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Vitamin D deficiency and sun creams

By Yvette Fletcher

Find out why vitamin D is important and how to be sure you're getting enough while still staying safe in the sun.

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Vitamin D is particularly essential for bone health and also helps keep your teeth healthy. The main sources are sunlight exposure and diet – our bodies naturally produce vitamin D when skin is exposed to UV rays. Read on to learn more about vitamin D deficiency and sun safety.

What happens if I don't get enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to bone problems – rickets in children, and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, which is essential for bone health.

Who is most likely to suffer from vitamin D deficiency?

Certain groups are at a higher risk than others from lack of vitamin D – these include:

  • People with naturally dark skin – for example people of African, Afro-Caribbean or South Asian descent.
  • People who wear concealing clothing
  • People more than 65 years of age
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People who are confined inside for long periods of time – in hospital, for example
  • People who are overweight or obese.

If you're in any of these groups, or worried about your vitamin D levels, you may wish to speak to your GP about taking a supplement.

Can I use sun cream and get enough Vitamin D?

Small amounts of sunlight are important for the production of vitamin D. But during summer, everyday casual exposure is adequate – the World Health Organisation advises five to 15 minutes in the summer sun, two or three times a week.

Most of us will naturally spend longer than this in the sun during the summer, so it’s still important to use sun cream.

How do I balance getting enough vitamin D and staying safe in the sun?

It's important to enjoy the sun safely and take care not to burn or tan. If you're spending time in the sun without wearing sun cream, you should only do so before 11am or after 3pm, as the middle of the day is when you're at the greatest risk of getting burnt. A quick way to check the strength of the sun is to look at your shadow – it will be shorter than your height when the sun is at its strongest, meaning that this is a good time to seek shade, cover up and use sun cream.

It's also important to remember that exposing yourself to more sun doesn't mean you'll have extra-high levels of vitamin D – when your body has made enough it simply breaks down any extra.

Where should I go for more information?

Cancer Research UK and the British Association of Dermatologists both have further information about sun cream use and vitamin D.

The NHS has more information about vitamin D and bone health. If you have any concerns about your vitamin D levels, have a chat with your GP.

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