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A little ray of sunshine

Friday 5 August, 2011 by Cairín

From the tall, dark and handsome among us to those that are pale and interesting, we all need a bit of sun to help with our vitamin D levels, which is essential for strong bones, muscles and overall health. It's just knowing how much sun is enough that can be the challenge.

Fortunately the clever folk at SunSmart have come up with an easy online tool to provide simple advice about when to catch some rays and when to cover up. This handy, free tool takes location, skin type and sunscreen use into account to give the user advice on their sun exposure for vitamin D.

It may come as a surprise to many people to learn that skin type plays an important role when it comes to vitamin D.

Skin colour is determined by the amount of melanin in your skin. People with darker skin have higher amounts of melanin. By contrast, those with less melanin have light or fair skin.

Melanin's main function is to protect your skin from too much exposure to the sun's UV rays, which can damage cells and ultimately cause skin cancer.

There is a relationship between the amount of melanin in your skin and vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is made in our bodies through a series of processes that start when your skin is exposed to UV. Because melanin affects how much UV gets absorbed by the skin, the higher your level of melanin, the more sunlight you need to produce vitamin D. Therefore, people with naturally very dark skin who have large amounts of melanin, may need from 3-6 times as much sun exposure as fair to olive skinned people, in order to help with their vitamin D levels.

As well as people who are naturally very dark skinned there are other groups that are at risk of low vitamin D. Find out if you fit into any of the ‘at risk' groups by visiting the Low vitamin D and deficiency: are you at risk? section of the website . If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, visit your GP to get your levels checked with a blood test. Never resort to solariums to boost your vitamin D - they are unsafe and increase the user's risk of melanoma.

The general rule of thumb is that whenever the UV is moderate to extreme (3 and above), sun protection is required. In the southern parts of Australia, such as Victoria, the UV is low from May until August, so sun protection is not required unless near reflective surfaces (such as snow) or outside for extended periods.

For more information about vitamin D, sun protection and skin cancer, check out http://www.sunsmart.com.au/vitamin_d.


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