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Sun exposure and vitamin D

Categories: Cancer, Skin Health

Topic: Skin Cancers

The sun is the major cause of skin cancer and our body's main source of vitamin D. Vitamin D has several important roles in the body; one of them is to help maintain strong bones. We can obtain vitamin D through some foods and supplements, however exposing our skin to sunlight is the easiest way to get vitamin D.

There are some groups of people who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency as their exposure to the sun is limited. These may include:

  • people living in care facilities such as residential aged care
  • people who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons
  • people with dark coloured skin
  • people taking some medications, for example, drugs that treat epilepsy.

In Queensland, most people will maintain adequate vitamin D levels through incidental skin exposure to the sun, for example, when walking to the bus or hanging washing on the clothesline.

While skin exposure to the sun is necessary for vitamin D production it also places us at risk of skin damage. Since the UV index is 3 or above all year round in Queensland, it is important to practice the 5 sun safe behaviours throughout the year, including using sunscreen. Studies have shown that sunscreen does not have a big effect on vitamin D levels.

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