A new position statement acknowledges that some sun helps produce vitamin D but too much raises skin cancer risk – and that risk varies between groups.
The guidelines sort people into 3 broad categories based on skin colour and other factors. Those with deep brown or black skin have a very low skin cancer risk from the sun. They can spend time outdoors without much protection unless on extended periods but at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency.
People in the group with the very highest risk of skin cancer are advised to protect themselves from the sun at all times and discuss their vitamin D requirements with their doctor. This includes those with very pale skin that burns easily, and people with less pale skin but who have certain risk factors such as a family history of melanoma, a personal history of skin cancer, are immunosuppressed or have lots of moles or moles that are large or atypical.
The final group of people have an intermediate risk of skin cancer. Sun protection remains very important but they can spend some time outdoors to maintain their vitamin D and gain other benefits of sun exposure. The amount of time needed outside will vary depending on where they live, the time of day, the time of year and how much skin is not covered by clothing while outdoors.
Experts decided updated advice was needed due to emerging research on the diverse healthcare impacts of sun exposure. New models also provide more precise estimates of safe sunlight exposure for vitamin D production across populations. Surveys revealed confusion among both patients and doctors about how to balance risks and benefits. The revised guidelines incorporate the latest evidence to provide personalised recommendations tailored to individual risk profiles.
With Australia having the highest skin cancer rates globally at an annual cost of $2 billion, experts emphasise that nearly all Aussies should wear sunscreen every day as part of their morning routine – no matter their skin tone. Additional protective measures like hats, shades and protective clothing remain essential for safe sun exposure.
The study was led by QIMR Berghofer and published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.