The suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous. Contrary to popular belief, exposure to the sun’s UVB radiation provides limited benefits and leaves people susceptible to the sun’s harmful effects, including an increased risk of skin cancers, premature skin aging and a weakened immune system. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends obtaining vitamin D – a micronutrient that is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system – through diet and vitamin supplements.
“The misconception that exposure to UVB radiation is the optimal source of vitamin D puts people at risk for potentially life-threatening skin cancer,” said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Furthermore, in most cases the body stops producing vitamin D after just a few minutes of sun exposure.”
About 86 percent of melanomas[i] (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation[ii]. In weighing the benefits against the risks, diet and nutritional supplementation offer safer sources of vitamin D than sun exposure. Below, The Skin Cancer Foundation distinguishes between the myths and facts surrounding vitamin D, sun exposure and tanning:
Myth: UVB radiation is a good source of vitamin D.
Fact: We can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB radiation. For Caucasians, that limit is reached after just five to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure[iii]. 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[iv].
Myth: Sun exposure is the only source of vitamin D.
Fact: Vitamin D can be obtained from 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 readily available and inexpensive.
Myth: Tanning beds are a healthy option for boosting vitamin D levels.
Fact: The indoor tanning industry often makes the false claim that indoor tanning is helpful for vitamin D production. In reality, vitamin D is received through exposure to UVB rays; the bulbs used in tanning beds mainly emit UVA rays. Tanning beds are a known carcinogen. Just one indoor UV tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent[v].
The Skin Cancer Foundation encourages everyone to incorporate daily sun protection into their lifestyle. This includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing (including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses) and applying broad spectrum sunscreen every day. For more information about skin cancer prevention and vitamin D, visit SkinCancer.org.
About The Skin Cancer Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.