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20 January 2015

Weighing the benefits and risks of sunlight exposure

NICE is consulting on draft recommendations to help people strike the right balance when it comes to being out in the sun.

Communicating the benefits and risks of sunlight exposure to the general public is contentious because exposing the skin too much time in the sun (ultraviolet light) is a risk of skin cancer; too little can lead to vitamin D deficiency. The draft recommendations aim to give people a better understanding of the various benefits and risks[1].

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said: “Although exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays for too long can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, being out in the sun can be good for you too – it provides both a good source of vitamin D and the opportunity to be physically active. A balance needs to be struck. This depends on a number of factors including geographical location, time of day and year, weather conditions, natural skin colour and time spent in the sun.”

Professor Leng added: “Those likely to be at higher risk of skin cancer include people with lighter skin who may burn more easily, as well as babies and people who work outside. People at higher risk of having low levels of vitamin D, include those with darker skin, pregnant women, children, older adults, and people who don’t get much sun exposure.”

The draft guideline recommends tailoring advice according to skin type and age, as well as the physical and mental ability of recipients. It also recommends the development of policies and activities to protect the public generally as well as specific groups, including children, workers and everyone living in residential care or using day care services from under or over exposure to sunlight. Professionals who work in health or social care should explain that exposing relatively small areas of skin, such as forearms and hands, when in the sun for short periods can provide vitamin D. They should also make people aware of how to stay safe in sunlight, explaining that no sunscreen offers 100% protection against sunlight.

The draft guideline updates part of the skin cancer prevention public health guideline published in 2011 and complements the newly published guideline on vitamin D which recommends that people who are at risk of low vitamin D should be given better access to supplements to protect their health.

It is available on the NICE website. The consultation closes on 10 February 2015 and the final guideline is expected in the summer. The document can be found at http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/gid-phg77/resources/sunlight-exposure-benefits-and-risks-draft-guideline2.

Ends

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Notes to Editors

About the draft guidance

  1. The draft guideline on ‘Sunlight exposure: communicating the benefits and risks to the general public’ is available at /guidance/gid-phg77/resources/sunlight-exposure-benefits-and-risks-draft-guideline2.
  2. PH32 Skin cancer prevention: information, resources and environmental changes - /guidance/PH32
  3. PH56 Vitamin D: increasing supplement use among at-risk groups - /guidance/PH56


[1] Vitamin D interventions that do not involve sunlight are beyond the remit of this guideline.

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Although exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays for too long can increase your risk of developing skin cancer, being out in the sun can be good for you too

Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE