The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is both the major cause of skin cancer and the best natural source of vitamin D. Therefore, it is important to find a balance between the risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure with maintaining vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and muscles, and for general health. The best source of vitamin D for your body is from exposure to the UV radiation from sunlight. Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency but there are times when it is important to be in the sun without protection.
When the UV Index is 3 or above most people maintain adequate vitamin D levels just by spending a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week even when wearing sun protection. Prolonged sun exposure does not cause your vitamin D levels to increase further but does increase your risk of skin cancer.
When the UV Index falls below 3, Cancer Council recommends spending time outdoors in the middle of the day with skin uncovered to support vitamin D production. Being physically active also helps boost vitamin D levels.
Although most people get enough sunlight to make adequate vitamin D during their day-to-day outdoor activities there are some groups who may not make enough for a variety of reasons.
- People with naturally very dark skin.
- People with little or no sun exposure.
- Breast-fed babies from vitamin D deficient mothers.
- People with specific health conditions or who are taking medications affecting vitamin D metabolism.
People who belong to one of these groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency or if families are concerned about their child’s vitamin D levels, encourage them to consult their GP.
Vitamin D levels can be checked with a blood test, and a GP can advise on options, such as supplementation, depending on your individual circumstances.