Myth: There is no safe exposure to UV radiation

The claim that there is “no safe exposure to ultraviolet radiation” is a patently absurd overstatement that should alert you that the speaker is either trying to scare you or completely ignorant of some rather obvious facts.

Our skin has evolved with UV radiation in mind — e.g., vitamin D is necessary for bone health, vitamin D is available from very few foods and humans make vitamin D through UV exposure of the skin.

While the vitamin D phenomenon is case-closed by itself on UV safety, below are a few other facts that prove exposure (as opposed to over-exposure) to UV radiation is safe.

1. Inconvenient reality of less melanoma in outdoor workers.

“Outdoor workers can get three to nine times as much solar UV radiation exposure as indoor workers. Paradoxically, outdoor workers have a lower incidence of cutaneous malignant melanoma compared to indoor workers,” researchers state in a 2012 study in Environmental Health. If the notion that any or more UV exposure increased the risk of melanoma, then we would expect to see more melanoma in outdoor workers who obviously have much greater exposure than indoor workers to UV radiation.

2. Widespread exposure to UV, but relatively little cancer.

The vast majority of the the population is significantly exposed to sunlight during occupational, routine and recreational activities. An additional 20-30 million people tan indoors every year. Despite all this exposure to UV radiation, the American Cancer Society estimates that only 1 in 40 males (1 in 63 females) will develop melanoma and only 1 in 238 males (1 in 476 females) will die from melanoma over the course of a lifetime. So while many people are exposed to UV radiation, few actually develop melanoma and even fewer will die from it.

3. Sunny states not more risky.

Residents of Florida (aka the “Sunshine state”) have: (1) similar rates of skin cancer to residents of the cloudy state of Washington and (2) lower rates of melanoma than resident of the cloudy state of Oregon, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Below are maps from the CDC showing melanoma incidence and mortality rates. There is no obvious relationship between sunny states and melanoma rates.

Melanoma of the Skin
Incidence Rates by State, 2009

2009_skin_map_incidence

Melanoma of the Skin
Death Rates by State, 2009

2009_skin_map_death