The effects of a mid-winter 8-week course of sub-sunburn sunbed exposures on tanning, vitamin D status and colds

Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2012 Dec;11(12):1848-54. doi: 10.1039/c2pp25179e.


Like UV irradiation, which generates vitamin D(3) in the skin, the hormonally active metabolite, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D(3), boosts innate immunity against viruses and bacteria. Epidemiologic studies have found high vitamin D levels to be associated with lower risk of infections of the upper respiratory tract (colds). We have therefore performed an intervention study in 105 young adults (ages 18-30 years; 91% female) over a mid-winter 8-week period (January-March 2010). The participants were randomised to 3 groups: (A) subjected to 3 times a week sub-sunburn sunbed exposure (n = 35), (B) daily vitamin D supplementation, @ 1000 IU (n = 37), and (C) a control group without any intervention (n = 33). The mean serum level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) dropped from 62 to 55 nmol l(-1) in group C, while these levels rose from 62 to 109 and from 58 to 93 nmol l(-1) in groups A and B, respectively (p < 0.001). The skin on the chest darkened significantly in group A (mean difference in lightness, L*, equalled -5.7, p < 0.001), correlating significantly, but weakly, with increases in 25(OH)D (3.3 nmol l(-1) per unit drop in L*, R(2) = 0.17, p = 0.014). The percentage of self-reported colds with proper signs and symptoms was only slightly and not significantly reduced in groups A and B in comparison to group C: 57 and 51 versus 67%, respectively. Hence, the sub-sunburn sunbed treatment was effective in tanning and increasing the 25(OH)D serum level, more so than 1000 IU per day, but had no appreciable effect on colds.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cold Temperature
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Seasons
  • Sunbathing
  • Tanning*
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Young Adult


  • Vitamin D
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D