Dermatologists discuss how to manage patient concerns over vitamin D deficiency

July 1, 2012

It's summertime, and once again, people are looking for reasons to enjoy the sun. Assertions that sunscreens are detrimental to health are surfacing once more. This time, the question is whether sunscreens provide so much protection from sun exposure that they inhibit the body's natural production of vitamin D, leading to deficiencies.

Key Points

It's summertime, and once again, people are looking for reasons to enjoy the sun. After two decades of dermatologists warning people about the dangers of sun exposure and recommending consistent sunscreen use, assertions that sunscreens are detrimental to health are surfacing once more.

"While dermatologists recommend serum vitamin D 25(OH) levels of 20 ng/mL, the American Endocrinologists Society recommends 30 ng/mL. As a result, many people are coming up vitamin D deficient when tested," she says.

"When patients tell me they're concerned about their vitamin D levels, I tell them to get a good amount of D in their diet, and if they are not sure it's enough, take a supplement. I tell them not to try to get vitamin D from the sun or tanning parlors and to use sunscreens," Dr. Piatt says.

Low levels

"Patients started asking me if they're wearing sunscreen, how they're going to get vitamin D from the sun," Dr. Bussell says. "Vitamin D deficiency seems to be almost rampant in my area. People are coming in left and right saying, 'My doctor checked my vitamin D level; I'm low and I'm on supplements.' I don't think anybody ever really checked vitamin D levels very much in the past, but now everybody is on that bandwagon. I've checked their vitamin D levels, too, and they do tend to come back a little on the low side."

Dr. Bussell says she doesn't want to discourage her patients from wearing sunblock when they are spending time in the sun, but she tries to let patients feel like they're getting sun, even if it is severely restricted.

"If they're just walking to their car or around the block, it's not necessary to completely avoid sun just for that reason - for vitamin D and whatever else the sun does good for the skin. You don't want that completely eliminated," she says.