The vitamin D debate: translating controlled experiments into reality for human sun exposure times

Photochem Photobiol. 2011 May-Jun;87(3):741-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2011.00898.x. Epub 2011 Feb 14.


Exposure to sunlight, specifically the ultraviolet radiation, has both positive and negative health effects. Maximizing the benefits (vitamin D synthesis) while minimizing the damage is a multifaceted problem in which many of the elements are poorly quantified. Here we show how rigorously conducted large sample size laboratory studies of the effect of ultraviolet radiation dose on vitamin D status can be applied to real-life situations. This was achieved by modeling the radiation incident on different surfaces for different solar locations, and equating with the controlled exposures in the laboratory studies. Results from both model and experimental data show that relatively short exposures of a modest amount of unprotected skin to summer sunlight in northern climes, on a regular basis during lunchtime hours, increases vitamin D to sufficiency status (≥20 ng mL(-1) ) in the white Caucasian population. While both sun exposure conditions and human skin responses are variable in real life, these quantitative findings provide a guide for authorities devising sunlight exposure recommendations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiometry / methods*
  • Seasons
  • Sunlight
  • Vitamin D / blood*
  • White People


  • Vitamin D