Yet the latest thinking is that maybe everyone should give it a try. After years of urging us to cover up, a leading charity is expected
to recommend short spells exposed to the sun at its highest.
The advice, from Cancer Research UK, reflects concern that current sunbathing recommendations are unnecessarily restrictive and are leading to low levels of vitamin D.
Although the vitamin is found in some foods, most of that found in the body comes from sunlight exposure, and most of us just don’t have enough of it.
In England, half of the population is low in the ‘sunshine vitamin’ when winter ends, while in Scotland the proportion is two thirds.
As part of its remit to prevent skin cancer, the charity advises trying to stay out of the sun when it is at its peak and cover the skin with clothing and generous amounts of sunscreen.
But a confidential statement being prepared by the charity acknowledges that the evidence about the benefits of vitamin D is growing.
The vitamin is vital for calcium absorption and bone health, and could help ward off Alzheimer’s.
Recent research has shown that vitamin D supplements are as good as some drugs at keeping prostate cancer under control – and it is said that taking supplements in pregnancy and childhood could wipe out 80 per cent of cases of multiple sclerosis.
The briefing paper, drawn up with several other charities, states: ‘The time required to make sufficient vitamin D is typically short and less than the time needed for skin to redden and burn.
‘Regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day without sunscreen should be enough.
‘When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best. However, people should get to know their own skin, to understand how long they can spend outside before risking sunburn under different conditions.’
Cancer Research UK’s new advice, which is due within weeks, is likely to recommend a ‘ commonsense’ approach to sunbathing between 11am and 3pm.
It will not advise how long to stay out in the sun – but will suggest that some individuals can dispense with sun cream for short periods. Oliver Gillie, a health writer and vitamin D campaigner, told the Independent that ‘many years of bad advice’ had contributed to Briton’s vitamin D levels being among the lowest in the world.
‘Vitamin D deficiency is well known as a classic cause of rickets and serious bone diseases, but in the last ten years it has also been identified as a major risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and some cancers.
‘We all depend on the sun for our vitamin D. Since our weather is so unreliable, British people suffer more than almost any other from vitamin D deficiency.
‘The one simple action open to us all is to sunbathe, carefully without burning. The sun is natural, free and safe if you are sensible.’