Sunburn and Malignant Melanoma, an Easily Avoidable Cancer

Sunburn and cancer, in the U.S., 80,000 people each year are diagnosed with the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, malignant melanoma (MM).

Of those, 10% die from cancer, and the rest have their lives and those of their relatives and friends drastically impacted.

(Disclaimer – I am a MM cancer survivor. My cousin, diagnosed at the same time with the same melanoma level and of the same age group, died in three years. )

John McCormick on his sheep ranch
John McCormick on his sheep ranch

Unfortunately, half the people who even know about MM do NOT associate it with sun exposure, and of those who do, many, far too many believe that getting a good “base” tan will protect them.

That and many other suntan myths simply aren’t true.

That nice golden tan sought by so many is actually just skin damage every bit as much as getting a serious abrasion/road rash from being in a bike accident (whether a Harley or a Motobecane pedal bike) the difference being road rash doesn’t cause cancer.

Sunburn and Tans – a Recent Survey

A survey of 1,000 Americans showed “63% reported getting a tan in 2021, a 9-percentage point increase from 54% in 2020, and 33% reported getting sunburned in 2021, an 8-percentage point increase from 25% in 2020.”

Far too many also believe the following myths, “45% believe one or more of these tanning myths:

  • 22% believe a base tan will prevent sunburns.
  • 20% believe tanning is safe as long as you do not burn.
  • 18% believe a base tan decreases the risk of skin cancer.
  • 13% believe tanning is healthy.
  • 53% believe people with tanned skin look healthier.

A Dallas Texas-based dermatologist, based in Dallas said “When you tan, you are intentionally putting your health at risk.”

Those surveyed reported getting sunburned, 28% of those surveyed said they had a sunburn bad enough that clothes were uncomfortable.

39% of those questioned were “unaware of these sunburn risks”:

  • 24% do not know you can get sunburned on a cloudy day.
    (Note: clouds only block about 20% of the dangerous U.V. radiation so being out on a cloudy day without sunscreen is like being on the beach in direct sun wearing an SPF of about 10.
  • 15% are unaware that you can get burned through a car window.
  • 9% did not know that people with dark skin can get a sunburn.
  • 7% are unaware that sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer.

Dr. Houshmand emphasized, Both tanning and sunburning damage your skin.”

“The more you tan and sunburn, the more this damage builds up over time, increasing your risk of premature skin aging, including age spots, sagging and wrinkling, and skin cancer.”

People don’t understand how dangerous solar radiation is which is strange when anyone can easily see that just looking at the sun can destroy the sensitive tissues of the eye in mere seconds. It should be evident if you have any slight understanding of logic and science that what can burn out your eyesight in seconds will probably damage your skin if you are exposed to unfiltered sunlight for days.

sun activity and sunburn
images of sunspots WikiImages via Pixabay

Of course, people who believe it is better to have their kids catch measles with the attendant risk of pneumonia and encephalitis (brain swelling is never good) than give a few dollars to international drug companies and pay for an extra visit to their pediatrician are even less likely to believe that childhood sunburns are more of a death wish than just an opportunity to teach their kids to wear a shirt outdoors.

Measles complications

Preventing their children from getting cancer is a low priority among some religious groups who object to girls getting HPV vaccinations on the grounds that it would encourage teens to have sex.

HPV and Cancer: What You Need to Know About One of The Most Common STDs

Since the link between tans and MM are not as obvious it seems likely they would give a low priority to preventing childhood sunburns.

Sunburn – Sunscreen mistakes

Medically speaking, an excellent way to tell if you have a good sunscreen and are using it correctly is whether you get a tan. If you wear sunscreen but still get a tan, you are getting skin damage and putting yourself at risk for a 95+% preventable cancer.

Personally, I grew up without sunscreen. It simply wasn’t known in the 50s and 60s, but today, there is ready access to excellent sunscreen lotions and creams. Fortunately, I lived in deep woods, but I still had a couple of bad sunburns (and developed malignant melanoma decades later).

The reason we are still seeing an increase in skin cancer of about 7%/year in the U.S., despite the inexpensive protection available with sunscreens, is simple but yet another form of species death wish which can easily be blamed in part on ignorance of and distrust of science but also happens among the science-literate because of a simple failure to read the directions.

  • For example, many people use the same sunscreen yearly until it is used up; after all, it can be expensive. But you need a new tube every year.
  • Get a broad spectrum sunscreen
  • Don’t keep it in the glove box – cars can get pretty hot and that quickly weakens sunscreen. That is convenient and seems like a great idea, but don’t!
  • One application isn’t enough; apply every two to three hours, even for water-resistant sunscreen. OK, you aren’t swimming, but are you sweating? Water is water.
  • SPF 30 is as high as you need to go – higher strengths don’t protect more or last longer than two hours.

To some people, all chemicals are bad – they don’t realize that they are made up of chemicals, as is everything they eat and drink – but it is reasonable to worry about those exotic chemicals in most sunscreens.

(I knew a high school district supervisor who couldn’t understand that organic chemistry meant anything with carbon, not vegetables and fruit.)

There are ongoing studies into the possible danger of putting those chemicals on your skin but there is no evidence of any risk yet and dermatologists say the danger of a sunburn is far greater than any likely risk from the chemicals.

But if you are concerned – a very reasonable view – today, there are good alternatives proven safe for a century.

Zinc and titanium dioxide are perfectly safe but remarkably ugly to wear. Today there are colorful and even nearly clear versions. Those are also safer for the aquatic animals and most people who lie in the sun on beaches.

The SPF rating isn’t as important as putting it on correctly – a shot glass full for the body and a teaspoon of sunscreen for the face.

Sunburn – Did Tans Cause The Great Depression?

No, of course not, but there is a correlation between the rise in tanning’s popularity and the collapse of the stock market in October 1929.

Correlation is the biggest threat to an understanding of science because people tend to confuse cause and coincidence.

It happened to cavemen (and possibly cave women) when someone insulted the wrong person or did something unusual and then lightning struck the god tree at the foot of their cave filled hill.

But simply because something happened after something else (post hoc ergo propter hoc), doesn’t mean there is a cause and effect.

By 300 BCE (2300 years ago), Aristotle and other Greek philosophers understood the rules you need to know if you want to learn things, a.k.a. logic. Unfortunately, U.S. schools don’t teach these rules until some elective college courses, so most people easily fall prey to demagogues who pretend to know what they really don’t understand either

In the 1970s Isaac Asimov (author of about 500 books and yet another of those awful immigrants) was complaining about the continuing cult of ignorance in the U.S. where far too many people think democracy means their ignorance of science was equal to someone else’s actual knowledge and should be given equal weight when making decisions.

Sunburn and Cancer in History

However, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the rise in the popularity of tans and the rise in skin cancer.

For tens of centuries, since at least Roman Empire times, a pale skin in women indicated that they were women of leisure (or indoor slaves, but slaves never seem to count) didn’t spend a lot of time out in the fields or even out in the sun without slaves holding shades over them or riding in litters.

Right through Victorian times in England and on through the 1910s (WWI) a pale skin was sought by women of fashion and by women who wanted to appear to be women of fashion.

Studies of popular U.S. women’s magazines Vogue and Harpers Bazaar showed an increase in articles about tanning and a decrease in ads for the kind of cosmetics which either bleached the skin or concealed tans.

“Historical reviews suggest that tanning first became fashionable in the 1920s or 1930s. To quantitatively and qualitatively examine [measure] changes in tanning attitudes portrayed in the popular women’s press during the early 20th century, we reviewed summer issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for the years 1920, 1927, 1928, and 1929. We examined these issues for articles and advertisements promoting skin tanning or skin bleaching and protection. We found that articles and advertisements promoting the fashionable aspects of tanned skin were more numerous in 1928 and 1929 than in 1927 and 1920, whereas those promoting pale skin (by bleaching or protection) were less numerous. These findings demonstrate a clear shift in attitudes toward tanned skin during this period.”

Sunburns and Suntans – why is this important?

“linked exposure to ultraviolet (U.V.) light to both melanoma and mortality.”

“The incidence of skin cancers has risen dramatically over the past century, and this is largely attributed to increased exposure to U.V. light from the sun. Despite public education initiatives aimed at preventing skin cancer, many individuals continue to tan, citing such reasons as the relationship between tanning and physical and emotional health, an active lifestyle, and physical beauty.”

Until the 1920s photos were often notable for the giant hats women usually wore. The fruits and feathers (even small animals in cages back in the French monarchy days) were fashion statements but the wide brims were, like parasols, intended to keep the face and shoulders shaded so they wouldn’t tan.

Sunburn, Suntan, Australia, New Zealand, and Cancer

Two-thirds of Australians will eventually develop some form of skin cancer.

Some explain this as due to the loss of the ozone layer over that region (which definitely happened), but the increase is also caused by a misunderstanding.

For example, many people down under as well as in the U.S. and Europe pay a lot more attention to applying sunscreen on hot days.

But heat has nothing to do with U.V. radiation. Cold days are less likely to result in skin damage, but that is because people are often wearing more clothes. Sunny days, whether it is 90 degrees or 60 degrees, damage unprotected skin.

Jan 23, 2024 – In 2019, there were 15,628 new cases of melanoma of the skin diagnosed in Australia (9,134 males and 6,494 females

“Four out of five Australians don’t use sunscreen correctly.”

Sunburn – Malignant Melanoma – Personal notes

After developing malignant melanoma and learning at that time there was no chemotherapy that extended life more than a month or two over an average estimated life expectancy of 5 years, I did some research and found there were treatments. Turmeric and Vitamin D (D3 only) were very helpful.

Some sunscreens were also dangerous because they blocked all U.V. including the kind that produced D3 in the human body.

Early studies showed no benefit to taking Vitamin D but they used all kinds of D including the kind which destroyed D3, the kind that was shown to help prevent skin cancer.

I wrote a book about this which is still reasonably popular since it contains extensive analysis of the science behind skin cancer and U.V. exposure all taken from clinical trials or studies published in medical journals (including The Lancet.)

“Does Vitamin D-3 Cure Malignant Melanoma?: How about curry? VITAL information directly from medical journals. (Collected Works: John A. McCormick Book 2) Kindle Edition” 99-cents (c) Groundhog Press Inc. 2014

“In this book you will find vital information about vitamins and cancer; for example,

“A Melanoma Hypothesis: The Paradox of Outdoor and Indoor Solar UV Exposures” STATES:
“Skin cells can convert vitamin D-3 to the hormone, 1, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D-3, or calcitriol, which causes growth inhibition and apoptotic cell death of melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo.” (That means both in the laboratory and in living animals.)

In other words, D-3 helps prevent and stop the spread of cancer.


Curcumin (curry/turmeric) has shown a remarkable and possibly unique ability to restrict the growth of melanoma cells in laboratory tests.

The dirty little secret of U.S. medicine, besides the fact that we pay more for and get poorer health care than residents of any other developed country, is that it takes a decade or more for European medical research to be used in the treatment of patients in the U.S.

Another report says “Risk of hip fracture in elderly cut by 50% with vitamin D supplementation – low 25(OH)D serum levels … “

Vitamin D has many important health benefits and adequate serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (D-3) are required for optimal health. Despite the evidence, U.S. medics are slow to accept the importance of solar UVB radiance and vitamin D in maintaining optimal health.

If sun exposure causes skin cancer, how do you explain this statistic (documented near the end of this book)?

Melanoma has been increasing at a steady logarithmic rate in fair-skinned, indoor workers since the mid 1930’s. A paradox exists between indoor and outdoor workers because indoor workers get three to nine times less solar UV (290-400 nm) than outdoor workers, yet have a higher incidence of melanoma.”

end abstract”

Today there are good treatments for MM beyond surgery but I not only had surgery I also had a doctor who would prescribe the then difficult to obtain Vitamin D3. My cousin, who passed a few years later, didn’t believe my research.

Most medical experts now agree that vitamin D3 is an important immune booster and anti-cancer supplement. More doctors are starting to recognize that Indian curry (at least turmeric, the yellow part) is also a strong anti-cancer tool, both far too cheap and easy to get to interest pharmaceutical companies or get research funding.

The Suntan – Status Symbol or an Unnecessary Health Risk?

Super Vitamin in Focus: Vitamin D Decreases Risk of Cancer