May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Don’t go in the sun unprotected

NEW YORK CITY—Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and a healthy immune system. While a limited amount of the vitamin can be obtained from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the suggestion that the best way to obtain vitamin D is through sun exposure is both misleading and dangerous, according to a May 4 press release from The Skin Cancer Foundation.

The health risks of UV exposure—including skin cancer—are serious and well-documented. While many people have found their time outdoors severely limited because of Covid-19, some may misguidedly forgo sun protection completely in an effort to obtain vitamin D. Instead of damaging one’s skin, The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests people get their vitamin D from sources like oily fish, fortified dairy products and cereals, and supplements.

“Too many people believe that exposure to the sun’s radiation is the optimal way to obtain vitamin D, and that using sunscreen leads to vitamin D deficiency. In reality, unprotected UV exposure can put people at risk for potentially life-threatening skin cancer, and it isn’t the most effective way to reach your vitamin D quotient,” President of The Skin Cancer Foundation Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, said in the press release.

Humans can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UV radiation. For Caucasians, that limit is reached after just five to 10 minutes of midday sun exposure. 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.

Spending time in the sun (whether outside or beside a window) in an attempt to achieve higher vitamin D levels can have serious consequences for the skin. About 86% of melanomas (the most dangerous of the three most common skin cancers) and 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation. To lower one’s risk of developing skin cancer, The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended sunscreen use as part of a complete sun protection routine, including seeking shade and covering up with clothing. Since some types of UV rays can penetrate window glass, this should hold true even on days someone does not venture outside. Studies have shown that regular use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40%, melanoma by 50% and premature skin aging by 24%.

Researchers have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency. It’s more than possible to maintain healthy vitamin D levels while incorporating sunscreen and other sun protection into one’s daily routine. Vitamin D can be obtained with far safer and more effective options, including 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 also readily available and inexpensive.

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

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