A common topic raised during workplace skin screening sessions is Vitamin D and sun exposure. Our skin screening nurses are often asked “how much sun exposure should I be getting for my Vitamin D levels?”
Here we explore the truth around Vitamin D and the recommended sun exposure levels in Australia.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system.
The 3 sources of this vitamin are found in food, supplements or exposure to the sun’s UVB radiation. It is well known, especially in Australia, that too much exposure to UV radiation can be incredibly harmful contributing to an increased risk of skin cancers and premature ageing of the skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that we should obtain the recommended daily dose of 600IU through a combination of these 3 sources.
Vitamin D and the sun
In Australia, the sun is our main source of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced when our skin is exposed to UVB rays. However with the Vitamin D deficiency dilemma constantly in the headlines people are exposing themselves to more UV exposure than is actually needed.
The workers we see are often confused about how much time is actually needed in the sun to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels. Required exposure times vary with skin type, area of skin exposed, season and location.
For most of the outdoor workers for whom we do skin screening in Perth, we are focused more on reducing their risk of sun exposure*
Generally, for Vitamin D, darker skin types require 3-6 times more exposure time than moderately fair skin types. Exposure through the hands and arms are deemed adequate areas for successful Vitamin D production.
This table can be used as a guide to how much exposure we should be getting on a daily basis for vitamin D production.
|Moderately fair skin|
|How long?||5-10 mins, most days||7-30 mins (depending on latitude & UV rating*) most days|
|Body area exposed?||Arms||Arms|
|When?||Mid morning/afternoon (ie 10am or 2pm standard time or 11am or 3pm daylight savings); Avoid peak UV times||Midday|
|How long?||15-60 mins most days||20 mins – 3hrs (depending on latitude and UV rating*) most days|
|Body area exposed?||Arms||Arms|
|When?||Mid morning /afternoon
(ie 10am or 2pm standard time or 11am or 3pm daylight savings); Avoid peak UV times
Source: Vitamin D and Health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: Position Statement 2012
* The SunSmart app is a great free app available to use on your phone for the daily UV rating at real time and what sun protection is needed for the time of day and season.
Other sources of Vitamin D
- Orange juice
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
- Cod liver oil
Over the counter supplements are readily available and inexpensive.
Risks of too much sunshine
You might be reading this and think getting more sun sounds like the simplest answer to boosting your Vitamin D levels. However too much sun can do more harm than good!
Whilst most people know that too much exposure to UVB rays contributes to skin cancer, they may not be aware that it also causes the breakdown of Vitamin D in the body.
After the recommended exposure times discussed in the table above, the body’s Vitamin D production reaches it’s maximum. Further exposure will not result in more Vitamin D, but will instead prompt its depreciation into inactive and unusable compounds. Why risk getting skin cancer if there is no benefit of extended exposure?
WHP provide onsite skin screening in Perth and around WA.
The Vitamin D Dilemma. [ONLINE]Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257363206_The_Vitamin_D_Dilemma[accessed Sep 03 2018].
Vitamin D- SkinCancer.org.2018. Vitamin D – SkinCancer.org. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d.