    6. Kim Avatar

      Did you read the article closely? It said continued sun exposure after melanoma diagnosis increases survival rates.

      1. Emile Rougier Avatar
        Emile Rougier

        So she should risk her life outthere cause she read an article saying it’s ok, opposite to every doctors’s diagnostics ?

    7. Tim Avatar

      No UVB before 10am and after 5pm
      So no Vit d
      Simple test if your shadow is shorter then you are tall ,you are getting UVB rays and producing vitamin D:)

  2. Jodie Avatar

    Are you sure 1 in 5 British children have rickets?

      1. Elody Avatar

        3.16 per 100,000 is not 1:5. But it is higher in Europe than the US.

  3. Ramona Avatar

    Lupus is an autoimmune disease… no way I will sunbathe anymore

  4. sarah Avatar

    oh how woefully ill informed you are!!! Not to mention totally dangerous. Your stats and facts are utter fiction!Ive had melonoma and was first diagnosed in my 30s! Any ‘tan’ other than out of a bottle means you have caused sun damage to it, ie the very thing that causes Melanoma. I coukd go on and on…but before you spout any more tripe. please speak to Melanoma UK, who will actually give you accurate facts!

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      There are two studies linked in the article about how gradual sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, and continued sun exposure after diagnosis increases chances of survival. Argue with the studies.

      1. karen Avatar

        Go talk too MD ANERSON about melanoma studies. This article is BS. AND IS THIS THE BEST RESPONSE YOU CAN FIND?

      2. Sarah Walters Avatar
        Sarah Walters

        The very studies you link say that sunbathing when the UV level is below 3 is beneficial, but otherwise the SunSmart message still applies.

        Here in Australia, we’ve known that for ages.

    2. Mary Avatar

      Regarding tanning lotions, are you not poisoning yourself slowly by soaking all of those chemicals into your skin? Have you ever read the ingredient list on the back? Poisons and more poisons. Also a melanoma survivor, mine was most likely caused by the tanning bed I was paying to use. Natural and careful sun exposure is healthy is so many ways! Moderation in EVERYTHING is key. And why are some of you so dang angry and mean with your replies all of the time?! Sheesh.

  5. Rob Avatar

    Your facts are complete fiction. Speak to Melanoma UK who will give you the proper facts. Ask to join Melanomates on FB. So you can see the REAL stats and how deaths from sun exposure and subsequent Melanoma is increasing DRASTICALLY every year.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      There are two studies linked in the article about how gradual sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, and continued sun exposure after diagnosis increases chances of survival. Argue with the studies.

    2. Denise Avatar

      perhaps the drastic increases in Melanoma are linked to the drastic increases in the toxins from sunscreen that are poured onto people these days… as well as all of the other harmful chemicals in the environment, the air, the water, the food, etc….

  6. Jeff Avatar

    Amen… Please keep sunbathing!

  7. Laura Avatar

    Anne Sabin. Did you read this part of the article? “Additionally continued sun exposure after melanoma is diagnosed is linked with increased survival rates, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and occupational exposure to sunlight actually reduced melanoma risk in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology”.

  8. Lisa Avatar

    I’m a melanoma survivor and there is no way you did your homework on the sun being safe for us . Melanoma affects everyone !!! Not just elderly. I know infants who’ve died from it . This is ridiculous!

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      There are two studies linked in the article about how gradual sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, and continued sun exposure after diagnosis increases chances of survival. Argue with the studies.

      1. Laura Bockowski Avatar
        Laura Bockowski

        This seems to be your answer to everything.

  9. Laurie Terrall Avatar
    Laurie Terrall

    You don’t know what you’re saying and you not only put people, in genreral, at risk, your inaccurate information about young people is completely irresponsible, putting their lives at risk. I suggest you consult with melanoma experts such as Sancy Leachman, at OHSU dermatology department. She is one of the top melanoma experts in the country.
    “Cutaneous melanoma (hereafter called melanoma) is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer (after lymphomas) and the most lethal form of skin cancer among adolescents and young adults under the age of 30 years in the United States.1” from

  10. Shelley Avatar

    Sun exposure can cause flares or exacerbations of symptoms in at least a couple of auto-immune diseases – one being Dermatomyositis. For this reason staying out of the sun is a necessity for me to avoid flare-ups.

  11. Marilyn Lotton Avatar
    Marilyn Lotton

    We do benefit from small periods of time exposed to the sun but skin cancer and melanoma is on the rise. One person dies every hour from melanoma. No one should be sun bathing. Some of this is false information.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      There are two studies linked in the article about how gradual sun exposure helps prevent melanoma, and continued sun exposure after diagnosis increases chances of survival. Argue with the studies.

      1. James Harada-Down Avatar
        James Harada-Down

        Are you a bot? Every time people make valid critical comments you repeat the same point about their being two studies mentioned in the article. Who wrote the studies and how many are out there that come to opposite conclusion?

        1. Jeff Avatar

          Sara is not a bot, she doesn’t want to argue with those that think that the sun is bad. She is not going to change their minds. She is just trying to educate them. If you think that which gives this earth life would take yours away then you have that to deal with. Those of us that believe we are only getting sicker without the sun. Think for yourselves and make a choice but we all need vitamin D it is essential for life. Cancer is caused by radical cells that form in the body. Vitamin D fights these cells. Do your own research and don’t believe those that profit from your misfortune.

  12. Sherry Avatar

    So now it’s safe to look like a piece of leather? Until I hear it from my dermatologist I’ll keep using sunscreen while I’m in the sun.

  13. Diane Avatar

    My guess is that the closer you get to the equator, the purer the food and water supply will be. Also, people will probably be getting a lot more natural exercise. There can be many factors involved in why people nearer the equator develop fewer cancers.

    1. Larissa Avatar

      It is certainly true that many factors play a role in one’s health and also that many diseases are multifactorial. However, the importance of vitamin D has been shown in thousands of studies and there are other benefits to sun rays the article does not mention (
      It has been shown that just in the UK the is a huge difference in vitamin D deficiency based on latitude and increased rates of cancer, diabetes, TB and MS correlate with that. Also, every organ in our body has vitamin D receptors, which shows its importance. Here is a good website (not just for Scots!! And with links to research articles!) if you want to find out more about the benefit of vitamin D:

      1. Coralie Avatar

        Thanks for this info and link.

  14. Rebecca M Hornsby Avatar
    Rebecca M Hornsby

    everything in moderation

  15. Barbara Avatar

    Somebody was pretty liberal with their interpretation of the WHO position:

    “But 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months is sufficient to keep your vitamin D levels high. Closer to the equator, where UV levels are higher, even shorter periods of exposure suffice.”

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      The study linked in first paragraph is based on data from the WHO that say there are more diseases associated with lack of sun exposure than over exposure.

  16. Gail Avatar

    None of your references actually includes a recommendation from the WHO as your headline indicates. While I may agree with your overall interpretation, the WHO is NOT recommending sun exposure and is in fact recommending the opposite.

    1. Sara Burrows Avatar

      The study linked in first paragraph is based on data from the WHO that say exactly this.

  17. Shell Avatar

    From the posted links:

    1. “The global burden of disease due to UVR exposure” (WHO link).

    Only 9 diseases included in the study. Globally, a lack of sun is leading to the development of rickets and osteomalacia (greater disease burden). Exposure to sun leads to the development of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma, solar keratoses, cataracts and other health conditions (lower disease burden). Sun exposure still increases your risk of skin cancer, but some sun exposure will reduce your risk of developing rickets and osteomalacia.

    2. WHO website:

    “Currently, between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year.”

    “The global incidence of melanoma continues to increase – however, the main factors that predispose to the development of melanoma seem to be connected with recreational exposure to the sun and a history of sunburn. These factors lie within each individual’s own responsibility.”

    3. “Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health”(meta-analysis).

    Low disease burden is not the same as low disease prevalence (prevalence – number of cases of a disease at a given time). “…diseases linked to excessive UVR exposure tend to be relatively benign—apart from malignant melanoma—and occur in older age groups, due mainly to the long lag between exposure and manifestation, the requirement of cumulative exposures, or both. Therefore, when measuring by DALYs, these diseases incur a relatively low disease burden despite their HIGH PREVALENCE.”

    “…excessive sun exposure is an established risk factor for cutaneous malignant melanoma, continued high sun exposure was linked with increased survival rates in patients with early-stage melanoma in a study reported by Marianne Berwick…”. I checked the original study – “Sun Exposure and Mortality from Melanoma”- and this was speculated not proven.

    “Various studies have linked low 25(OH)D levels to diseases other than cancer, raising the POSSIBILITY that vitamin D insufficiency is contributing to many major illnesses.” This means not proven, but most of this article discusses possible not proven connections. Diseases also tend to be multifactorial, and these factors can play a lesser or greater role.

    “A growing number of scientists…argue that the health benefits of UVB radiation seem to outweigh the adverse effects”. UVB causes reddening and sunburn while UVA causes cancer.

    Caution is still advised. “…brief, repeated exposures are more efficient at producing vitamin D. ‘Longer sun exposures cause further sun damage to skin and increase the risk of photo-aging and skin cancer, but do not increase vitamin D production’…”.

  18. Steve Avatar
    The study sited in the first paragraph isn’t from the WHO.


    Please, go ahead and dumb tan all you want. But don’t ask for sympathy.

  19. Alyssa Avatar

    As a medical professional who actually understands how to analyze the way articles are written as well as appraising medical literature, I feel compelled to say that this article is higly irresponsible. Preying on those who do not know better, and who may believe whatever they may read, having faith in authors . I sincerely hope that this was not written in that way, and that maybe the author is victim of believing some other articles. There are no “Meta-Analyses” cited. someone knew, however, that this would be a good claim to make. the funny thing is, and that most people readung this article wouldnt even realize at first glance, there cannnot be any legitamate studiez on this. it wouldnt even make sense that there would be, that would require knowingly exposing subjects to harm; ie having a “treatment” group of subjects with metastatic cancer and exposing them to additional radiation….. here are some actual facts though, not only UV Radiation, but “UV emitting tanning devices” are Group I carcinogens (the worst one); the risk of melanoma is increased by 75% when use of tanning devices occurs before age 30. coincidence that young onset melanoma is more common now?? the link in the first paragraph still doesnt get us any closer to an actual study. bottom line, this is not a reputable medical site, so the articles written are not held to high standards… people should know that. if you want facts that can be supported with actual studies, look at IARC or The American Cancer Society, not some article with links to another article written by a singular author who does not acutally provide citation for thw study they keep referencing… if it even exists… again, this is misinformed and highly irresponsible.

  20. Andrew Avatar

    Interestingly aother study I’ve looked at lately suggests that the exposure to early morning light (with a predominance of Near Infra Red may have a protective effect against the higher UV levels around midday.

  21. Cas Avatar

    I’m not sure why everyone is saying the article stated to go right out and sunbathe all day long? This article included a summarized historical accounting of how sun exposure was perceived throughout the ages and the different diseases it is shown to help. It’s been proven over and over that vitamin D is essential for many bodily functions and the actual absorption of it is essential. Thirty minutes a day in the sun in a bathing suit, or tank top and shorts, is nothing compared to the hours you are awake. The recommended minimum of 30 minutes can be done with a walk around town with your kids or pup, or even an hour at the park. Why does everyone always act so extremely for or against something? Every single person has a different genetic code. So no one thing is going to be the same for another person. Talking percentages and what is better for the majority is not saying it will work for everyone!! The rise in melanoma cases is usually due to extreme changes in sun exposure (going from no sun to excessive sun exposure without proper preparation) and lack of protection (sunscreen). It’s been proven that lower income areas are more prone to skin cancer because of a lack of sunscreen usage. Even still, vitamin D is essential. I have seasonal depression and need sunlight. My relative was prescribed “suntanning” by her doctor (gasp! A real doctor prescribed suntanning!! The world must be ending). A girlfriend of mine has to use a UV lamp at home for her health. Again – we can all agree that everyone is different and what works for one will not work for another. No need to belittle, berate, or ridicule. We’re all adults!!

    1. Johnny Walker Avatar
      Johnny Walker

      Just take Vitamin D supplements. Also the doctor who prescribed “suntanning” must be a quack. You need daily top ups, but you don’t need to lie in the sun. A full spectrum light bulb is enough for SAD. What possible other solution could there be if you’re prone to winter blues? Sunbathing… in the summer?!

  22. Monique Avatar

    It certainly helps if you provide the citations/ links to the actual studies, and not just note them. I’ve looked up on of the studies.

  23. Amber Avatar

    This is the most UNSCIENTIFIC article I have EVER READ. Not only am I a scientist, I’m also a nurse and a melanoma survivor. Your “facts” are COMPLETELY MADE UP!! You cannot base an entire article on the TWO journal articles that vaguely “support” your radical ideas and spout them off to the general public. Not only is that grossly irresponsible, it’s immoral!

  24. fathia Avatar

    we have always sunny days in our country Libya so that I never see anybody with melanoma. thanks 4 sun rays

  25. Iain F MacMillan Avatar
    Iain F MacMillan

    My sympathy to those that actually believe this article.
    If it matters to you so much then do some research NOT using blogs or vlogs as any form of source.

    I am not aware of any laws broken here but If certainly wish for the author of this insane nonsense to be investigated for an agenda and be prosecuted.

    It’s also telling sign that the author Sarah Burrows is a pale redhead, a group highly prone to sunburn.