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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2007 Mar;103(3-5):655-63. Epub 2007 Jan 11.

Sun protection and Vitamin D: three dimensions of obfuscation.

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Department of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, 609 Albany Street-J507, Boston, MA 02118, USA.


Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a proven carcinogen, responsible for more than half of all human malignancies. It also compromises skin appearance and function. Since the UV action spectra for DNA damage, skin cancer and Vitamin D(3) (vit D) photosynthesis are identical and vit D is readily available from oral supplements, why has sun protection become controversial, now that some data suggest conventionally "sufficient" levels of vit D may be less than optimal for at least some population groups? First, the media and apparently some researchers are hungry for a new message. Nevertheless, after 50 years, UV exposure is still a major avoidable health hazard. Second, the controversy is fueled by a powerful special interest group: the indoor tanning industry. They target not the frail elderly or inner-city ethnic minorities, groups for whom evidence of vit D insufficiency is strongest, but rather fair-skinned teenagers and young adults, those at highest risk of UV photodamage. Third, evolution does not keep pace with civilization. When nature gave man the appealing capacity for vit D photosynthesis, the expected lifespan was far less than 40 years. Long-term photodamage was not a concern, and vit D was not available at the corner store. The medical community should avoid sensationalism and instead rigorously explore possible cause-and-effect relationships between vit D status and specific diseases while advocating the safest possible means of assuring vit D sufficiency.

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