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The Role of Vitamin D: Sun Exposure and Skin Care


by Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgeon Mr Siva Kumar

Vitamin D is required by your body to maintain bone and muscle health. There is also increasing evidence that demonstrates the benefits it has in maintaining your skin's condition and robustness.

Vitamin D helps the outer layers of your skin to repair itself from general wear and tear. Lack of vitamin D can cause thinning of the skin making the skin more fragile and less hydrated, in turn causing dryness and wrinkles. Therefore, the sunshine vitamin is essential for maintaining healthy-looking skin and appropriate sun exposure is important in helping the skin to synthesise the necessary amounts. But this is not a reason to over-expose your body to UV radiation!

Typical British weather means that we struggle to get the balance of UV radiation right. Levels of vitamin D plunge when the nights draw in- a recent survey found that 50% of the UK population are deficient in vitamin D and 16% have a severe deficiency during winter months. Those at heightened risk are people who spend a lot of their lives indoor, people with darker skin, and people that conceal their skin with clothing. 

How to give yourself a Vitamin D boost

A fair skinned person only requires 20 to 30 minutes of sun two or three times a week to make enough vitamin D. In addition, a diet rich in oily fish, eggs, mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals and margarine can help to top up your body’s resource.
The government now recommends that everyone take a vitamin D supplement, specially during the winter months. These supplements are cheap to buy and available ‘off the shelf’ at all pharmacies and supermarkets.

UVA and UVB: The Difference Explained

The sunlight that reaches us is composed of two types of harmful radiation, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). Of these, UVA penetrates deep into the skin and is responsible for damaging elastin, a key component that keeps our skin looking younger.

Repeated damage will lead to wrinkles and other forms of sun ageing such as a leathery look and texture to your skin and brown pigmentation. UVB tends to damage the superficial layers of the skin and is responsible for causing sunburn and the development of skin cancers.

Sun Protection

Taking the right precautions now to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun will prevent you from getting wrinkles earlier in life as well as far more serious consequences such as skin cancer. As well as keeping covered and staying out of the sun between 11am-3pm, here are some more tips:

  • Use good sun cream that carries a ‘broad spectrum’ UVA 4 star or above and SPF30 or above rating. Sun creams work either by absorbing the UV radiation or reflecting it away. Broad spectrum refers to the ability to protect against UVA and nowadays many sun creams have the UVA symbol with stars (0-5) denoting how adept it is at blocking these rays. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number relates to its ability to deflect UVB rays. Reapply every 2 hours as the active ingredients get used up in this time.
  • Don’t rely on your moisturizer or make-up alone for sun protection. Most moisturizers provide SPF 15 cover which is low protection. They also offer little in the way of water resistance and rub off quite easily.

The old adage that ‘prevention is better than cure’ very much applies here. Afterall, we all want to look as young as we can for as long as we can. So think ahead, be prepared and enjoy the sun!


Siva Kumar is a fully certified Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgeon.  His NHS practice is based at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead where he specialises in skin cancer.

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