Vitamin D - finding the right balance

The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the major cause of skin cancer but it is also our best source of vitamin D.

We need to balance our risk of skin cancer from too much sun exposure with the benefit of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. In Australia, sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. 

If you work indoors, find out how you can  balance vitamin D with skin cancer prevention by completing our free e-learning course. Alternatively, Cancer Council WA can provide education sessions for indoor workers.  For  more information visit our cancer education page.

For more information choose from the headings below:

What is vitamin D and why is it important?

Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining healthy bones and muscles.  Vitamin D forms when skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun (sunlight).

We can also get vitamin D from some foods we eat, such as oily fish, eggs and liver as well as margarine and dairy products fortified with vitamin D. However we cannot get enough vitamin D from our diet to maintain the levels our body needs to be healthy. This is why some sun exposure is important, but we must be careful not to get too much.

How much sun do I need to maintain adequate vitamin D levels?

Most people get enough vitamin D from the sun exposure they receive through day-to-day outdoor activities without needing to intentionally expose themselves to the sun.

Between August and May, most Western Australians can get enough vitamin D through incidental sun exposure in their day to day activities. During this period the focus should be on sun protection.

During the months of June and July only,  people living in the southern part of the state (Perth or below) should go outside without any protection for 30 minutes a day around midday to make sure they have enough vitamin D during winter.

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.

In winter in northern parts of Australia, where the UV radiation levels remain high throughout the year, vitamin D levels can be maintained through day-to-day outdoor activities and there is no need for intentional sun exposure.

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

Some groups in the community have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. They include:

  • Naturally dark-skinned people, who may need more UV exposure to produce adequate levels of vitamin D.  This is because the pigment in their skin may reduce the amount of UV radiation that is absorbed by the body.
  • People who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons.
  • The elderly and people who are housebound or in institutional care.
  • Babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers, especially if the babies are exclusively or partially breastfed.
  • Patients with osteoporosis.

People in these groups should consult their doctor for advice on whether they need to take a vitamin D supplement.

For more information see the Cancer Council's position statement - Risks and benefits of sun exposure.

To download a copy of 'How much sun in enough' brochure, please click here (pdf 254kb).

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