As we roll through another long WA summer it's important to think about your level of sun exposure. If you're deliberately spending long periods outside without sun protection to build up your vitamin D, it's time to think again.
The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the best source of vitamin D, but it's also the major cause of skin cancer. So, how do you find the right balance?
To help, our skin cancer experts have put together a helpful guide - check it out below!
Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones and muscles. Severe vitamin D deficiency leads to osteomalacia (softening of bones) in adults and rickets in children, along with muscle weakness. Low vitamin D levels in children and adults may have no obvious symptoms.
We can also get some vitamin D from foods, such as oily fish, eggs and liver as well as margarine and dairy products fortified with vitamin D.
Our skin only makes vitamin D for the first few minutes we are in the sun. After that, the sun starts to break down the vitamin D already formed in the skin. Think of it as built-in overdose protection. That means spending long periods in the sun is increasing your risk of skin cancer without further boosting your vitamin D.
It's important to note that vitamin D tests are not super accurate. Work is underway to improve this, but your vitamin D test score is more of a rough guide than an exact result.
Sensible sun protection does not put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
UV radiation and skin cancer
Our UV radiation is very strong. In WA, summer UV index levels will routinely reach 13 to 15 across the state. The safe level is 3.
In 2014, over 1,300 West Aussies were diagnosed with melanoma and 153 died from the disease. West Aussies made over 83,000 claims to Medicare for treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers in the same year. In 2014, 82 West Aussies were killed by non-melanoma skin cancers.
UV is not hot so it's a mistake to use temperature as your guide for using sun protection. Remember that while summer temperatures vary between the scorching 40+ degree days and the pleasant 26 degree days, the midday UV will be constant at about 13 - 15 every day.
UV is low every day in the early mornings and late afternoons. The graph below is typical. The green section is when UV is below 3.
Getting the balance right
Getting sufficient vitamin D for good health isn't an issue for most Aussies and sun protection should be the priority.
Our SunSmart Manager Mark Strickland says most West Australians can get enough vitamin D through incidental sun exposure in their day-to-day activities because our UV is very intense.
"The few minutes it takes for you to walk from the front door to the letterbox, to go grab something for lunch at midday or walk from the car park to the shops is all the sun exposure most of us need for vitamin D each day."
"If you are going to be spending longer than that outdoors when UV levels are above 3, you should be making sure you're protected from the sun."
The best advice is to be guided by your local UV Index forecast and cover up if you will be outside when it reaches 3 or higher.
How can you protect yourself from the sun?
Whenever the UV rating is 3 or above, Slip on long clothing, Slop on SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, Slap on a broad brimmed hat (not a cap), Seek shade and Slide on sunglasses. To protect your skin from harmful UV rays try to do as many of these as you can.
- Download our FREE SunSmart app here to track the daily UV in your location
- For more information on how to protect your skin from harmful UV rays visit www.myuv.com.au
- For more information on vitamin D download our ‘How much sun is enough?' brochure
If you're worried about your vitamin D level see your doctor. Taking a supplement under the guidance of your GP is far safer than lying in the sun.