Last year’s sunscreen controversy might be called the “Vitamin D Dilemma.”

Because people generate a considerable portion of the vitamin D they need for strong bones and teeth through interaction with the sun’s ultraviolet rays, some analysts – recognizing that many people are not getting enough vitamin D – suggested that the growing use of sunscreen could be a cause of the problem.

This provoked a spat of news reports covering both sides of the question. For some readers, the assessments were confusing and the best practice remains unclear.

Best Practice

Generally, sunscreen provides important protection against the dangers in solar radiation, and its use should be continued, especially for light-skinned people, people who work outside and those who are out at the height of the sun’s intensity – between 10 am and 4 pm daily.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “Normal vitamin D levels are easily maintained through routine daily activities (even when wearing sunscreen) and a normal diet. Supplemental vitamin D tablets are typically not needed.”

However, some people do suffer from a lack of vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D can cause muscle weakness and pain and, as people age, can lead to osteoporosis – weak and brittle bones that can easily fracture. Some studies have shown that vitamin D reduces blood pressure and reduces the risk of autoimmune diseases.

One way to increase vitamin D is to take vitamin tablets or to change one’s diet to include more vitamin D-fortified foods (milk and some cereals) or foods with naturally high levels, such as eggs (yolks), salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Before taking supplements or making significant diet changes, one should talk to a doctor. Overconsumption of vitamin D can cause toxicity.

For more information on vitamin D, visit the National Institutes of Health or the American Academy of Dermatology.