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Is it safe to sunbathe?



I have suffered with eczema for 60 years. At the early age of 7 just after the war I was given sun-ray treatment on the advice of doctors, and my love affair with the sun began.
June Guy, England

It might give you a temporary sense of well-being, but aside from the skin cancer risks it massively increases skin ageing. Who wants to look like a shrivelled prune?
Gillie Guy, UK

Just two of the comments Talking Point received - read more below

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

Controversy over the health benefits versus the risks of sunbathing is hotting up.

A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says the danger of dying from skin cancer has been exaggerated and the potential benefits from the sun played down.

But the Health Education Authority (HEA) says the study is based on faulty research and could lead people into complacency about skin cancer.

Who do you believe? With sunscreen and common sense can the sun improve our health and well-being or is it something that should be avoided as much as possible? Are you fed up with health scares or do you think it pays to be cautious?

Do you think it is safe to sunbathe?

Background ¦ Your reaction

Your Reaction:

I feel a whole lot better sitting in the sun and looking tanned and healthy than I do sitting in the shade looking pale and wan. Sunbathe, it's what evolution has given us melanin for.
Richard Chalmers, Wales

Sunbathing in moderation is safe and probably healthful. Perhaps the definition of moderation with regard to sunbathing is obscure.
Chris England, USA

Having read the article that caused this fuss, I can't believe the BMJ published such a sloppy piece of work. It blatantly exaggerates the benefits of the sun and seriously downplays the risks, not to mention seriously misrepresenting- virtually to the point of falsehood- Dr Marks work on Vitamin D. The most basic review would have alerted the BMJs editors to this, but they still published it, presumably for a couple of days cheap publicity. Shame on the BMJ which has seriously damaged its reputation by publishing this foolish, misleading and cynical piece of work.
Andy Fell, UK

One study for sunbathing vs. dozens against sunbathing. That is the nature of medical research and I'm sure a meta-analysis (statistical analysis of all published studies) will be in favour of avoiding the sun. This BMJ study alone doesn't make any conclusive statement. It has to be repeated and independently verified, and such is the nature of research which the public is unaware of nowadays. Avoid the sun. The public should only be allowed to make a choice if it is an informed decision, and their knowledge of studies is lacking for one.
Danny Lim, Brunei

Apart from some minor effect with regard to Vitamin D, can someone explain to me how lying in the sun makes one 'fitter' and 'healthier'? I understand fitness to be primarily heart and muscle strength, none of which are in anyway boosted by sunbathing, and the numerous other sedentary pursuits (watching TV, going to the pub, driving) so highly favoured by the British people.
Richard Harrison, UK

As with virtually EVERYTHING in life, extremes are unhealthy. Too much sun could result in skin cancer. Too little has some minor health issues, and mental health issues. As far as premature ageing of skin is concerned, that's purely an ego/aesthetics issue, and therefore subjective and irrelevant. So, yes sunbathing is safe, in moderation and with sensible precautions.
Graeme, England

One of the problems with the pros and cons of sunbathing is that we are not looking at a constant situation with constant conditions at any latitude whatever. What is reasonable today may be disastrous in thirty years from 1999. My own advice is that if, after following your sunbathing routine your skin hurts for days, or blisters, you are obviously over doing exposure to the sun. Repeated damage is dangerous, so do not behave unreasonably, the tan of your skin is a defence mechanism and has little to do with it.
Nabonidus, Canada

As a Texas resident for 20 years, and a Scot by birth, I see more damaged skin than I care to think about. Why not add to the damage by smoking too, then you'll look 20-30 years older by the time your 40.
Ellen Rice, USA

Unfortunately, we will all die of something at some point in our lives ... if having a tanned body makes us feel good, go for it .... we only step through this life, but once. As with anything, moderation is the key to a long and happy existence.
Renee, USA

I agree that people suffering from some sorts of skin ailments benefit from sun exposure. For the rest of the population, prolonged exposure to the sun has no benefits (other than a tan) and some very serious detriments (e.g. Death from cancer and the "leather face" look.) I once met a woman who was in her late thirties with a lovely tan unfortunately she was only 26.
Russ, USA

I would love to see a study performed that compares the incidence of skin cancer among people who routinely work outdoors (and have a protective tan) and those who only infrequently receive exposure. I wonder if the real problem is when people over-expose their skin with little or no protection (natural or chemical).
Rob Hagmaier, USA

Of course it is not safe to sunbathe. I had a particularly bad experience once when my then girlfriend persuaded me to go to a nudist beach. My bits that had never seen the sun before got incredibly burnt and I could not sit down for 4 days. If you are going out you must cover your rude bits.
Michael Norton, England

After nursing patients who have died from skin cancer, I would have to say that we need to protect ourselves in the sun.
Vicky, UK

The sun, to me, is the centre of all life on this planet. To some people, sun exposure should be in moderation. But don't completely dog the sun, there ARE many health contributions the sun makes to us physically and mentally. Happy sunbathing baby!!
Christophe Mader, USA

I enjoy sunbathing and it does indeed make me feel good. But since there is so much alarm about skin cancer and ageing I always now use SFP15 or higher so does that mean that I am actually "sunbathing" or just enjoying the heat of the sun and being outside. I consider myself well protected from the harmful rays whilst doing this.
Stephanie Jeram, USA

The doctors and other medical people say one thing at one time, and then change their minds, we cannot be sure what we should do, due to this factor.
Robert Brown, England

I always feel depressed in the winter, but great in the summer. Nobody will ever convince me that the sun's bad for your health!
Jamie Nicol, England

Everything in moderation, folks!
Jan Fellstrom, UK

I've got fair skin and grew up in a very sunny climate. In the past three months I have had to have four moles removed and am set to get at least two more removed by the end of the summer. I do think though that moderate sun exposure with cream etc for people who can handle it is ok. Personally, I don't like sitting in the sun - it takes me weeks to tan, which fades in two days....then years later I need moles removed (which leave big scars). If you like it tough, enjoy but be careful.
Rosalee, UK

Sunbathing is safer for some than for others. My dermatologist tells me that people with very pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes should expose themselves very little. (Maybe they should find another source for their Vitamin D.) People with darker pigmentation can get away with more exposure and people with very dark pigmentation do in fact suffer when they don't get enough exposure (witness the high incidence of rickets among black kids in the US, especially before Vitamin D was added to milk). I'm very sad to hear about the new study in question because I'm sure it'll increase the incidence of skin cancer.
C Joanna Sheldon, USA

The sun is fine as long as you don't cook away in it. Moderation, yes? I for one am sick of doom and gloom about everything. We can't eat - food is bad for us. We can't go out in the sun, that's bad for us. Shall we all stay indoors and lose the many benefits of sunlight and eat nothing but broccoli and sprouts? Oh, I forgot, sprouts are no good either; latest report says they are dangerous!
Jackie Rund, USA

A sunburn is a warning. It's nature's way of telling you that you've had more than your tolerance of UV, and it's time to get you out of the sun. I've lived in sunny climates all my life, Arizona, California, even Southern Spain, and have seen countless times people ageing before their time or getting skin cancers due to sunbathing recklessness, it's a fool's activity.
Steve Kenney, USA

Even in Australia, where the Ozone layer is thinnest and the risk of cancer very high, many people still enjoy sunbathing. In moderation, not only does it feel good, relax you, help synthesise vitamin D it had also been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, according to recent Aussie research. Having come from the UK I'm a strong believer in Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, depression from lack of sunlight, I think sunlight and sunbathing can only improve the quality of your life.
Jake Cassels, Australia

For any of us with fair skin, the answer to this question is easy: NO, NO, NO!
Jim Redmond, USA

Everything in moderation is fine, but telling people it is alright to sunbathe excessively will only encourage risk-taking and further burdens on the National Health Service.
Frank Acisto, UK

In sensible doses the sun offers vitamins, and a good boost for mental health as well as a nice tan. By being careful with the amount of time spent in the sun, surely we can enjoy its benefits?
Gareth Hagger-Johnson, England

It just reinforces the saying "Everything in Moderation" or "A little of what you fancy does you good".
Maggie Kearney, UK

sunshine is good for soul and body, only joy-killers are against sensible sun worshipping the sun is god!! long live the sun.
Patrick Tummon, South Africa

Before any valuable personal opinion can be formed the facts as provided by scientist must be considered. Having been told all my life to wear sun-tan lotion to avoid the risks associated with skin cancer and the sun I am inclined to think that sun-bathing still entails risk. However, knowledge of vitamin D benefits found from exposure to sunlight combine with this new study and sway me the other way.
The conclusion I would draw therefore is that one must continue to live ones life in a manner that will give happiness and contentment. If that involves sunbathing then so be it. With precaution and a sensible attitude the harm that could be caused may be out-weighed by the joy of the now.
As with anything in life, do not be careless but do not be too careful either.
Leo Kowolik, Chicago, USA

It is obvious that the risk of skin cancer is very low anyway and who's to say that they are all sun related? When you consider that you're twice as likely to die from asbestos induced lung cancer and every year 120,000 people die from smoking related diseases it becomes just a question of weighing up pros and cons.
I suffer from psoriasis and find that sunbathing and also using a sunbed 'cures' the problem for many weeks. What people shouldn't do however, is let themselves burn in the sun which is far different from simply sunbathing.
Colin Jones, UK

Sunbathing, WITHOUT burning, improves skin condition, physical resistance to illness and mood. Sufficient intake of vitamin D in this way arrests mental depression, something I suffer from increased levels of in winter.
Rob Walters, UK

Like everything else - it's ok in moderation !
Karin McNeil, Scotland

A suntan makes me feel better and more confident. By April I feel so depressed by the lack of sun, that I have to go on the sun bed. SAD is for real.!!
Julie Cox, UK

The risk from dying of skin cancer may be less than imagined but the people contracting it is still high and is still a very traumatic experience.
Jane Swindle, UK

As with many 'Health' issues it's all about Moderation. A few hours sunbathing, properly protected by sun cream to avoid burning, is ok. Baking yourself to a dark brown (sun-worshipping) to try and 'impress', will eventually kill you.
Mike Bews, UK

Over-exposure to the sun is well established as increasing your risk of skin cancer. The study may claim this isn't a problem as "you usually don't die". But is horrific facial scarring really ok? It wouldn't do much to relieve my depression!
You only have to talk to Australians to hear their horror stories and see their scars (an Ozzie without the odd skin cancer removal scar is quite rare) to know that it simply isn't worth the risk. And if skin cancer doesn't put you off, then surely the wrinkled, aged-before-its-time look of tanned skin does?
Holly Ellson, UK

Yes I think it safe to sunbathe but not to get sunburnt - there is a difference. Being out in the sun gives me more energy and having a sun tan makes me feel better in myself.
Karen Wilson, Scotland

Sunbathing is great - when applying a little restraint. Health freaks, go forth and do not multiply....
Louis B.A. Zadelaar, Netherlands

Once again, another health scare rears its ugly head. Almost every day we are being told that things are bad for us, and there is no doubt that too much of ANYTHING will be bad for you. We must remember though that we are only on this earth for a short period of time, and if we waste that time constantly worrying whether certain things are bad for us, then we would be leading very sad and pointless lives. I'm off to the pub now to laze in the sun with a couple of pints of beer.
Allaster Finke, UK

It's fine to sunbathe aslong as you don't overdo it and you use sunscreen regularly, and cover up when now and again.
M. Cuming, UK

Sunbathing is safe if you take care not to burn and stay out of the sun between 11:00am and 4:00pm. I have seen people especially from the UK who stay in the sun whole day, then they turn beetroot red and then complain that the sun is not healthy!!! Nothing is healthy if consumed in excess. Same goes for sunbathing!!!
Tanya, UK

A lot of my friends look older than me - they sunbathe fanatically. I've always hated the sun. In some cases it may be justified - but too much sun is bad for fair skinned people.
Bren, Canada

I am a fairskinned redhead so am aware of the dangers of not wearing appropriate sunscreen. I always wear a very high factor of 25 plus, but more importantly keep applying it regularly every 20 minutes or so.
I do believe that excessive exposure to sun can be dangerous, and that large numbers of people believe that wearing a high factor stops skin tanning, so they use a very low factor, so these people need to be educated -- I recently had an outbreak of eczema, having never experienced it before -- every GP I saw wanted to prescribe steroid creams and a Chinese herbal medicine doctor's treatment was the most effective, until I spent a week in Spain where the sun improved the effectiveness of the Chinese herbal medicine twofold.
I now firmly believe that the sun is a great healer.
Sarah, UK

Sun bath is not always advisable for all the people for all the times. Doctors advice is wise.
T V Rayalu, India

I think to expose the sunlight's is very dangerous for anyone and medical cares can't save from radioactive lights. Try to be away from sun for a long time.
Elif, Turkey

As with everything in life 'In Moderation' needs to be the watchword. Avoid the intense midday sun, and don't get burnt is what my parents always told me. We don't get a lot of it here - enjoy it while you can.
Niqi, UK

Let common sense prevail - as the song says use sunscreen, make sure children are well covered and also wearing a sun hat (I guess that goes for bald guys as well!). Like most people I am always happiest when the sun is out but being fair skinned, I know that I have to take it easy. Also, don't be tempted as I was to have a cocktail drinking session on the beach. You'll end up looking like a lobster and VERY dehydrated...
Nicola, UK

I have suffered with eczema for 60 years. At the early age of 7 just after the war I was given sun-ray treatment on the advice of doctors, and my love affair with the sun began. I try to take at least two sunshine holidays a year and without doubt I am fitter, healthier and looking good for my age. There is nothing wrong with sun-bathing if you use sun creams for protection and moisturisers to keep the skin nourished. My life would be a misery without the sun.
June Guy, England

As an Englishwoman living in Glasgow I'm grateful for any sunshine that comes my way. My son, born last May and otherwise in perfect good health, was diagnosed with vit. D deficiency at 3 months old: the symptom was that his neck muscles were very weak. He was being breast-fed on demand so the doctor, who was Russian and had seen many similar cases, put it down to lack of sunshine. My guess is that a British doctor would not want to upset a mother by saying I'm afraid your child has a mild case of Rickets because it is a condition we associate with squalor and neglect. Probably they would hand the mother multivitamins for the baby, say no more about it and the case would go unrecorded. How do I know? Because that is exactly what happened to me and my son when, on coming home from Russia, we went to our health centre!
Dr C Spillard, Scotland

I live in Arizona, which happens to be extremely hot and sunny all year round, its always over 110 degrees here in the summer and only gets down to 50 degrees in the winter, we get a lot of sun and the benefits far out weigh the negatives. All you people back in England are voting that it's bad for you because you never get any and when you do you all rush out into it, but off course you are all so pasty and white that you all burn even when it gets to about 70 degrees, if you had more of it I think a lot more of you would say that it is not such a bad thing.
Lee, UK

Of course it's safe to sunbathe. As long as you do it sensibly, put on appropriate sun-factor creams and don't stay out too long if you're getting hot or dehydrated. Sunlight UVA and UVB rays are dangerous in high doses, and so is drinking too much beer. You can still enjoy them both though if you treat them with a certain respect.
Daren, UK

Hooray for Mark Purcell! Like him I am fed up of everyone assuming that everyone else loves the sun and heat. I do not want skin cancer, nor flaking lobster-coloured skin, nor the horrendous headache which inevitably follows when I have had too much exposure to the sun. Anyway - how many people suffer from Ricketts in this country, now that we are all much more aware of dietary needs?
Kate O'Neill, England

It might give you a temporary sense of well-being, but aside from the skin cancer risks it massively increases skin ageing. Who wants to look like a shrivelled prune??
Gillie Guy, UK

It is clear that overexposure of unprotected skin to strong sun is potentially dangerous. But the health lobby has undermined it cause by protesting too much. It is self-evident that (within reason and with a good sun screen) sunbathing can make you feel better. What more proof of this do you need than the millions of pallid Brits who choose to take their holidays in a sunny climate each year? British people do cheer up in the Summer. My experience is that sunshine is good for your mental health and it reduces stress. This debate is also a reflection of one of the major problems we have in the UK at present: the puritans who seem determined to spoil everyone's modest and reasonable pleasures by saying how dangerous everything is. We are just not very good anymore at simply enjoying ourselves.
Anthony, UK

Of course it's safe to sunbathe, but it should not be overdone and a suitable factor block should be used. Neither extreme, sunbathing all the time the sun is out, nor staying in the shade all the time is healthy.
Edward Wallhouse, UK

The prevailing assumption seems to be that people sunbathe solely to get a tan. A combination of factors has discouraged enjoyment of sunshine and the health benefits it brings: media-generated hysteria about skin cancer (not that this should be entirely ignored), the great sun cream rip-off (£9-10 a bottle - I don't think so) and the presentation of only one side of the argument - that sun is bad for you. Part of the latter problem is that the pros are much harder to quantify than the cons (we can count skin cancer cases and deaths easily). It's time we started adopting a more rational and balanced attitude.
Richard Hughson, Scotland

All the study suggested is that a reasonable dose of UV from sunlight can have benefits, this is not news. Everybody knows this. They never suggested that getting sunburnt is not harmful, this is just a typical media-induced argument to liven up an otherwise quiet news day. People are not so stupid that they cannot understand this.
B Warren, UK

Life is too short to worry about cutting out all forms of risky activity; if we only ever did what was deemed "safe" by the latest group of 'experts', we wouldn't be alive, we'd merely be existing. Let's face it: people have been exposed to the sun for thousands of years and the human race hasn't come to an end yet; I for one am not going to get in a panic about something which might, or might not, affect me in 50 years' time. If it's nice weather, I'll go out in the sun, whatever some self-appointed "adviser" says i should do.
Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK

Here we go again. It's yet another issue where the answer isn't either one or the other. I don't think that any authoritative opinion has ever said "stay out of the sun". Neither is the new report from Bristol saying "have all the sun you can get". It can't be a surprise to learn that a moderate exposure is normal, beneficial and healthy. That after all is the environment that we have evolved in.
Andrew Witham, UK

As long as you are sensible about the amount of time spent just sitting in the sun. Getting burnt can't be good.
Karen Elvers, UK

As all things, it seems obvious to me that to strike a balance is best. One should not roast oneself and then again we all know a sunlight is good for many things. Don't over do it is my thing.
Linh, UK

I think anyone sunbathing in Britain is quite safe, possibly a bit eccentric though. As long as people remember to protect themselves when visiting countries that actually have a sunny climate.
Tom, Australia

The potentially lethal effects of the sun have been seen in countries such as Australia who have educated the population in protecting themselves against its effects. Britain receives a shorter exposure of sun in the year but the effects are the same. The benefits that are suggested do not come close to the severe effects that it causes. This is not to say that everyone should avoid contact with sunshine just to take precautions.
Neil Stevens, England

This is the usual media-inspired health squabble. One study has suggested that the dangers of cancer migt be outweighed by the benefits of taking in some sun. But the general consensus from the medical establishment is that it isn't. I shall follow the advice of the majority. In any case it is far too hot today - I am one of the silent millions who are longing for a bit of rain and snow, and who are sick of everyone else assuming that we like being broiled by summer heatwaves.
Mark Purcell, UK

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