Are sunscreen and sun exposure guidelines unhealthy?

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

Are sunscreen and sun exposure guidelines unhealthy?

Related tags: Sun exposure, Ultraviolet

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to numerous health conditions, and now an organization in Canada is calling for public health groups to advise consumers about the benefits of moderate UV exposure.

The Vitamin D Society points to a newly published study that call out groups such as the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, the US Surgeon General, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Dermatology Association, for their role encouraging people to drastically limit sun and UV exposure.

Light industry
In Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health, Carole Baggerly, lead author on the paper and executive director of GrassrootsHealth, asserts that "Humans have adapted to sun exposure over many thousands of years and derive numerous physiological benefits from UV exposure." ​She goes on to explain that vitamin D, as a supplement, doesn’t have the same benefits.

The Vitamin D Society, unsurprisingly, advocates for public awareness about the health risks of deficiency and the concomitant benefits of measured sun exposure. “Statistics Canada reports that 12 million Canadians, or 35% of the population, have insufficient vitamin D levels, including 10% who are severely deficient, which sets them up for higher disease risk,” ​notes the organization.

And in “countries with low solar intensity” ​the opportunity for consumers to spend time in the sunlight and reap the benefits is limited. “In Canada, vitamin D from sunlight can only be synthesized in the skin during the spring, summer and fall months, around midday, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., when the UV index is above three and your shadow is shorter than your height,” ​explains the society.

Wellness from the sun
Consumers opt for sun care products in the interest of anti-aging and skin health. And, the connection between personal care and wellness is strengthening, with research showing that brands do best when they focus on wellness (Read this​ and this​).

So the reminder that sun exposure has health benefits may well shift perceptions of sun care. That means, there are perhaps opportunities here for sun care brands to get involved.

Baggerly is urging “public health entities to re-evaluate their current sun exposure policies and recommend UV exposure levels that promote a balanced, moderate approach that are both beneficial and safe.” ​ That same message could be incorporated into consumer education messaging from sun care brands.

Point, counterpoint
Of course other research circulating in the industry points to the dangers of exposure and the opportunities and responsibilities that sun care product manufactures and brands have regarding protection.

Cosmetics Design​ recently acknowledged that “the sun care category isperhaps one of the most technically advanced, diverse and complex” ​in the industry. And, in the end it’s the effects of too much​ sun exposure that the sun care industry is focused on alleviating. Though the Vitamin D Society is on to something: that industry objective may be lost on consumers in the face of strong warnings from public health groups and snappy advertisements.

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