Association of Sun-Protective Behaviors With Bone Mineral Density and Osteoporotic Bone Fractures in US Adults

JAMA Dermatol. 2021 Dec 1;157(12):1437-1446. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2021.4143.


Importance: Despite the reassuring emerging evidence on the lack of a causal relationship between sun protection and vitamin D deficiency, there is scarce data on whether multimodal sun protection is associated with reduced bone mineral density (BMD) and/or increased prevalence of osteoporotic bone fractures. This lack of data may lead to worry and decreased sun-protective behaviors on the part of patients.

Objective: To investigate the association of sun-protective behaviors with BMD z scores and the prevalence of osteoporotic fractures.

Design, setting, and participants: This population-based cross-sectional study included data from US adults who participated in the 2017 to 2018 cycle of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Data were analyzed between September and November 2020.

Main outcomes and measures: Definition of sun-protective behaviors (staying in the shade, wearing long sleeves, and sunscreen use), site-specific and total BMD, and osteoporotic fractures (hip, wrist, and spine) in the NHANES data.

Results: Data from 3418 adults 20 years and older (average age, 39.5 [95% CI, 38.6-40.4] years; 1612 [47.2%] men and 1806 [52.9%] women) who completed the NHANES dermatology questionnaire were included in this study. The prevalence of frequent staying in the shade, wearing of long sleeves, and sunscreen use were 31.6% (95% CI, 27.8%-35.7%), 11.8% (95% CI, 10.6%-13.1%), and 26.1% (95% CI, 23.5%-28.8%), respectively. The use of individual sun-protective behaviors was not associated with diminished site-specific and total BMD z scores in the multivariate models (estimate, -0.23 [95% CI, -0.47 to 0.02], P = .18; -0.08 [-0.27 to 0.12], P = .72; and -0.10 [-0.32 to 0.13], P = .15 for frequent staying in the shade, wearing of long sleeves, and sunscreen use, respectively). Moderate to frequent staying in the shade was associated with reduced prevalence of spine fractures in the multivariate model (odds ratio, 0.19 [95% CI, 0.04-0.86], P = 0.02).

Conclusion and relevance: In this cross-sectional study, routine use of sun-protective behaviors among the US adult population was not associated with decreased BMD or increased risk of osteoporotic fracture. Sun protection may be associated with a modest decrease in the prevalence of osteoporotic fractures, possibly owing to risk-averse behaviors. These reassuring findings add to the growing body of evidence on the safety of sun protection, with no considerable negative association with bone health.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bone Density
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone* / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Bone* / etiology
  • Fractures, Bone* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Osteoporosis* / epidemiology
  • Osteoporosis* / prevention & control
  • Osteoporotic Fractures* / epidemiology
  • Osteoporotic Fractures* / etiology
  • Osteoporotic Fractures* / prevention & control