The Myths and Facts of Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
by: Diana Clarke  
Unverified reports claiming that unprotected, intentional sun exposure is necessary for
Vitamin D formation are getting quite a bit of media coverage lately.

Yet, dermatologists still advise the public to practice sun protection to prevent skin

At a recent American Academy of Dermatology’s Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention
Month news conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical 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 exposure.

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

This article was posted on May 13, 2004

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