Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system. While a limited amount of the vitamin can be obtained from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system. While a limited amount of the vitamin can be obtained from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous. The health risks of UV exposure — including skin cancer — are serious and well-documented. While many people have found their time outdoors severely limited because of COVID-19, some may misguidedly forgo sun protection completely in an effort to obtain vitamin D. Instead of damaging your skin, The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests you get your vitamin D from sources like oily fish, fortified dairy products and cereals, and supplements.
“Too many people believe that exposure to the sun’s radiation is the optimal way to obtain vitamin D, and that using sunscreen leads to vitamin D deficiency,” says Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “In reality, unprotected UV exposure can put people at risk for potentially life-threatening skin cancer, and it isn’t the most effective way to reach your vitamin D quotient.”
Humans can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UV radiation. For Caucasians, that limit is reached after just five to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure.After reaching the limit, further exposure will not increase the amount of vitamin D in the body. Rather, it has the opposite effect: the vitamin D stored in the body begins to break down, leading to lower vitamin D levels.
Spending time in the sun (whether outside or beside a window) in an attempt to achieve higher vitamin D levels can have serious consequences for the skin, however. About 86 percent of melanomas (the most dangerous of the three most common skin cancers) and 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation. To lower your risk of developing skin cancer, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended sunscreen use as part of a complete sun protection routine, including seeking shade and covering up with clothing. Since some types of UV rays can penetrate window glass, this should hold true even on days you do not venture outside. Studies have shown that regular use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces your chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent, melanoma by 50 percent and premature skin aging by 24 percent.
Researchers have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency. It’s more than possible to maintain healthy vitamin D levels while incorporating sunscreen and other sun protection into your daily routine. Vitamin D can be obtained with far safer and more effective options, including oily fish (like salmon, fresh tuna, trout and sardines) and cod liver oil, as well as from fortified orange juice and milk, yogurts, and some cereals. Supplements are also readily available and inexpensive.
For more information, visitSkinCancer.org.