Sun and vitamin D
- The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D in the UK depends on your skin type and the time of day or year.
- You don’t need to sunbathe to get enough vitamin D. Most people in the UK can make enough by spending short periods of time in the sun without sun protection.
Our skin makes vitamin D in sunlight.
However, we can also get some vitamin D from foods such as egg yolks, fresh or tinned oily fish (for example, mackerel or sardines), fish liver oils, some margarines and fortified cereals.
Low levels of vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency) can cause health problems. These include bone problems in adults, and rickets (bone deformities) in children.
Do I need to sunbathe to get enough vitamin D?
No, you don’t need to sunbathe to get enough Vitamin D.
The amount of sunlight we need to make vitamin D in the UK is different for each person. It depends on your skin type and the time of day or year.
Short breaks in the sun (minutes, not hours) without sun protection should be enough for people with lighter skin that burns easily. But if you have darker skin that hardly ever burns, you might need longer to make enough vitamin D.
And remember, too much sun can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Who may not be getting enough vitamin D?
Since the start of the pandemic, more people are spending more time indoors. This increases the risk of vitamin D deficiency.
People who are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency include:
- People with naturally brown or dark brown skin
- People who spend very little time in the sun. For example, those who are housebound, working from home or who stay indoors
- People who usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
- People over the age of 65
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Babies and children aged under 4
Should I take a vitamin D supplement?
In the UK, the NHS recommends people at risk of vitamin D deficiency take a 10 microgram (400 I.U.) supplement throughout the year. The NHS also has recommendations for children and babies.
The government recommends that everyone takes a vitamin D supplement between October and the end of March, when the sun’s rays are weaker.
Does vitamin D deficiency cause cancer?
There isn’t enough good evidence to link low levels of vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency) to cancer. But vitamin D deficiency can cause other health conditions, including rickets in children and bone problems in adults.
Vitamin D supplements are useful to prevent some health conditions. But there’s not enough evidence that taking them also reduces the risk of cancer.
Talk to your GP if you are worried about your vitamin D levels.
Scientific Advisory Commitee on Nutrition. Vitamin D and Health. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sacn-vitamin-d-and-health-report [Accessed June 2021]
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng34/chapter/supporting-information-for. [Accessed June 2021]
International Agency for Research on Cancer.Vitamin D and cancer. https://publications.iarc.fr/Book-And-Report-Series/Iarc-Working-Group-Reports/Vitamin-D-And-Cancer-2008 [Accessed June 2021]
NHS.Vitamin D. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/ [Accessed June 2021]