Skin cancer fears may increase risk of bone thinning disease

In collaboration with the Press Association

British people may not be not getting enough sunlight to generate sufficient levels of vitamin D, as they are worried about the possibility of skin cancer, according to a poll by the National Osteoporosis Society. The poll found that awareness of the importance of wearing sunscreen is high, with 74 per cent of people believing you should always apply sunscreen when going out in the sun in the UK.

However, a small amount of regular exposure to the sun is important as sunlight is one of the best natural sources of vitamin D, which is important for strong bones and reduces the risk of the bone thinning disease osteoporosis.

Professor Roger Francis, chair of the National Osteoporosis Society's Medical Board, commented: "High profile skin cancer campaigns have made people far more aware of the dangers of overexposure to the sun.

"However, an unanticipated side-effect may be that people now feel that they shouldn't spend any time in the sun at all. Potentially, this could result in a lack of vitamin D and increased risk of osteoporosis."

The professor noted that too much sun causes skin cancer and ageing and advised against spending lengthy periods in the sun.

"However, we feel that people should be able to get out and enjoy some summer sunshine over the next couple of months," he claimed, adding: "We can use the summer months to build up our levels of vitamin D so that we have enough stored to last us through winter."

Cancer Research UK's health campaigns manager, Caroline Cerny, said that by enjoying the sun sensibly, it is possible for everyone to make enough vitamin D while not increasing their risk of skin cancer.

"The amount of time in the sun required to make enough vitamin D changes from person to person and depends on things like skin type, time of day, time of year, and where you are in the world," she noted.

Ms Cerny advised: "We all need a bit of sunshine in our lives, but it's important to remember that the amount of sun needed to make enough vitamin D is always less than the amounts that cause reddening of the skin or sunburn."

Simple ways to get enough sunshine without increasing the risk of overexposure include hanging the washing outside to dry or watering the garden while your face and arms are bare.

However, people who are fair-skinned, have lots of moles and freckles, or who have a family history of skin cancer should take particular care and everyone should avoid the strong sunshine in the middle of the day.