Environmental factors that influence the cutaneous production of vitamin D

Am J Clin Nutr. 1995 Mar;61(3 Suppl):638S-645S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/61.3.638S.


All vertebrates, including humans, obtain most of their daily vitamin D requirement from casual exposure to sunlight. During exposure to sunlight, the solar ultraviolet B photons (290-315 nm) penetrate into the skin where they cause the photolysis of 7-dehydrocholesterol to precholecalciferol. Once formed, precholecalciferol undergoes a thermally induced rearrangement of its double bonds to form cholecalciferol. An increase in skin pigmentation, aging, and the topical application of a sunscreen diminishes the cutaneous production of cholecalciferol. Latitude, season, and time of day as well as ozone pollution in the atmosphere influence the number of solar ultraviolet B photons that reach the earth's surface, and thereby, alter the cutaneous production of cholecalciferol. In Boston, exposure to sunlight during the months of November through February will not produce any significant amounts of cholecalciferol in the skin. Because windowpane glass absorbs ultraviolet B radiation, exposure of sunlight through glass windows will not result in any production of cholecalciferol. It is now recognized that vitamin D insufficiency and vitamin D deficiency are common in elderly people, especially in those who are infirm and not exposed to sunlight or who live at latitudes that do not provide them with sunlight-mediated cholecalciferol during the winter months. Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency exacerbate osteoporosis, cause osteomalacia, and increase the risk of skeletal fractures. Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency can be prevented by encouraging responsible exposure to sunlight and/or consumption of a multivitamin tablet that contains 10 micrograms (400 IU) vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholecalciferol / metabolism
  • Environment*
  • Humans
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Seasons
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sunlight
  • Vitamin D / analysis
  • Vitamin D / biosynthesis*


  • Vitamin D
  • Cholecalciferol