Separating Fact From Fiction For Sun Exposure and Vitamin D

Consumers are regularly bombarded with mixed messages about Vitamin D and the best source for obtaining this nutrient. Though some may argue that small doses of intentional sun exposure are safe, dermatologists point out that the risk of developing skin cancer from UV radiation far outweighs the benefit of stimulating vitamin D production particularly when enriched foods and supplements are safe and effective sources of this vitamin.

Speaking at the American Academy of Dermatology’s SKIN academy, dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, addressed common myths about sun exposure sunscreen and vitamin D. She stated, “Despite years of ongoing public education efforts on the dangers of UV radiation, a number of misconceptions remain as to how to best protect ourselves from this known carcinogen and whether or not we absolutely need sun exposure for vitamin D production. The fact is that these myths are harmful because sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, and the consequences of this misinformation could be potentially fatal.”

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is vital for strong bones and healthy immune systems. A persistent vitamin D deficiency is associated with bone softening in adults, rickets in children and, more recently, with high blood pressure, arthritis, type I diabetes and certain cancers.

One such myth is that sun exposure is the best source of obtaining vitamin D. While UV radiation is one source of vitamin D, dermatologists argue that it is not the best source because the benefits of obtaining vitamin D through UV exposure cannot be separated by an increased risk of cancer. Instead, dermatologists recommend that an adequate amount of vitamin D should be obtained from foods like dairy products and fish, fortified foods and beverages, and/or vitamin D supplements.

A second myth is that all sunscreens are created equal. Many sunscreens have varying degrees of protection from UV exposure. One common misconception is that SPF rates the degree of protection from both UVA (which pass through glass, and penetrate into the deepest layer of skin and are associated with premature aging and melanoma) and UVB rays (which are the burning rays, blocked by window glass, and cause sunburn). Actually the SPF number only refers to the ability to deflect the sun’s burning rays. Sunscreens labeled “broad-spectrum” provide coverage against both UVA and UVB light.

A third myth is that using a higher SPF will ensure you won’t burn. Actually, sunscreen protection depends on many factors including skin type, the amount and frequency of sunscreen application and the impact of activities (such as swimming and sweating). As a result, sunburn can still occur even when wearing a high SPF sunscreen.

The Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF for proper skin protection. Dr. Tanzi said that while sunscreen is important to protect against skin cancer, it is only part of what should be an overall sun-protection program.


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