We Are Sunshine

Smart Tan Responds to Washington Post Column

Friday, March 14th, 2008

International Smart Tan Network on Wednesday responded to a Washington Post column, whose author suggested vitamin D can be obtained from diet and a few moments of weekly sun exposure.

2008-03-13-misses-d-point-tanningnews-copy.jpgThe column, written by dermatologist Rachel Hershenfeld, repeated many of dermatology’s long-held mis-beliefs on vitamin D. Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy authored this response:


The dermatology community, which for years has promoted total sun abstinence which almost certainly has contributed to epidemic vitamin D deficiency today, can hardly be considered a reliable source on vitamin D. Dermatologist Rachel Hershenfeld’s March 12 column in The Washington Post repeated many of the errors that dermatology leaders have propagated for years.

Sun exposure is the body’s only true natural source of vitamin D. It is where we get 90 percent of “the sunshine vitamin.” Fatty fish and cod liver oil are the only real natural sources in diet, and are much less abundant and reliable than sunshine as a source of vitamin D. And today we know that a majority of Americans and 97 percent of Canadians are vitamin D deficient.

So ask yourself this simple question – a question that the dermatology industry has skirted for years: If 10-15 minutes of sun exposure two times a week is adequate to make sufficient vitamin D, and if, as dermatologists also say, we are sun burning more than ever and need to slap on more sunscreen, then why are most North Americans vitamin D deficient?
You can’t have it both ways. Dermatology, in scaring the public about skin cancer, has suggested that people are getting too much sun. But massive vitamin D deficiency, when they say only a few minutes a day are necessary, is a sad reality of our recent sun-avoiding ways.

The fact is – for reasons Hershefeld mentioned – such a one-size-fits-all recommendation of 10-15 minutes of sun exposure twice a week is nearly as ridiculous as suggesting that humans avoid the sun completely, which dermatology’s leaders have preached for years.

For example:

  • In 2003, American Academy of Dermatology President Raymond Cornelison Jr., in an AAD press release called “Vitamin D + Sunshine = Bad Medicine” said, “People who practice proper sun protection and are concerned that they are not getting enough vitamin D should either take a multivitamin or drink a few glasses of vitamin D fortified milk every day. …Dietary intake of vitamin D can completely and easily fulfill our needs.”
  • On Nov. 13, 1996 AAD President Wilma Bergfeld, at the AAD’s annual media day, told the press, “I can remember as a youth when I was growing up I had gone to movies to see that the population was living underground because of severe solar energy and the lack of protection. In some vision as I grow older I see us moving to more shelters and perhaps underground living because of these hazards.”

Living underground and drinking a quart a milk a day are not holistic solutions. They are myopic recommendations made by a group tied much too closely to the $35 billion sunscreen/cosmetics industry who over-market sunscreens as a daily-use item, even when sunburn isn’t a possibility.

So what’s a person to do? Have your physician administer a calcidiol test (also know as a 25-hyrdoxyvitamin D test) the next time you have blood drawn. More important than your daily intake of vitamin D or the number of minutes of sun you receive are your actual vitamin D blood levels. Optimal vitamin D blood levels are 50 ng/mL (125 nmol/L)‚ according to The Vitamin D Council.

We think most people will need more than 10-15 minutes of sun twice a week to get there. Sunburn prevention – not sun avoidance – is the key to maximizing sun’s benefits while minimizing its risks. So get the calcidiol test and see for yourself.

Joseph Levy, vice president
International Smart Tan Network