The advice is ever-present and official: Slather on the sunscreen and keep evil, cancer-causing rays of the sun away from your body at all times. But in a piece at Outside, Rowan Jacobsen presents a provocative counterpoint. Rounding up research from a "rogue band of researchers," he makes the case that the nation's strict sunscreen guidelines might be doing more harm than good. At least some exposure to the sun, these researchers say, can benefit the body in complex ways. What's more, the idea that vitamin D supplements can replace sunlight looks increasingly suspect. To be sure, the piece comes with caveats: Sunburns are bad, especially for kids, and people—especially "pasty office workers"—who spend most of their time indoors shouldn't head to the beach and get "zapped" without precaution because "that's a recipe for melanoma."
Still, melanoma is relatively rare compared to less serious forms of skin cancer such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, which are rarely fatal, writes Jacobsen. Consider this jarring quote from a dermatologist: "When I diagnose a basal-cell skin cancer in a patient, the first thing I say is congratulations, because you're walking out of my office with a longer life expectancy than when you walked in." The idea is that people who get carcinomas tend to be healthy sorts who get plenty of outdoor exercise and sunlight. Jacobsen likens mainstream thinking about sunscreen to the now-debunked idea that margarine is far healthier than butter. He cautions that everyone must assess and decide for themselves, but his own choice is made: "I'm stepping into the light." Read the full story, which has more details on the research mentioned above. (Read more sunscreen stories.)