ACT News

New guidelines explain how to balance sun safety and vitamin D exposure

Confusion over apparently conflicting messages about how much sun exposure is good for your health has prompted anti-skin cancer advocates and vitamin D proponents to develop uniform national guidelines.

The recommendations, published on Sunday, stress the importance of checking UV radiation levels before deciding whether or not to cover up outdoors.

New guidelines by dermatologists and bone specialists recommend Canberrans stay sun safe during summer, but avoid ...
New guidelines by dermatologists and bone specialists recommend Canberrans stay sun safe during summer, but avoid slipping, slopping and slapping during winter. Photo: Graham Tidy

Previous campaigns focused either exclusively on the risk of skin cancer from sun exposure or the importance of maintaining healthy vitamin D levels for bone and muscle development.

Peak bodies concerned about sun safety – Cancer Council Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists – joined associations focused on vitamin D levels – the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and the Endocrine Society of Australia – to publish the guidelines.

Cancer Council Australia's Public Health Committee chief, Craig Sinclair said most Australians received adequate vitamin D levels during day-to-day activities in summer.

But he said sun protection was not necessary during much of the ACT's winter, when the UV index remained below three.

"In those southern states, which includes the ACT for June and July, we're going to recommend people not use sun protection, unless they're exposing themselves for prolonged periods near highly reflective surfaces such as snow," he said.

"We are going to be very active when the UV index is above three and actively discouraging people to be sun protective during those winter months. This will help them to maintain sufficient sun exposure to get vitamin D."

The Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society's Professor Rebecca Mason recommended people spend time outdoors during the winter months to improve or maintain their vitamin D levels.

"Getting physically active, by going for a brisk walk during your lunchtime or doing some gardening outdoors, will also help maintain your vitamin D levels," she said.

Osteoporosis Australia's Professor Peter Ebeling said vitamin D levels obtained over summer could be stored for one to two months.

"For most of the population, any reduction in vitamin D levels experienced in winter can be corrected at other times of the year when UV levels are higher," he said.

The guidelines recommend those at risk of vitamin D deficiency visit a GP to determine whether supplements rather than sun exposure was appropriate, while outdoor workers are advised to use sun protection year-round.

A Cancer Council survey released in November found Canberrans were more sun-safe than other Australians, with only 8 per cent of respondents in the ACT admitting to attempting a suntan.

The full recommendations can be found on the Cancer Council website.