Expert questions sun care advice
Fears over the link between rising skin cancer rates and exposure to sunshine may have led to overly precautionary advice being given to the public about staying out of the sun at midday, according to a confidential "position statement" by leading health organisations.
The current advice to the public in Britain from the leading research charity on skin cancer, Cancer Research UK, states to spend between 11am and 3pm in the shade and to cover the skin with clothing, hats and sunscreen if out. But a confidential position statement being prepared by the charity in collaboration with other health organisations acknowledges the changing evidence and emphasises the importance of exposing the skin to the midday sun without any protection in order to maximise production of vitamin D.
Many experts are concerned that past advice designed to protect against skin cancer may have resulted in an increased risk of other illnesses linked to a lack of vitamin D, which the body can only produce when skin in exposed to bright sunlight.
The confidential document, says: "The time required to make sufficient vitamin D is typically short and less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn. Regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day without sunscreen should be enough. When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best. However, people should get to know their own skin to understand how long they can spend outside before risking sunburn under different conditions."
The wording of the draft document is being seen by some commentators as a tacit admission by Cancer Research UK that it had got it wrong in the past, telling people to avoid the midday sun, to apply sunscreen and to stay in the shade in order to avoid exposure to the cancer-causing rays of the sun.
"Cancer Research UK is working on a new position statement on vitamin D and sunshine which it expects to agree with other health organisations," said Oliver Gillie, a health writer who has championed the case for vitamin D.
"Their new position is expected to break with 20 years of advice to seek the shade and is expected to suggest that people go out in the sun in the middle of the day for at least a few minutes."
Organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Diabetes UK and the National Osteoporosis Society are discussing what their public position should be on sunshine and vitamin D in the light of several new studies.
The draft position statement says: "Cancer Research UK's SunSmart campaign encourages people to enjoy the sun safely and avoid exposures that lead to sunburn. However, for most people, sunlight is also the most important source of vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health.
"It is important to ensure that skin cancer prevention messages are balanced with the need to make enough vitamin D, and reflect the latest scientific evidence."
Sara Hiom, director of health information at the charity, said that the draft consensus statement has not yet been finalised, agreed or released.
"Even once we reach a consensus we will not be advising the public to go in the sun in the middle of the day without sunscreen. This is because, for some people -- those most likely to be at risk of skin cancer -- a few minutes in the middle of the day is enough for them to burn and cause serious and lasting skin damage," Ms Hiom said. (© Independent News Service)