Alice Klein

Professional medical groups have reached an agreement about the appropriate level of UV exposure after years of disagreement about how to balance the risks of, on the one hand, melanoma caused by too much UV exposure, and on the other hand, osteoporosis caused by too little vitamin D – resulting from too little UV exposure.

A compromise must be struck between meeting vitamin D needs and minimising the risk of skin cancer, according to a joint position statement drafted by the Australasian College of Dermatologists, the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia and Cancer Council Australia.

The draft statement clarifies the dos and don’ts of sun exposure.

Here is a handy guide for patients:

  • Sun protection is not recommended when the UV Index is below 3.
  • It’s OK to go out in the midday sun unprotected in autumn/winter (southern states).
  • If the UV index is 3 or more, sun protection is required after a few minutes.
  • Be mindful that UV levels fluctuate day by day.
  • In summer, a few minutes of mid-morning or late afternoon sun is ample.
  • Aim to expose larger areas of skin for a shorter time to avoid Vitamin D saturation.
  • To check UV levels go to the website, myUV or download the SunSmart app for your phone.

Associate Professor Peter Foley, a Melbourne dermatologist who has been involved in putting together the new position statement, says the 4 organisations have decided not to specify how many minutes of daily sun exposure are required. He notes that even small amounts of sun exposure contributes to skin damage, “so it’s a constant trade-off”.

Exposing larger areas of skin to sunlight for a shorter time was better than exposing small areas of skin for a longer time because vitamin D production in each section of skin could become saturated, he added.

“The statement is deliberately vague because no one knows exactly how much sunlight exposure is required for optimal vitamin D production,” he says, adding that “it’s not the same for everyone”.

Rather, it’s all about striking a balance.

Last Reviewed: 30/07/2015

Reproduced with kind permission from 6minutes.com.au.