Sunscreens block cutaneous vitamin D production with only a minimal effect on circulating 25-hydroxyvitamin D

Arch Osteoporos. 2017 Dec;12(1):66. doi: 10.1007/s11657-017-0361-0. Epub 2017 Jul 17.


A 50+ SPF sunscreen decreased significantly cutaneous vitamin D production following a single narrow-band (nb)UVB exposure, independently from the body surface area exposed. In contrast, the circulating 25(OH)D3 levels were only minimally affected. It is probable that another endogenous source of precursors is selected when skin-originated precursors are lacking.

Purpose: Sunscreen use, highly advocated for preventing cutaneous carcinogenesis, is potentially leading to an aggravation of vitamin D deficiency with its consequences on bone health. The effect of sunscreens on circulating vitamin D levels remains debated. This study investigated the effect of sunscreen on cutaneous vitamin D production and circulating 25(OH)D3 levels, according to different body surface areas (BSA).

Methods: Vitamin D and 25(OH)D3 levels were measured in four groups exposed to a single nbUVB exposure on 9% (group I: head and hands), 23% (group II: head, hands and arms), 50% (group III: head, hands, arms and legs) and 96% (group IV: total body) of the body surface without and with a 50+ sun protection factor sunscreen.

Results: Sunscreen use decreased by 83, 88.3, 75.7 and 92.5% the cutaneous vitamin D production in groups I to IV, respectively, but only by 13.2, 10.5, 7.7 and 10.4% the values of circulating 25(OH)D3, correspondingly.

Conclusions: Although a 50+ sunscreen decreases significantly cutaneous vitamin D production following a single nbUVB exposure, and independently from the BSA, the circulating 25(OH)D3 levels were only minimally affected. This could be explained by a switch to another endogenous source of precursors. Short-term sunscreen use probably does not affect circulating vitamin D levels and hence does not increase the risk for osteoporosis. The effect of long-term sunscreen use remains however to be determined.

Keywords: 25(OH)D3; Body surface; Sunscreen; UVB; Vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / adverse effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Ultraviolet Rays
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives
  • Vitamin D / biosynthesis*
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / etiology
  • Young Adult


  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Vitamin D
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D