Skin Cancer Foundation: What You Need To Know About Vitamin D

Diet and Vitamin Supplements Provide Safest Sources of Vitamin D


New York, NY (January 29, 2013) – The suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous. 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[i] (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation[ii]. 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[iii]. 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[iv].


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 false 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[v].


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



Carla Barry-Austin (212-725-5641;

Becky Wiley (646-583-7988;


About The Skin Cancer Foundation

The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. For more information, visit


[i] Parkin DM, Mesher D, P Sasieni. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011; 105:566-569.


[ii] Koh HK, Geller AC, Miller DR, Grossbart TA, Lew RA. Prevention and early detection strategies for melanoma and skin cancer: Current status. Archives of Dermatology 1996; 132: 436-442.


[iii] Wolpowitz D, Gilchrest BA. The vitamin D questions: how much do you need and how should you get it? J Am Acad Dermatol 2006; 54:301-17.


[iv] Gilcrest BA. Sun protection and vitamin D: three dimensions of obfuscation. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2007; 103:655-63.


[v] Boniol M, Autier P, Boyle P, Gandini S. Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012; 345:e4757. doi: 10.1136/bmj.e4757

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  1. “The suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous.”

    This seems a fairly inflammatory statement to make. Humans evolved with the sun. Vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic and plenty of research suggests many, many chronic diseases are brought about by poor vitamin d levels – which is actually a hormone anyway, not a vitamin.

    Agree that 15 – 20 minutes UV is all that is needed to generate fairly healthy levels and that longer levels of exposure do pose a risk for melanomas. Australia, where I live, is a real hot spot for skin cancer.

    Many people don’t get proper nutrition or take supplements, or more specifically get anywhere near adequate amounts of either to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. Adding to this is that there are fear campaigns run quite frequently to discourage people from taking supplements, as this could be ‘dangerous’.

    Confusion helps sow the seeds of complacency.

    Even more research suggests that it’s possible many people are dying due to long standing, chronic deficiencies. So not only do we have poor nutrition going on but the added message of reducing your sun exposure and make sure to cover yourself in head to toe with sunscreen.

    It’s a double whammy. There needs to be some balance in the message.

  2. 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: 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.

  3. Anyone with the only slightest knowledge of what vitamin D is and how we make it, will understand that the information in this article is false. In fact UVB-exposure is the ONLY original and natural source of vitamin D for us humans.

    The many skin cancer cases referred to are not real. Recent research has confirmed that more than 90% of initially diagnosed skin-cancers turned out only to be benign skin-lesions after further analysis. The initial entry in the cancer-register can however not be changed.

    Now, the question is why the Skin Cancer Foundation discredit themselves by publicly showing such an enoumous incompetence?

    The answer is that they are going overboard in their efforts to satisfy their paymasters.

    The Skin Cancer Foundation is sponsored by 69 well known manufacturers of sunscreen cosmetics and other sun-protection products or medicines for the millions of innocent skin cancer “survivors” created by the early detection campaigns also supported by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

    Read more about it here: “Skin Cancer Foundation and Lance Armstrong – Which are the similarities?”

  4. I’ve been part of a research project on Vitamin D testing for 4 years, every time I stop indoor tanning my vitamin d level dropped about 47%. Even in the summer time and I was following health authorities recommendation.
    90% of vitamin d comes from UVB exposure, whether from the sun or sunbed. Mother Nature didn’t get it wrong

    • Steven, well put and given you’re at the coalface of vitamin D testing, you would surely know!

      I was dumbfounded to read recently that deficiency in pregnant women is all too common, even though many women are directed to take pre natal multi vitamins, containing roughly 400 IU vitamin D, which is not enough to positively raise serum levels to a healthy point.

      No less than 8 studies in the last 5-10 yrs reported

      18% of pregnant women in the UK, 25% in the UAE, 80% in Iran, 42% in northern india, 61% in NZ, and 89% in Japan had serum levels less than 10 ng/ml. (25 nmol/L)

      All due to changing attitudes to sun exposure, poor eating habits, inadequate supplementation or all three!

      This must be getting serious because ad campaigns now run frequently in Australia and NZ asking people to consider supplementation. I don’t know about the US and UK but I expect its the same.

  5. 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!

  6. this is indeed the most ridiculous article i have seen in a long time. Take a look at for excellent summaries of the data on vitamin D.

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