(Are we really dying for a tan?)
Despite all the warnings of skin cancers, people worldwide continue to worship the sun - but are the effects of the sun all bad for people? In this week's BMJ, researchers from the University of Bristol raise the issue that the public should be educated on both the pros and cons of sunlight exposure, so that they can weigh up the associated risks for themselves. Some people, who are not at high risk of suffering skin cancer, may be missing out on the health benefits of the sun, say the team, but they warn this observation shouldn't signal a rush for the sun loungers.
Dr Andrew Ness and colleagues explain that as well as being a major factor in malignant melanomas, sunlight also provides some health benefits. For example, essential vitamin D (produced after exposure to sunlight) has been reported in some studies, say the authors, to have a protective effect against coronary heart disease (there are more deaths from heart attacks during the winter months). They also suggest that being in the sun has a positive effect on mental health, as sitting in the sun is enjoyable and relaxing.
Other health benefits, say the team, include reducing the risk of rickets (caused by vitamin D deficiency); treating certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis; and the incidence of multiple sclerosis.
Ness et al surmise that evidence exists to suggest that in some cases the potential benefits of exposure to sunlight may outweigh the widely publicised adverse effects on the incidence of skin cancer. They stress that this does NOT mean that the advice should now be for the public to increase their exposure to the sun, particularly in light of the thinning of the ozone layer, and that sunworshippers should wait until the conclusions of formal research in this area are made before rushing for their sun loungers.