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The Myths and Realities of Vitamin D and Sun Exposure
 

American Academy of Dermatology Challenges Validity of Recent Claims
Promoting Health Benefits of Intentional Sun Exposure
 

(press release from AAD)

NEW YORK (May 3, 2004) – Recent media coverage of unsubstantiated reports linking the health benefits of vitamin D to unprotected sun exposure is leading to further confusion among the public.  For decades, dermatologists have advised the public to practice proper sun protection to prevent skin cancer – and that same advice holds true today, despite any claims to the contrary.

Speaking today at the American Academy of Dermatology’s (AAD) Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month news conference, dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., clinical professor, New York University Medical Center in New York City, debunked the current myths about vitamin D and offered practical advice on getting an adequate supply of this nutrient.

“As a dermatologist who treats the ravages of skin cancer on a daily basis, it is appalling to me that anyone in good conscience could make the claim that intentional sun exposure – for any length of time – is beneficial,” stated Dr. Rigel.  “The fact is, skin cancer is increasing at an alarming rate and scientific research confirms that our best defense is avoiding excessive, unprotected sun exposure.”

Dr. Rigel addressed the most common myths about vitamin D and sun exposure, including:

Myth #1 – Regular use of sunscreen blocks ultraviolet (UV) exposure to the skin and leads to decreased vitamin D levels.

Fact – A 1997 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute of patients with Xeroderma Pigmentosa (a disease that causes multiple skin cancers in persons exposed to the smallest amounts of ultraviolet radiation), who have had maximum UV protection over several years, showed that these patients have normal vitamin D levels despite virtually no UV exposure.  

Myth #2 – It takes a significant amount of UV exposure to maintain normal levels of vitamin D.

Fact – Normal vitamin D levels are easily maintained through routine daily activities (even when wearing sunscreen) and a normal diet.  Supplemental vitamin D tablets are typically not needed. 

Myth #3 – Sunscreen blocks all of the UV radiation hitting the skin, so that those wearing sunscreen cannot form vitamin D.

Fact – There is no such thing as a total (or even near total) UV block.  Even the most effective sunscreens currently on the market let through enough UV to allow for adequate vitamin D formation. 

Myth #4 – Skin cancer is not a dangerous disease, so protection is not very important.

Fact – One American dies every hour from melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. 

Myth #5 – Decreased vitamin D levels lead to increases in other cancers and other diseases.

Fact – “There are no scientific studies that prove this statement,” explained Dr. Rigel.  “The claim is based on a study that finds that overall cancer rates are higher in the northeast United States, a location with lower sunlight levels than many other places in the country.  Those making this claim conclude that since the northeast has lower UV levels, this is the reason why cancer rates are higher in this region.  However, several studies prove this theory is false.  These include studies that show that cancer rates are low in the northern plain states (areas with the lowest UV levels in the country) and small regional studies (New York state), where cancer rates are highest in areas with industrial pollutants and are not related to sunlight levels.” 

“When we take a close look at these myths and evaluate the facts, the course of action is clear,” said Dr. Rigel.  “Until there is science that tells us otherwise, it is imperative that people protect themselves from the sun.  Anyone concerned about not getting enough vitamin D should either take a multivitamin or drink a few glasses of vitamin D-fortified milk every day.  Given the fact that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation as a known carcinogen, exposing oneself to it for the sake of vitamin D is not the answer.”

The AAD recommends that everyone practice a comprehensive sun protection program, including avoiding outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest, seeking shade whenever possible, wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 and reapplying it every two hours, and wearing sun-protective clothing.

Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations.  With a membership of more than 14,000 dermatologists worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails.  For more information, contact the AAD at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org

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