Protecting your skin from the summer sun while getting sufficient amounts of vitamin D is an important balancing act, says a Sydney osteoporosis expert.
Recent studies have shown sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15-plus reduces the human body’s capacity to produce vitamin D3 by more than 98 per cent. And the higher the SPF the less vitamin D3 is produced.
National anti-cancer institutes such as the Cancer Council Australia recommend an SPF 50-plus sunscreen for superior sun protection. More than 434,000 Australians are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers each year.
Scientific advisor for Osteoporosis Australia Dr Lisa Croucher told The Newsroom people needed to balance the need for sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D with the need to protect their skin from sun damage.
“It is recommended sun exposure for vitamin D includes exposure of arms; for a fair person in summer that would be for only 5 to 10 minutes outside peak UV times,” Dr Croucher said.
“Sunscreen is still recommended outside these times to protect skin.”
She said people with darker skin, people who work indoors, and people who avoid the sun run a higher risk of deficiency in this vitamin: “Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and also helps to control calcium levels in the blood and to maintain muscle strength. That is why adequate vitamin D levels are important.”
A balanced diet can also contribute to vitamin D body efficiency, and Osteoporosis Australia states foods such as fatty fish, liver and eggs contain small amounts of vitamin D. However most adults aren’t likely to get more than 5 to 10 per cent of their daily vitamin D requirements from these foods. A supplement can be used for people who are vitamin D deficient.
Dr Croucher recommends speaking with your doctor if you are concerned.
Osteoporosis Australia has a Vitamin D fact sheet available on its website. – Charmaine Perry
Top photo from Joe Shlabotnik’s Flickr photostream.