A leading cancer specialist has claimed that women who regularly sunbathe live longer.
Hakan Olsson's claims are based on a study of 40,000 women.
The expert, who works in the oncology unit at Lund University in Sweden, says his research shows the health benefits of exposure to sunlight 'far outweigh' the danger of skin cancer.
He said vitamin D produced by the body when tanning gives vital protection against blood clots, diabetes and some tumours.
Olsson's claims sharply contradict warnings that sun exposure is behind soaring levels of skin cancer. But he believes the benefits of the sun 'far outweigh the negatives'.
He said there was overwhelming evidence that exposure to the sun helps protect against blood clots in the leg.
These clots, known as deep vein thromboses, have been shown to be far more prevalent in winter than summer.
Olsson cited other studies showing that more patients are diagnosed with diabetes in the colder months, a phenomenon attributed to a lack of vitamin D.
For his study, he examined tanning habits and the incidence of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or malignant melanoma.
"Our studies show that women with active sunbathing habits live longer," the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
Olsson also suggested that skin cancer was not caused by sunbathing alone.
"I and many others believe that there may be factors other than the sun that influence the risk of malignant melanoma. The burning of the skin in the sun is not enough to explain this," he said.
The study has been presented at the Swedish Society of Medicine.