Sun and sun beds: inducers of vitamin D and skin cancer

Anticancer Res. 2009 Sep;29(9):3495-500.


Solar radiation is both the main cause of all types of skin cancer, including cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM), and the main source of vitamin D accompanied by its beneficial effects. The dilemma lies in that increased sun exposure could lead to an increase in skin cancers and yet is necessary for the better prognosis of internal cancers. Solar radiation varies in intensity and spectral composition with geographic location and time. Of central interest in the present context is that the UVA/UVB ratio can vary. Thus, the UVA/UVB ratio increases with decreasing solar elevation. The ratio is also larger for most sun beds than that in the midday sun, but similar to that in the afternoon sun. This may have large health implications, since vitamin D is exclusively generated by UVB, while UVA and UVB likely play a role in the onset of CMM. Sun and sun beds act similarly: one quantum of radiation at a given wavelength has the same biological effect, irrespective of the source from which it comes. The winter levels of vitamin D are 10 to 100% lower than the summer levels in most populations, but can be brought up to summer levels by moderate sun bed exposure. Doses of 200 IU of vitamin D per day are not sufficiently large to maintain a summer vitamin D status in winter. At high latitudes (>40 degrees) the sun provides no vitamin D in winter. A number of epidemiological studies, interventional studies, animal studies and cell experiments show that vitamin D reduces the risk and/or prognosis of internal cancers. Populations living at high latitudes would probably benefit from moderately increasing their exposure to UVB to provide a good vitamin D status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects*
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Sunbathing*
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • Vitamin D / biosynthesis*


  • Vitamin D