This article aims to alert the medical community and public health authorities to accumulating evidence on health benefits from sun exposure, which suggests that insufficient sun exposure is a significant public health problem. Studies in the past decade indicate that insufficient sun exposure may be responsible for 340,000 deaths in the United States and 480,000 deaths in Europe per year, and an increased incidence of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, autism, asthma, type 1 diabetes and myopia. Vitamin D has long been considered the principal mediator of beneficial effects of sun exposure. However, oral vitamin D supplementation has not been convincingly shown to prevent the above conditions; thus, serum 25(OH)D as an indicator of vitamin D status may be a proxy for and not a mediator of beneficial effects of sun exposure. New candidate mechanisms include the release of nitric oxide from the skin and direct effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) on peripheral blood cells. Collectively, this evidence indicates it would be wise for people living outside the tropics to ensure they expose their skin sufficiently to the sun. To minimize the harms of excessive sun exposure, great care must be taken to avoid sunburn, and sun exposure during high ambient UVR seasons should be obtained incrementally at not more than 5-30 min a day (depending on skin type and UV index), in season-appropriate clothing and with eyes closed or protected by sunglasses that filter UVR.
Keywords: UV radiation; disease prevention; nitric oxide; sun exposure; vitamin D.