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Vitamin D and sunbeds

It’s official – sunbeds shouldn’t be used as a source of vitamin D.

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Last month the Ministry of Health and Cancer Society released a joint “consensus” statement on vitamin D and sun exposure.

We support the statement. And we’re particularly pleased it says not to use sunbeds because they’re associated with increased early-onset melanoma.

Time and time again our mystery-shopper surveys have shown that many sunbed operators don’t comply with the (voluntary) standard for sunbeds. Some operators also make claims about the health benefits of vitamin D that we think are misleading.

The statement is aimed at the general population – which excludes pregnant women and infants. It helps clear up the mixed messages people get about vitamin D and sun exposure.

Sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D for most people, because it’s made by UVB radiation penetrating the skin.

Vitamin D plays a key role in bone and muscle health. A lack of it can lead to osteoporosis in adults and rickets in children.

Who’s at risk?

The 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey showed that around five percent of people had vitamin D deficiency and another 27 percent had levels below the recommended levels.

The main groups at risk of vitamin D deficiency are people with naturally very dark skin, those who avoid the sun because they have a higher risk of skin cancer or are on certain medications, and those with limited mobility who are frail or housebound. People living in southern regions who don’t get outside much in the middle of the day between May and August may also be deficient by late winter.

Getting enough vitamin D

The statement – which is also supported by ACC – highlights the need to balance sun exposure with safety. From September to April any sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer (and it’s particularly risky between 10am and 4pm). It’s best to do outdoor activity outside these times or make sure you use sun protection: shades, cover-up clothing, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses.

In the winter months (May to August), doing outdoor physical activity around the middle of the day with your face, arms (if possible) and hands exposed is a good way to increase your vitamin D. But you’ll still need sun protection in winter when you’re skiing or near water – that’s because UV levels are higher at high altitudes and when you’re near reflective surfaces.

Your doctor can also advise whether you need to take a vitamin D supplement.

More information

  • Sunbeds - our December 2011 mystery shop