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Recommendations for sunlight exposure may need to be revised, researchers say

Experts say there’s a fine line between soaking up vitamin D and being exposed to potentially harmful rays

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Photo (c) Justin Pumfrey - Getty Images
Many consumers try to spend more time outdoors to soak up as much vitamin D as they can. But how much time in the sun is too much? 

A new study conducted by researchers from King’s College London explored this idea, and they found that current guidelines for sun exposure may need to be reworked. While it’s important to spend time in the sun, it can be risky when thinking about sunburn or skin cancer. 

“Our study shows that risk versus benefit calculations from solar exposure may need to be re-evaluated,” said researcher Antony Young. “The results from the study are timely because the global technical committee, Commission internationale de l'éclairage, that sets UVR standards will be able to discuss the findings of this paper to re-evaluate the wavelength dependency of vitamin D.”

Staying safe in the sun

To better understand the risks versus the benefits of time spent in the sun, the researchers had 75 participants test out different combinations of artificial light exposure. They used five different artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) sources, all with different levels of UVB radiation, and they measured the participants’ vitamin D levels when they were either fully or partially exposed to each of the different options. The goal of the study was to see how the older guidelines stacked up against this new experiment in terms of the benefits and risks of sun exposure. 

Ultimately, the researchers believe that the existing recommendations for sunlight exposure should be revised in order to give consumers the best chance of absorbing vitamin D and avoiding sunburn and skin cancer. They explained that determining the difference between health benefits and health risks after spending time in the sun is difficult and dependent on each specific wavelength within the UVR spectrum. 

The goal of the original guidelines was to identify which wavelengths helped the body absorb vitamin D and which increased the risk for health concerns. However, the accuracy of these recommendations has recently been called into question. Based on this study, the researchers say the skepticism is valid. 

They explained that by altering these guidelines, consumers will be able to make the most of their time in the sun. The goal is to reap the benefits of sun exposure -- synthesizing vitamin D -- while avoiding the dangers that come with too much sun exposure. 

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