Vitamin D and the sun

Vitamin D

Why we need vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for the development of healthy bone, muscles and teeth and low levels are linked to illnesses including rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.  

Evidence is also emerging that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of bowel cancer and other cancers and may be linked to a number of other diseases.

With this in mind it is important to make sure your vitamin D level is sufficient for good health.   

How we get vitamin D

There are three ways to get vitamin D:

1. Sun exposure

Sun exposure is the best natural source of vitamin D. When ultra violet (UV) radiation touches the skin vitamin D is made. However, a number of things affect this process including age, skin type, where you are in the world and the time of year.  

During the summer months in Ireland spending a few minutes in the sun is the best way for your body to produce vitamin D. It is unlikely that your skin will make vitamin D in the winter months. But, the body can store enough to last between 30 - 60 days.

Because UV exposure is also linked to skin cancer getting a balance between safe sun exposure and vitamin D production is important. You don’t need to spend hours in the sun to produce enough vitamin D. Extra time outdoors doesn’t equal more vitamin D, but it does increase skin cancer risk.

The World Health Organisation advice is to get 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure to hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months. In this way sun exposure as you go about your daily life really makes a difference.

Walking outdoors for a few minutes to get your lunch, to pick up the children or hang out the clothes all counts.  

But, remember:

  • Never let your skin redden or burn to get vitamin D.
  • Take extra care if you have fair skin because you are more at risk of sunburn.
  • Never use a sunbed to increase your vitamin D levels.
  • It is important to protect your skin with the SunSmart code to reduce skin cancer risk.
  • Use a ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB; – SPF minimum 30 and look for the signs for UVA protection.

2. Eat a healthy balanced diet

Choosing foods that contain vitamin D is an important part of maintaining a health vitamin D level. The best foods to help with this are: 

  • Cod liver oil.
  • Oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and fresh tuna.

Other foods with small amounts of vitamin D include:

  • Egg yolks.
  • Beef.
  • Breakfast cereals that have added vitamin D  - look the ingredients to check the level.
  • Milk with added vitamin D.
  • Margarines and butter.

3. Take a daily vitamin D supplement

According to the HSE, taking a daily vitamin D supplement is another way to meet your vitamin D needs. They suggest taking a supplement that provides 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 per day. However, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.  

4. Babies and vitamin D

The HSE recommends that you give your baby 5 micrograms of vitamin D3 as a supplement every day from birth to 12 months if they are:

        * Breastfed

        * Taking less than 300mls or 10 fluid oz (ounces) of infant formula a day

All babies who are being breastfed should continue to get a vitamin D supplement after birth, even if you took vitamin D during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

You do not need to give your baby a vitamin D supplement if they are fed more than 300mls or 10 fluid oz (ounces) of infant formula a day. This is because there has been an increase in the amount of vitamin D added to infant formula. This is due to a change in EU law as of February 2020.

There are many suitable infant vitamin D3 supplements available to buy in Ireland. Use a supplement that contains vitamin D only.


In summary

With sun exposure and eating a healthy diet you can get much of the vitamin D your body needs. But, make sure that you do not increase your risk of skin cancer through over exposure to UV radiation.  

Following the SunSmart code helps to prevent this. If you are worried or at risk of having a low vitamin D level talk to your family doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.

Who is at risk of vitamin D deficiency?

There are a number of people who are at risk of having a low vitamin D level. They include:

  • People with darker skin.
  • People who cover up their bodies completely when going outside.
  • Older people who don’t get outdoors much.
  • People who avoid the sun.
  • Women who are pregnant.
  • Babies who are being breast feed and whose mums have low levels of vitamin D.
  • People with certain conditions which affect vitamin D metabolism.

If you are concerned about your vitamin D level, speak with your doctor.

If you are concerned about skin cancer or have any questions at all, speak to a cancer nurse by visiting one of our Daffodil Centres or by contacting a cancer nurse on Freephone 1800 200 700 or by email

For more information

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1800 200 700

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