Vitamin D and the sun

  • Posted
  • 1st July 2011

There has been a lot of discussion in the media regarding vitamin D deficiency in our community.  The same UVB exposure that increases our risk of skin cancer, also is required, in moderate amounts for the skin to produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important in multiple processes in the body including the control of calcium and healthy bone growth, and it is possible that it helps reduce the risk of internal cancers such as prostate, breast and colon cancer.  Therefore, like most things required for good health, a sensible balance is required between sun protection and sun exposure. In sunny NSW, for fair-skin individuals, the sun-exposure time required for adequate vitamin D levels is quite low and it is always important to protect high skin cancer risk areas of the body such as the face, chest and hands.  Those at risk of vitamin D deficiency are those with dark-skin, and those with severely limited sun-exposure.  We believe that in NSW, 30 minutes of sun exposure per week to 20% of the skin (eg the back or legs) is adequate for fair-skinned individuals to acheive adequate vitamin D levels.  We suggest, where possible, getting the sun exposure on areas of skin that are not chronically exposed to the sun, and therefore at risk of aging and skin cancer, such as the face, hands and forearms.  The amount of sun exposure required for vitamin D production is much lower than the amount of sun that increases the risk of skin cancer.  The amount of sun exposure required should not result in a tan and certainly there should never be even a mild sunburn.  Of course oral vitamin D supplementation is a safe alternative to sun exposure.

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