Background and design: Studies published have suggested a possibility that regular use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer may put the population, particularly elderly people, at risk of vitamin D deficiency. We aimed to determine whether regular use of sunscreens in the normal adult population, as recommended by public health authorities for the prevention of skin cancer, may put individuals at risk of vitamin D deficiency. A randomized double-blind control trial of the daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen (sun protection factor [SPF] 17) vs placebo cream over a summer period in Australia was conducted in 113 people aged 40 years and over, with sampling stratified by age. All participants had at least one solar keratosis. Serum samples taken at the beginning and at the end of the study were analyzed for 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3.
Results: Mean levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 rose significantly by the same amount in both groups over the period of the study (placebo, +12.8 mmol/L; sunscreen, +11.8 mmol/L). Mean levels of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 increased significantly in the placebo group only (placebo, +10.8 pmol/L; sunscreen, +1.3 pmol/L), but for no subject in either group was the level of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 outside the reference range either at the start or at the end of the study. There were no significant differences by age, sex, and skin type in the change in 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 or 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 over the study period.
Conclusions: No person, including those aged 70 years and over, developed any vitamin D levels outside the normal reference range during the period of the study. The data suggest that over an Australian summer sufficient sunlight is received, probably through both the sunscreen itself and the lack of total skin cover at all times, to allow adequate vitamin D production in people who are recommended to use sunscreens regularly. More work is required to elucidate the relationship between 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, particularly during the different seasons of the year.