The effect of sunscreen on vitamin D: a review

Br J Dermatol. 2019 Nov;181(5):907-915. doi: 10.1111/bjd.17980. Epub 2019 Jul 9.

Abstract

Background: Sunscreen use can prevent skin cancer, but there are concerns that it may increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Objectives: We aimed to review the literature to investigate associations between sunscreen use and vitamin D3 or 25 hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentration.

Methods: We systematically reviewed the literature following the Meta-analysis Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines. We identified manuscripts published in English between 1970 and 21 November 2017. Eligible studies were experimental [using an artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) source], field trials or observational studies. The results of each of the experimental studies and field trials are described in detail. Two authors extracted information from observational studies, and applied quality scoring criteria that were developed specifically for this question. These have been synthesized qualitatively.

Results: We included four experimental studies, three field trials (two were randomized controlled trials) and 69 observational studies. In the experimental studies sunscreen use considerably abrogated the vitamin D3 or 25(OH)D production induced by exposure to artificially generated UVR. The randomized controlled field trials found no effect of daily sunscreen application, but the sunscreens used had moderate protection [sun protection factor SPF) ~16]. The observational studies mostly found no association or that self-reported sunscreen use was associated with higher 25(OH)D concentration.

Conclusions: There is little evidence that sunscreen decreases 25(OH)D concentration when used in real-life settings, suggesting that concerns about vitamin D should not negate skin cancer prevention advice. However, there have been no trials of the high-SPF sunscreens that are now widely recommended. What's already known about this topic? Previous experimental studies suggest that sunscreen can block vitamin D production in the skin but use artificially generated ultraviolet radiation with a spectral output unlike that seen in terrestrial sunlight. Nonsystematic reviews of observational studies suggest that use in real life does not cause vitamin D deficiency. What does this study add? This study systematically reviewed all experimental studies, field trials and observational studies for the first time. While the experimental studies support the theoretical risk that sunscreen use may affect vitamin D, the weight of evidence from field trials and observational studies suggests that the risk is low. We highlight the lack of adequate evidence regarding use of the very high sun protection factor sunscreens that are now recommended and widely used.

Publication types

  • Review