Vitamin D Synthesis Following a Single Bout of Sun Exposure in Older and Younger Men and Women

Nutrients. 2020 Jul 27;12(8):2237. doi: 10.3390/nu12082237.


Older adults are frequently cited as an at-risk population for vitamin D deficiency that may in part be due to decreased cutaneous synthesis, a potentially important source of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Previous studies found that cutaneous D3 production declines with age; however, most studies have been conducted ex vivo or in the photobiology lab. The purpose of this study was to characterize the response of vitamin D metabolites following a 30-min bout of sun exposure (15-min each to the dorsal and ventral sides) at close to solar noon in younger and older adults.

Methods: 30 healthy individuals with skin type II/III were recruited; a younger cohort, aged 20-37 (n = 18) and an older cohort (n = 12), age 51-69 years. Exposure was at outer limits of sensible sun exposure designed to enhance vitamin D synthesis without increasing risk of photo ageing and non-melanoma skin cancer. Serum D3 concentration was measured at baseline, 24, 48 and 72 h post-exposure. Serum 25(OH)D was measured at baseline and 72 h post-exposure plus 168 h post-exposure in the older cohort.

Results: D3 increased in response to sun exposure (time effect; p = 0.002) with a trend for a difference in D3 between cohorts (time*group; p = 0.09). By regression modeling of continuous data, age accounted for 20% of the variation in D3 production. D3 production decreased by 13% per decade. Despite changes in D3, however, serum 25(OH)D did not change from baseline to 72 or 168 h post exposure (p > 0.10).

Conclusions: Serum D3 concentration increased significantly in response to outdoor sun exposure in younger and older adults. While ageing may dampen cutaneous synthesis, sunlight exposure is still a significant source of vitamin D3.

Keywords: ageing; cutaneous synthesis; natural sunlight; older persons; sensible sun exposure; serum 25(OH)D; vitamin D3.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Cholecalciferol / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Sunlight*
  • Time Factors
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives*
  • Vitamin D / biosynthesis*
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D Deficiency / etiology
  • Young Adult


  • Vitamin D
  • Cholecalciferol
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D