Making vitamin D naturally: Time in the sun required for light and dark skinned children

An article published in Cases Journal titled: Nutritional vitamin D deficiency: a case report provides a good summary of vitamin D requirements for children with light and dark skin.

“The primary source of vitamin D (sunlight) is dependent on geographic location as well as outdoor exposure. To maintain a low normal level (>27.5 nmol/L) of vitamin D, a fully clothed child would have to spend two hours outside weekly and darker skinned individuals may require exposures up to 6-10 times this amount [1,2]. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 reduces synthetic capacity by up to 98% [2,3]. The current AAP recommendation (to prevent sunburns and reduce skin cancer risk) is to keep infants less than 6 months of age out of direct sunlight and encourage the use of protective clothing/sunscreen again increasing the risk of vitamin D deficiency in this patient [2].”

My son has light skin and plays naked or diapered outside at least 2 or 3 hours per week without sunscreen at a sub tropical latitude. This should be enough time and intensity to produce adequate vitamin D for his body’s needs.  Darker-skinned babies will require much more: up to 20 hours a week outside in the sun while clothed.

Sunscreen filters the sunshine. When we wear sunscreen we produce vitamin D in negligible amounts.

Vitamin D’s cancer fighting properties must be balanced with the the risk of skin cancer–one of the deadliest types of cancers you can get due to the skin’s proximity to the lymphatic system. Even tanning without burning increases this risk. Maybe it’s not quite time to put away our D-drops after all.

Another little tip: some people find metabolizing vitamin D keeps them awake. If your child is having difficulty falling or staying asleep in the early night, try giving supplements in the morning and limit sun exposure from the afternoon to sunset.

  1. Dimitri P, Bishop N, Rickets New insights into a re-emerging problem. Curr Op in Ortho. 2007;18:486–493. doi: 10.1097/BCO.0b013e3282b97118. [Cross Ref]
  2. Misra M, Pacaud D, Petryk A, et al. Vitamin D deficiency and its management: review of current knowledge and recommendations. Pediatrics. 2008;122:398–417. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-1894. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
  3. Hickey L, Gordon CM. Vitamin D Deficiency: new perspective on an old disease. Curr Op in Endo and Diab. 2004;11:18–25. doi: 10.1097/00060793-200402000-00006. [Cross Ref]
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