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BAD response to ‘Weighing the benefits and risks of sunlight exposure’ by NICE

The guidance is still very much a draft and it is likely that several groups may advocate important changes to the document. Its release at this stage may lead to confusion if the messages are then changed when it is finalised later in the year, which we hope they will be. As it stands, it seems to offer very little clarity and we question its evidence-base. 

We know that skin cancer is caused by sunlight, that it is by far our most common cancer, and that it can kill people. Much of the evidence around vitamin D is still emerging.  

Furthermore, you can get vitamin D from your diet and supplements. For that reason, we would have preferred for the guidance to consider all the means of obtaining vitamin D rather than just sunlight in isolation.  While we agree that it is important to communicate both the risks and benefits of sunlight exposure, we feel that the emphasis which has been placed upon the benefits of obtaining vitamin D from sunlight are misleading.

The guidance advises people to go out in the sun for short periods. However, it also acknowledges that skin type, location, UV index, altitude and weather type all play essential roles in determining an individual’s response to sunlight. Therefore, actively encouraging people to go outside to obtain vitamin D, while being unable to specify how long this should be for, is unhelpful.

Protective practices are vital to ensuring individual safety in terms of limiting skin cancer risks from UV radiation. Whilst it is important to appreciate that vitamin D is an essential part of good health, it is vital to emphasise safer channels in which vitamin D can be obtained – such as diet and supplements. What is clear, and what is starkly highlighted by the 'gaps in evidence' section of the guidance, is that  more research is needed in this area, before we should add to public confusion by repeatedly changing the messages.

You can find the original announcement by NICE here:

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