Sun protection to reduce skin cancer risk should be the priority even for people with vitamin D deficiency, say Australasian experts.
A quarter of Australian adults had been advised by doctors to get more vitamin D to strengthen their bone and muscle health, according to the Cancer Council’s latest National Sun Survey.
The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation is both the major cause of skin cancer and the best source of vitamin D, essential for strong bones and overall health.
The public confusion over balancing the two has led to the release of clearer and simpler advice by experts from Cancer Council Australia, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia.
"During summer, most Australians have adequate vitamin D levels just from doing typical day-to-day activities, such as walking for a couple of minutes to the car or the shop," said Cancer Council's Craig Sinclair.
"However, if you are going outside for more than a few minutes and the UV Index is 3 or above, you need to protect yourself - slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunnies."
Prolonged sun exposure doesn't cause vitamin D levels to continue to increase but does increase the risk of skin cancer, said Associate Professor Peter Foley.
"Around two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime and around 2000 Australians die each year as a result, so protection against excessive UV exposure remains vital, even for those with vitamin D deficiency."
But sun protection isn't recommended when the UV Index is below 3, which may mean some people need to spend time outdoors to maintain vitamin D levels during winter.
The recommendations also contain advice for people at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency including those who mainly live indoors or those with naturally very dark skin.
* Be aware of local UV levels
* If 3 or above, use sun protection when outdoors for more than a few minutes
* If 3 or above, adequate vitamin D levels generally maintained by a few minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun on arms and hands most days
* If below 3, sun protection not necessary unless near snow
* If below 3, spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered
* If at risk of vitamin D deficiency, speak to GP to see if supplements appropriate
Full recommendations at cancer.org.au/vitamindposition.