The vitamin D questions: how much do you need and how should you get it?

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Feb;54(2):301-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2005.11.1057. Epub 2006 Jan 4.


UV radiation is a well-documented human carcinogen, indisputably linked to the current continued increased rate of skin cancer. UV radiation is also responsible for cutaneous synthesis of vitamin (vit) D3, a substance that is then sequentially hydroxylated in the liver and kidney to yield 1,25(OH)2 vit D, a hormone critical for calcium homeostasis and skeletal maintenance. Because the UV action spectra for DNA damage leading to skin cancer and for vit D photosynthesis are virtually identical, the harmful and beneficial effects of UV irradiation are inseparable. This has given rise to the argument that sun avoidance, with a goal of skin cancer prevention, may compromise vit D sufficiency. Public interest in this matter has been heightened in recent years by multiple studies correlating the level of 25-OH vit D, the readily measurable "storage" precursor form of the vit, with a variety of benefits separate from skeletal health. Although the studies are of variable quality and all alleged treatment benefits are based on dietary supplementation with vit D, not on increased sun exposure, they have been interpreted by some as support for advocating increased sun exposure of the public at large. The goal of this review is to provide a detailed, balanced, and referenced discussion of the complex literature underlying the current popular interest in vit D and sun exposure for the purpose of increasing vit D photosynthesis. We review the nomenclature, metabolism, and established functions of vit D; the evidence supporting the less well-established but purported vit D effects; the concept of vit D insufficiency; populations at risk for vit D deficiency; and finally the risk/benefit of obtaining vit D from cutaneous photosynthesis versus diet or supplementation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Damage / radiation effects
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Homeostasis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hyperparathyroidism / physiopathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Osteomalacia / physiopathology
  • Skin Aging / physiology
  • Sunlight* / adverse effects
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin D / metabolism
  • Vitamin D / physiology*


  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Vitamin D