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Estimation of exposure durations for vitamin D production and sunburn risk in Switzerland

A Correction to this article was published on 07 May 2019

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Although overexposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is responsible for cutaneous melanoma and epithelial skin cancer and can cause negative health effects such as sunburn, a “little and often” exposure regime is often suggested to produce naturally recommended vitamin D levels, being essential for skeletal health. This study aimed to quantify solar UV doses needed to trigger 1000 International Units (IU) vitamin D doses and, at the same time, producing sunburn in Switzerland. Solar UV erythema irradiance (in mW/m2) measured at four meteorological stations in Switzerland for the period 2005–2017 were used to evaluate effective solar UV radiation producing 1000 IU vitamin D doses in skin phototype II and III individuals. Daily solar UV exposure durations (in minutes) needed to produce vitamin D with limited sunburn risk were estimated while considering mean vitamin D food intake of the Swiss population and seasonal skin coverage. In summer and spring, with 22% of uncovered skin, 1000 IU vitamin D doses are synthesized in 10–15 min of sun exposure for adults. Exposure durations between erythema risk and 1000 IU vitamin D production vary between 9 and 46 min. In winter and autumn, the recommended vitamin D production without sunburn risks often unachievable, since up to 6.5 h of sun exposure might be necessary considering 8–10% of uncovered skin surface. The vitamin D food intake only represented 10% of the recommended vitamin D production and remained unchanged throughout the year. These findings might clarify why vitamin D deficiency is common in Switzerland. Moreover, exposure durations between recommended vitamin D and increased sunburn risk might only differ by few minutes. Without additional oral vitamin D supplementation, daily doses of vitamin D (1000 IU) are not reachable in autumn and winter months in Switzerland.

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  • 07 May 2019

    In the original article, the authorship list was given as “A. Religi1, C. Backes2,3, A. Chatelan2, J.-L. Bulliard2, L. Vuilleumier4, L. Moccozet1, M. Bochud2, D. Vernez3”. This has been updated to “A. Religi*1, C. Backes*2,3, A. Chatelan2, J.-L. Bulliard2, L. Vuilleumier4, L. Moccozet1, M. Bochud 2, D. Vernez3”.


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This work was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) grant CR23I3_152803. Herewith we would like to thank the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA), the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO), Division Risk Assessment for having provided the Swiss Nutrition Survey (menuCH) data. Further, we are grateful to M. A. Serrano from the Solar Radiation Research Group of the Universitat Politècnica de València for her fruitful and constructive comments.

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Religi, A., Backes, C., Chatelan, A. et al. Estimation of exposure durations for vitamin D production and sunburn risk in Switzerland. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 29, 742–752 (2019).

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