The challenge resulting from positive and negative effects of sunlight: how much solar UV exposure is appropriate to balance between risks of vitamin D deficiency and skin cancer?

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2006 Sep;92(1):9-16. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2006.02.010. Epub 2006 Feb 28.


There is no doubt that solar ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the most important environmental risk factor for the development of non-melanoma skin cancer. Therefore, sun protection is of particular importance to prevent these malignancies, especially in risk groups. However, 90% of all requisite vitamin D has to be formed in the skin through the action of the sun-a serious problem, for a connection between vitamin D deficiency and a broad variety of independent diseases including various types of cancer, bone diseases, autoimmune diseases, hypertension and cardiovascular disease has now been clearly indicated in a large number of epidemiologic and laboratory studies. An important link that improved our understanding of these new findings was the discovery that the biologically active vitamin D metabolite 1,25(OH)(2)D is not exclusively produced in the kidney, but in many other tissues such as prostate, colon, skin and osteoblasts. Extra-renally produced 1,25(OH)(2)D is now considered to be an autocrine or paracrine hormone, regulating various cellular functions including cell growth. We and others have shown that strict sun protection causes vitamin D deficiency in risk groups. In the light of new scientific findings that convincingly demonstrate an association of vitamin D deficiency with a variety of severe diseases including various cancers, the detection and treatment of vitamin D deficiency in sun-deprived risk groups is of high importance. It has to be emphasized that in groups that are at high risk of developing vitamin D deficiency (e.g., nursing home residents or patients under immunosuppressive therapy), vitamin D status has to be monitored. Vitamin D deficiency should be treated, e.g., by giving vitamin D orally. Dermatologists and other clinicians have to recognize that there is convincing evidence that the protective effect of less intense solar UV radiation outweighs its mutagenic effects. Although further work is necessary to define an adequate vitamin D status and adequate guidelines for solar UV exposure, it is at present mandatory that public health campaigns and recommendations of dermatologists on sun protection consider these facts. Well-balanced recommendations on sun protection have to ensure an adequate vitamin D status, thereby protecting people against adverse effects of strict sun protection without significantly increasing the risk of developing UV-induced skin cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Internationality
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Sunlight*
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / prevention & control*