Fractional Sunburn Threshold UVR Doses Generate Equivalent Vitamin D and DNA Damage in Skin Types I-VI but with Epidermal DNA Damage Gradient Correlated to Skin Darkness

J Invest Dermatol. 2018 Oct;138(10):2244-2252. doi: 10.1016/j.jid.2018.04.015. Epub 2018 May 3.


Public health guidance recommends limiting sun exposure to sub-sunburn levels, but it is unknown whether these can gain vitamin D (for musculoskeletal health) while avoiding epidermal DNA damage (initiates skin cancer). Well-characterized healthy humans of all skin types (I-VI, lightest to darkest skin) were exposed to a low-dose series of solar simulated UVR of 20%-80% their individual sunburn threshold dose (minimal erythema dose). Significant UVR dose responses were seen for serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and whole epidermal cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs), with as little as 0.2 minimal erythema dose concurrently producing 25-hydroxyvitamin D and CPD. Fractional MEDs generated equivalent levels of whole epidermal CPD and 25-hydroxyvitamin D across all skin types. Crucially, we showed an epidermal gradient of CPD formation strongly correlated with skin darkness (r = 0.74, P < 0.0001), which reflected melanin content and showed increasing protection across the skin types, ranging from darkest skin, where high CPD levels occurred superficially, with none in the germinative basal layer, to lightest skin, where CPD levels were induced evenly across the epidermal depth. People with darker skin can be encouraged to use sub-sunburn UVR-exposure to enhance their vitamin D. In people with lighter skin, basal cell damage occurs concurrent with vitamin D synthesis at exquisitely low UVR levels, providing an explanation for their high skin cancer incidence; greater caution is required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • DNA Damage
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects*
  • Skin Pigmentation / radiation effects
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / metabolism
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology*
  • Vitamin D / radiation effects
  • Vitamins / pharmacology


  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin D
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D