The Myths and Facts of Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
by Diana Clarke
professor, New York University Medical Center in New York City, debunked the myths
surrounding Vitamin D and offered advice on getting an adequate dose of this nutrient.
“As a dermatologist who treats the ravages of skin cancer on a daily basis, it is
appalling to me that anyone in good conscience could make the claim that intentional
sun exposure – for any length of time – is beneficial,” stated Dr. Rigel. “The fact is,
skin cancer is increasing at an alarming rate and scientific research confirms that our
best defense is avoiding excessive, unprotected sun exposure.”
Dr. Rigel addressed the following myths about vitamin D and sun exposure:
Myth #1 – Sunscreen blocks Ultraviolet (UV) light. Consequently, UV radiation is
prevented from reaching the skin, which leads to an inadequate amount of vitamin D
in the body.
Fact – A 1997 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute of
patients with Xeroderma Pigmentosa (a disease that predisposes persons to skin
cancer who are exposed to very low levels of ultraviolet radiation), showed that
these patients have normal vitamin D levels despite negligible amounts of UV
Myth #2 –A considerable amount of UV exposure is necessary to maintain normal
levels of vitamin D.
Fact – Normal vitamin D levels are maintained through a normal diet.
Myth #3 – Sunscreen does not allow UV radiation to reach the skin, so if people
wear sunscreen, their bodies can form vitamin D.
Fact – Even the best sunscreen cannot block all UV radiation. But the amount that
does hit the skin is enough to promote adequate vitamin D formation.
Myth #4 – Skin cancer is not a serious disease, so sun protection is not important.
Fact – One American dies every hour from melanoma, the most serious form of skin
Myth #5 – Low levels of Vitamin D lead to more cancers and other diseases.
Fact – “There are no scientific studies that prove this statement,” explained Dr. Rigel.
“The claim is based on a study that finds that overall cancer rates are higher in the
northeast United States, a location with lower sunlight levels than many other places
in the country. Those making this claim conclude that since the northeast has lower
UV levels, this is the reason why cancer rates are higher in this region. However,
several studies prove this theory is false. These include studies that show that cancer
rates are low in the northern plain states (areas with the lowest UV levels in the
country) and small regional studies (New York state), where cancer rates are highest
in areas with industrial pollutants and are not related to sunlight levels.”
“When we take a close look at these myths and evaluate the facts, the course of
action is clear,” said Dr. Rigel. “Until there is science that tells us otherwise, it is
imperative that people protect themselves from the sun. Anyone concerned about
not getting enough vitamin D should either take a multivitamin or drink a few glasses
of vitamin D-fortified milk every day. Given the fact that the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation as a known carcinogen,
exposing oneself to it for the sake of vitamin D is not the answer.”
The American Academy of Dermatology advises everyone to engage in the following
sun protective practices:
avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the
seek shade whenever possible.
wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15.
reapply sunscreen every two hours.
wear sun-protective clothing.
About The Author
Diana Clarke is a teacher and the founder and editor of The Sun and Your Skin at
Unverified reports claiming that
unprotected, intentional sun
exposure is necessary for
Vitamin D formation are getting
quite a bit of media coverage
Yet, dermatologists still advise
the public to practice sun
protection to prevent skin cancer.
At a recent American Academy
of Dermatology’s Skin Cancer
Detection and Prevention Month
news conference, dermatologist
Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical
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