The Skin Cancer Foundation Busts Myths Surrounding Vitamin D & Sun Exposure

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – The suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Contrary to popular belief, exposure to the sun’s UVB radiation provides limited benefits and leaves people susceptible to the sun’s harmful effects, including an increased risk of skin cancers, premature skin aging and a weakened immune system.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends obtaining vitamin D – a micronutrient that is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system – through diet and vitamin supplements.

“The misconception that exposure to UVB radiation is the optimal source of vitamin D puts people at risk for potentially life-threatening skin cancer,” said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “Furthermore, in most cases the body stops producing vitamin D after just a few minutes of sun exposure.”

About 86 percent of melanomas (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation. In weighing the benefits against the risks, diet and nutritional supplementation offer safer sources of vitamin D than sun exposure.

Below, The Skin Cancer Foundation distinguishes between the myths and facts surrounding vitamin D, sun exposure and tanning:

Myth: UVB radiation is a good source of vitamin D.
Fact: We can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB radiation. For Caucasians, that limit is reached after just five to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure. After reaching the limit, further exposure will not increase the amount of vitamin D in the body. Rather, it has the opposite effect: the vitamin D stored in the body begins to break down, leading to lower vitamin D levels.

Myth: Sun exposure is the only source of vitamin D.
Fact: Vitamin D can be obtained from oily fish (like salmon, fresh tuna, trout and sardines) and cod liver oil, as well as from fortified orange juice and milk, yogurts, and some cereals. Supplements are readily available and inexpensive.

Myth: Tanning beds are a healthy option for boosting vitamin D levels.
Fact: The indoor tanning industry often makes the claim that indoor tanning is helpful for vitamin D production. In reality, vitamin D is received through exposure to UVB rays; the bulbs used in tanning beds mainly emit UVA rays. Tanning beds are a known carcinogen. Just one indoor UV tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent.

The Skin Cancer Foundation encourages everyone to incorporate daily sun protection into their lifestyle. This includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing (including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses) and applying broad spectrum sunscreen every day. For more information about skin cancer prevention and vitamin D, visit SkinCancer.org.


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  • BrianErskine

    The Skin Cancer Foundation was created years ago to incite a high level of fear of sunlight, In fact, just check out the link below and you will see who the major influencers and funders fo the SCF are. Major pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and sunscreen companies.

    http://www.skincancer.org/Corporate-Council.html

    I’m not a tanner but did a quick pubmed search on tanning beds and vitamin D and this was the first thing that popped up.

    “Tanning is associated with optimal vitamin D status (serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentration) and higher bone mineral density.”

    the study says that tanners have 90% higher vitamin D levels.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15585781

    Looks like Dr. Robbins has an agenda different than just our health.

  • halmond

    I find it ridiculous that you would suggest getting Vitamin D through supplements is better than UV light! Our bodies were made to make Vitamin D though sunlight, not ingested. I’m not putting down supplements, but I absolutely cannot believe that a natural process is not the best way.

    I also like the way that you always attribute melanomas to UV light. How do you test this? Do you have babies born that are never allowed to see the sun or a tanning bed to compare them with those that do? No, you don’t because they would be sickly and die. It’s a fact that all living things need UV light to live.

    I don’t care if you believe in God, Buddha, or just plain Mother Nature, but the fact is that the sun was placed in the sky for a reason and all living things need it to survive!

  • CLS88

    Food/diet is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER a reliable source of vitamin D!

    Sun exposure is the only reliable source of vitamin D. Supplements are the next best thing but fail to deliver any of the approximately ten known photonutrients associated with UV exposure, as ordained by evolution etc.

    What informed source re: Vitamin D health would EVER suggest that food/diet is a reliable source of this steroid hormone?

    To avoid reasonable amounts of midday sun, during the bright months, is to resign oneself to diagnoses of early onset chronic disease.

    The AA of D has painted itself into the most iatrogenic corner ever known by medicine.

    Sun phobia is so ludicrous as to be absurd! We are neither moles nor pale skinned zombies. We evolved in the light and to say otherwise is to play god with fatal consequences.

    Why is it that every human feels drawn to sun exposure after months of miserable gloom.

    Please answer this ? and explain the body’s reaction which includes endorphine production off the scale?

  • speterson

    I am afraid many of you have been given incorrect information. 1 in 58 men and women will get melanoma in their lifetime and it is most often caused by exposure to uv light. Also, melanoma is now the number one cancer for people in their 20′s. The rates have been steadily rising for 30 years and it is the deadliest of cancers. Most researchers ( remember, dr. Oz is a cardiologist, not a dermatologist or cancer physician) recommend getting your vitamin d in a pill form to avoid the risk of melanoma. However if you do tan, or have had burns, please have a full body mole check once a year with a dermatologist.

    Dr. Susan Peterson

    • CLS88

      Dr. Peterson:

      Shame on you for not recognizing the diagnostic drift associated with “increasing melanoma rates”.

      And why haven’t you mentioned the FACT that nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosis is PROTECTIVE re: Melanoma diagnosis? That is, non lethal skin cancers appear to prevent melanoma development.

      Finally it is imperative that derms and the AA of D admit their mistakes in regards to the advice to always wear sunscreens. Barely 2% of all U.S. marketed products blocked UVA radiation…the primary cause of melanoma.

      Imagine the tens of millions of parents who thought the application of sunscreen was helping their children when in fact it only encouraged more exposure to UVA because the kids did not burn!

      How could you have allowed this?

  • TheSkinCancerFoundation

    The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains its position that vitamin D should be obtained healthfully, through diet and supplements. This position is widely shared within the medical community. Misconceptions like those expressed in the previous comments further substantiate The Skin Cancer Foundation’s urgent need to raise awareness, particularly when it comes to issues including vitamin D levels and tanning. The dangers of tanning, and UV tanning beds in particular, are well documented. The World Health Organization classifies UV tanning devices as a Group 1 carcinogen to humans. Group 1 also includes known carcinogens including cigarettes and plutonium. Studies offer dramatic evidence that indoor tanning bed use increases the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Just one indoor UV tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent. Those who begin tanning before age 35 increase their risk by almost 90 percent. Tanning beds kill. Anyone who suggests otherwise is making ill-informed and dangerous assertions that ultimately put lives at risk.

    All facts included in the press release that relates to this article are clearly cited, and a link to the complete release can be found here: http://www.skincancer.org/media-and-press/press-release-2013/vitamin-d. Skin cancer is the world’s most common cancer and The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains that everyday sun protection (by way of seeking shade, covering up with clothing including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses and wearing sunscreen) is an integral part of living a healthy life.

    Additional links:
    Skin Cancer Issues & Research (including info on the link between tanning bed use and melanoma): http://www.skincancer.org/media-and-press/skin-cancer-issues-and-research
    Facts About Skin Cancer: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
    Vitamin D Information: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d

    • Sungod

      “Plutonium” “Tanning beds kill” I love those dramatic words always used. And if every session increases chances by 2 percent from 20 then I should have been dead years ago. I always find it interesting that if less people are tanning these days indoor or out due to media fear of UV light then why are melanoma cases increasing? Or are they? Perhaps it is being diagnosted and reported by doctors now in the first place? This phenomenon is never questioned. Remember: You have about 1000 times better chance of being killed in a car accident just driving to the tanning salon for some UV exposure then ever dieing from skin cancer. I am not saying there isn’t a chance but it is so overblown. The SUN created every living thing on this planet and we are evolved to use UV light to our benefit. There will be a day when science figures out that the D you get from UV light ( which sythesises differently to the proteins in your body then from diet and which is why you can’t overdoes on UB light) actually prevents more serious cancers and is actually keeping people alive longer and saving lives. But then we would have a battle between the difference cancer foundations wouldn’t we? Even breast cancer researchers are finding this now in many studies. I don’t need to post them. If someone is interested they will find them.

    • chrisc

      A few other things that the World Health Association lists as Group 1 Carcinogens:

      Alcohol
      Birth Control Pills
      Salted Fish
      Wood Dust
      Estrogen Therapy

      These are all things that we regularly use in our society because we believe the benefits outweigh the risks. We drink alcohol regularly, and some doctors even prescribe it. We put young girls on birth control pills to clear up acne. Tons of women go on estrogen therapy when they reach menopause. These are all commonly accepted treatments, and they rank on the same level as UV, both from the sun and tanning beds, according to the WHO.

      So why have you chosen to attack UV exposure? Why have you chosen to completely ignore the confirmed benefits of regular, moderate UV exposure? Why have you decided that our body’s natural ability to produce vitamin D is the wrong way to get it?

      Is it because there’s no money in it for you and the companies that back you?

      That’s a shame, because there really are people in this world that suffer from skin cancer and melanoma. It’s a shame that you’ve taken something serious that has happened to them and turned it into a “cause” that you can profit off of. And you profit by spewing misinformation in order to increase profits for your corporate backers.

      And now, you’re not just trying to change what research says about UV, you’re trying to change what research says about vitamin D. Will you stop at nothing to line your pockets?

  • Sungod

    What an outdated and antiquated attitude toward UV light. Most doctors today agree (Including Dr. Oz) that a few minutes a day of Sun exposure it good for you. And that if that is not possible a few minutes in a indoor tanning bed will work also. Remember, you don’t need a tan to get vitamin D from the Sun or a tanning bed. There are also studies now that suggest the natural vitamin D you recieve from UVB light protects you from developing cancer in the first place either skin cancer or far worse cancers in your body. The benefits far outweight the risks and this thinking is coming to light for a lot of people. Is the risk zero? No, I am sure there are people that have developed skin cancer that are convinced it was from the sun or tanning beds which is understandable because people need something to blame. But the evidence isn’t so clear. Diet, enviroment, physical health all play a role. The Sun is natural and humans evolved over millions of years to work in conjuction with it, water and everything around us. Common sense and moderation like anything is always key. So before you go hide in a cave think about it.

  • karlg

    The Skin Cancer Foundation is funded by 69 companies who all of them being cosmetic companies or otherwise beneficiaries of the sun-scare campaign. They have been quite successful so far in their attempts to change million years of human evolution. The consensus among vitamin D researchers is that optimal levels of vitamin D are between 50-60 nm/ml. Try to get that from food if you can!
    See here for more:
    The Tanning Blog

  • Shelly75ngml

    As a person that was able to raise my Vitamin D level from 11ng/ml to 75ng/ml through tanning I have to completely disagree with this article. I’ve been there, I’ve done it! Tanning may not be for everyone, specifically skin type 1 and those with a genetic history of skin cancer. But for the rest of us it is a viable option and to say otherwise is a dis-service to the public. Why do you people think there is an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency in the world right now? Because of articles like this. There is such a thing as moderation. Send that message. This is so totally irresponsible to preach that any and all UV should be avoided. You are contributing to the problem. Vitamin D deficiency is a very real problem and needs to be taken seriously, You can NOT get sufficient enough levels through diet alone, and supplements are not as efficient as UV exposure. Responsible tanning can be a solution for many people and I am proof of that.
    Here is my story:
    http://mytanningexperience.blogspot.com/2012/10/ivebeen-seeing-so-many-stories-lately.html

  • JohnR

    This is absurd! Let’s not forget the fact that UV exposure is the ONLY natural way to get an adequate amount of vitamin D. You would have to eat an insane amount of freshwater fish to get even close to enough. Supplements are certainly an option, but they are manufactured by man. There is no doubt that the human body was intended to get its vitamin D from sun exposure.

    The body produces tens of thousands of units of vitamin D from moderate sun exposure, so it is most certainly a way to get it. It would take hundreds of glasses of milk or servings of fish to get that much. But, the assertion that production is limited to 5 or 10 minutes is blatantly wrong. There are many variables involved including how much skin is exposure, time of day and time of year. It would take AT LEAST 15 minutes of FULL BODY exposure under midday sun to generate an adequate daily does of vitamin D. Here’s one recent study that shows that incidental sun exposure is not enough: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23267424. Humans evolved outdoors and thus spent hours in the sun each day for thousands of years. Today, we are not getting even a small fraction of the sun exposure and we are seeing the consequences in out health.

    The assertion that tanning beds do not produce vitamin D is just a blatant lie. The vast majority of tanning beds mimic the UVA/UVB ratio of the sun, and thus are EXCELLENT sources of vitamin D. There are numerous peer reviewed studies showing this. Simply google it. And as far as the risks of skin cancer, let’s be reasonable. Melanoma is an extremely rare condition that occurs in about .02% of the population. A 20% increased risk from one tanning session? Let’s be reasonable. I’m not sure where that stat comes from (it would be nice to see some citations), but that’s ridiculous. A tanning session provides less exposure than an hour in the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation is just making itself look ridiculous with these over-the-top statements. Any reasonable person that thinks twice about what they’re reading would see that. They would be better off making reasonable recommendations, because anybody with any intelligence is going to blow off these scare tactics.