Balancing Vitamin D Needs and Sun Exposure

Last Modified: June 17, 2010

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

How do you balance getting enough vitamin D if you are constantly wearing sun screen? Is it OK to spend some time in the sun without sun screen?

Answer

Christopher J. Miller, MD, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Vitamin D deficiency is a hot topic right now, partly because we're still learning a lot about it. One indication about how our knowledge of vitamin D is evolving is the recent changes in the recommended levels of vitamin D in the body.

While vitamin D deficiency has been associated with certain cancers, there is currently not a proven "cause and effect" relationship. By contrast, there is a definite cause and effect relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer.

There are 3 ways to get vitamin D in your body:

  1. vitamin D production from exposure to the sun;
  2. diet (e.g. fatty fish and fortified products, such as milk); and
  3. oral supplements.

Vitamin D from diet and oral supplements is the safest way to raise your levels, if you are deficient. The incidental exposure that you get to the sun during daily activities is usually enough for your body to produce adequate vitamin D levels. You do not need to seek the sun or tan intentionally to get enough vitamin D. If your levels are still low with incidental sun exposure, it is safer to get your vitamin D from diet and oral supplements.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series: Sun Safety and Skin Cancer Prevention Webchat. View the entire transcript here.



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