Vitamin D is known for being an essential compound that helps to regulate calcium levels in the body and keep the bones strong and healthy. And while more research needs to be done, there is mounting evidence which suggests Vitamin D does much more, potentially even helping to reduce the risk of cancer and chronic diseases.
However, with UVB light being an essential factor stimulating Vitamin D production in the body, the lack of natural sunlight in the winter months makes many of us deficient.
Sources of Vitamin D
According to the British Association of Dermatologists, 97.5% of the population require at least 10 micrograms (or 400 IU) of Vitamin D per day to remain healthy. Over the summer, it is easy to get enough UVB exposure to produce this level of Vitamin D. But the NHS estimates that, in the UK, it is difficult to get enough UVB exposure from natural sunlight between October and March when the days are darker and cloudier.
While some foods do contain Vitamin D - including oily fish, red meat, egg yolks, and fortified cereals - ‘it is difficult to get enough Vitamin D from food alone’ says the NHS.
It is clear that an alternative is needed. So could sunbeds be a suitable choice?
Are Sunbeds a Suitable Source of Vitamin D?
If you did a quick Google search, you’d find hugely conflicting information which makes it difficult to understand if sunbeds are a good source of Vitamin D or not.
The simple answer is ‘yes’.
Sadly, though, even professional organisations are providing inaccurate information. A prime example is the Skin Cancer Foundation in the United States which states that ‘no, a tanning bed will never provide you with the Vitamin D that you need’, despite multiple studies into this area clearly demonstrating that sunbeds do raise Vitamin D.
A study in the Anti-Cancer Research journal sums it up nicely. Referring to the fact that natural sunlight and sunbeds expose the skin to the same UVB light, the researchers say that ‘sun and sunbeds act similarly: one quantum of radiation at a given wavelength has the same biological effect, irrespective of the source from which it comes’.
What we want to do here is cut through the noise and present real clinical findings that provide accurate and helpful data on the role sunbeds play in Vitamin D production.
What Does the Research Say?
There are many different studies out there that have examined the effects of artificial UVB light from sunbeds on Vitamin D synthesis, and most have formed the same conclusion: that sunbeds do give you Vitamin D… and can raise levels significantly.
One study found that twice weekly sunbed sessions - for a total of 15 tanning sessions - were ‘surprisingly effective’ at increasing the primary form of Vitamin D, stating that the quantity was raised to a level that was ‘not widely different from that in Equatorial sun’.
Another study found that sunbeds emitting between 2.2% and 4.2% UVB could mimic sunlight, and could be used as ‘a surrogate for sunlight when the UV index is low’. The researchers were confident that the sunbed was the cause of the higher Vitamin D levels, having seen no change in production when using a 0.8% UVB emitting bed.
The Anti-Cancer Research study we looked at earlier suggests that 20 minutes in a sunbed produces the same amount of Vitamin D as 30 minutes in the midday sun, consuming 200-373ml of cod liver oil, or taking a 10,000-20,000 IU supplement daily.
Could Sunbeds be Better Than Diet?
One very interesting finding from the Anti-Cancer Research study was that Vitamin D levels remained high for 6-8 weeks after a sunbed session had ended, while dietary supplements appeared to play no role in helping to maintain bodily stores. This suggests that, in some cases, sunbeds could be a better source of Vitamin D than diet. However, it’s important to remember that overexposure to UVB - both sunbeds and natural sunlight - does carry risks, so always use tanning beds responsibly to avoid skin damage.