With the coming of spring and summer, you don’t have to look very far to find “experts” insisting that if you plan to spend any time outdoors, you should limit your sun exposure as much as possible. Many doctors advise their patients to cover up or slather themselves with sunscreen.

The warnings aren’t just for perpetual sun worshipers, but for people who are just going about their daily activities, such as walking to and from their cars, mowing the lawn or hanging their elbows out the window while driving.

With all the cautions about it being the leading cause of skin cancer, not to mention wrinkles and premature aging, you might think fair-skinned people from Sweden would avoid the sun like the plague. But scientists in Sweden conducted a study revealing that it’s sun avoidance that’s statistically more liable to kill people, not the other way around.

The study, published in Journal of Internal Medicine,1 asserts that women, specifically, who make it a habit to expose themselves to sunlight for a limited amount of time per day have a lower mortality rate than those who avoid it.

A caveat is in order, however: Anyone who gets too much sun has a higher risk of developing skin problems, including cancer. Getting a serious sunburn is as unwise as it ever was, but the fact is, you need daily sun exposure to stay healthy.

To reflect this, scientists have recently asked public health entities to do an “about face” on their previous (and erroneous) stance that sun exposure is unhealthy and, further, to emphasize that moderate but consistent amounts of sun are healthy.

‘D’ Isn’t Really a Vitamin; They Gave It the Wrong Name

If you ever wondered why other vitamins are derived from the foods you eat, but what you know as vitamin D comes from the sun, you were on the right track. According to the Endocrine Society’s Hormone Health Network, the “vitamin D” designation is a misnomer:

“This often-misunderstood ‘vitamin’ is not a vitamin — it is a prohormone. Prohormones are substances that the body converts to a hormone. In fact, unlike other vitamins, only about 10 percent of the vitamin D the body needs comes from food (such as dairy products and oily fish), and the rest the body makes for itself.”2

Your body makes vitamin D in a chemical reaction when sunlight hits your skin. It works by binding to a protein called the vitamin D receptor, which is present in nearly every cell and affects many different body processes. It helps your body absorb calcium, which in turn enables your bones to gain strength by “mineralizing” them.

Research indicates that the best way to raise your vitamin D level is not through supplementation, but through sun exposure. It’s crucial for the public to understand that the latest science shows that the real risk is avoiding the sun. But perhaps understanding the problems associated with low vitamin D is a more effective way of communicating how important getting optimal sun exposure is. The top five signs are:

  • Constant aches and pains, which are frequently misdiagnosed
  • Frequent illnesses and infections due to a low immune system
  • Neurological symptoms from headaches to cognitive impairment
  • Fatigue, daytime sleepiness and low back pain
  • Sweaty head, often seen in infants, but can occur at any age


In 2018, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health3 noted that the risk of heart problems and cancer aren’t the only potential problems. Lack of sun exposure is also linked specific cancers, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related macular degeneration.

Contrary to the present narrative, ultraviolet (UV) light is the primary source of vitamin D, as well as other compounds crucial for your health. The authors concluded that “non-burning UV exposure is a health benefit and — in moderation — should be recommended as such.”4

The Risk Factor for Sun Exposure

Researchers wanted to explore the risk factor for all-cause mortality by comparing women, depending on the differences in their sun exposure as a 20-year follow-up of the Melanoma in Southern Sweden (MISS) cohort.5

Recruited between 1990 and 1992, 29,518 Swedish-born women between the ages of 25 and 64 years of age and with no history of cancer supplied detailed information regarding their sun exposure habits, as well as “potential confounders” such as marital status, education level, alcohol consumption, disposable income and number of births.

In 2000, physical exercise and individual body mass index (BMI) were added to the questionnaire. However, there may be a link between BMI and vitamin D levels, as one study noted that a higher BMI leads to lower vitamin D levels.6

People with a high BMI also don’t get the same increase in vitamin D levels by UV radiation as lean subjects do.7 Four questions supplied the basis for the study, with options for frequency, including “never”:

  • How often do you sunbathe during the summertime?
  • Do you sunbathe during the winter, such as on vacation to the mountains?
  • Do you use tanning beds?
  • Do you go abroad on vacation to swim and sunbathe?