Sun exposure in moderation does have some health benefits such as making vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in the development of healthy bones and teeth.
Vitamin D can be acquired several ways, including from production in the skin after brief UV exposure, oral supplements and certain foods.1 The same spectrum of UV light that processes vitamin D also damages the skin’s DNA and can cause skin cancer.2
Prolonged sun exposure or a tan is not needed to get enough vitamin D. Often a few minutes a day of sun exposure is all that is needed for some people to get enough vitamin D. Even when wearing sunscreen, most people get enough vitamin D from the sun exposure they get on their bodies (e.g. face and hands) during their day to day activities like walking to work and running errands More sun exposure is of no benefit. Tanning decreases the efficiency of vitamin D production in the body as darker skin makes less vitamin D in response to UV light.3-6
Tanning beds should not be used to acquire Vitamin D levels as they greatly increase the risk of developing skin cancer7
1. Canada. Health Canada. Vitamin D and calcium: Updated dietary reference intakes. Ottawa; Health Canada, December 2012. Available here.
2. Wolpowitz D, Gilchrest BA. The vitamin D question: how much do you need and how should you get it? J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Feb; 54(2):301-17. Epub 2006 Jan 4.
3. Gilchrest, B.A. (2008). Sun exposure and vitamin D sufficiency. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;88(2), 570S-577S.
4. Armas, L.A., Dowell, S., Akhter, M., Duthuluru, S., Huerter, C., Hollis, B.W., Heaney, R.P; et al. Ultraviolet-B radiation increases serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels: The effect of UVB dose and skin color. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 57(4), 588-593.
5. Holick, M.F. Vitamin D deficiency. New England Journal of Medicine 2007; 357(3): 266-281.
6. Webb, A.R. Who, what, where and when-influences on cutaneous vitamin D synthesis. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology 2006; 92(1): 17-25.
7.Canadian Dermatology Association. Canadian Dermatology Association offers insight on vitamin D confusion. June 2012. Available here.