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. 

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.

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?

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 on most days of the week. This is to help boost vitamin D levels during winter.

In winter in northern parts of Australia (above Perth), 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.

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.

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

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

  • Those with previous skin cancer or at high risk of skin cancer
  • People who wear covering/concealing clothing
  • Naturally very dark skinned people
  • People who spend long hours indoors, including housebound or institutionalised Australians
  • Older adults
  • Obese people
  • Babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers
  • People with conditions such as obesity, end stage liver disease, renal disease, cystic fibrosis, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or are taking medications affecting vitamin D metabolism.

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.

Download a copy of 'How much sun is enough' brochure (available from our Publications pages).

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