Cancer researchers have revised its position of sun exposure to try to stop the growing levels of Vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D deficiency leaves seniors at more risk of fractured (broken) bones due to low calcium levels and a weakened immune system. In cases of long-term vitamin D deficiency, seniors may develop osteoporosis.

The new advice breaks people into three skin tone categories: highest risk (pale skin), intermediate risk (olive/pale brown skin), and lowest risk (deeply pigmented skin).

  • Highest Risk (Pale Skin): This includes individuals with pale, very sun-sensitive skin that burns easily and rarely or minimally tans. For this group, sun protection is always recommended, especially when the UV index is forecast to reach 3 or higher. Vitamin D requirements should be discussed with a doctor, and outdoor time in the early morning can offer mood and circadian rhythm benefits, although it is not effective for vitamin D synthesis.
  • Intermediate Risk (Olive/Pale Brown Skin): This category includes individuals with darker white or olive skin that sometimes burns but tans to light brown, or light brown skin that burns minimally and tans to moderate brown. Sun protection is recommended, particularly when the UV index is forecast to reach 3 or higher. If outdoors for longer than needed to maintain vitamin D, they should protect themselves using the five SunSmart steps. Obtaining vitamin D can be met by spending time outdoors, and the time required varies depending on several factors such as skin colour, location, time of day, and season.
  • Lowest Risk (Deeply Pigmented Skin): This group comprises individuals with deeply pigmented brown to black skin that rarely or never burns. Routine sunscreen application is generally not needed, except during extended periods outdoors when the UV index is high. Sunglasses should be used to protect the eyes.

The cancer researchers, whose research was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, state the decision to change its advice is due to:

  • Growing research highlights sun exposure benefits beyond vitamin D production.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is common in Australia, despite abundant sunshine.
  • Confusion existed about balancing sun protection with vitamin D needs.
  • Lack of awareness about skin colour variations in sun safety advice.

The researchers were from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane; University of Queensland, Brisbane: Melanoma Patients Australia; Monash University, Melbourne; Australasian College of Dermatologists; University of Sydney; Australia and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society; University of Tasmania; Australian National University, Canberra; Healthy Bones Australia; Multiple Sclerosis Australia; Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Cancer Council Victoria; Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.