Recent public health warnings that highlight the sunlight-skin cancer link have resulted in a rise in Vitamin D deficiency, in the wake of people's fear of exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays.
The finding is quite worrisome because Vitamin D, produced by the body in response to sunlight, helps protect against cancer and is also thought to be important in helping to prevent bone disease like osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Parkinson's disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.
Considering all that, the researchers are seeking a review of the guidelines on sunlight exposure os that it may be ensured that people receive enough vitamin D.
"There has been so much effort put into telling people about the damaging effects of ultraviolet light from sunshine, many now take extreme measures to ensure they don't get exposure by wearing moisturisers with factor 15 all year round," the Telegraph quoted Dr. Veronique Bataille, who led the study, as saying.
"We don't want to say that sunbathing is healthy as there is clearly a risk, but people do need a bit of sunshine to stay healthy," Bataille added.
During the study, the researchers measured vitamin D levels in the blood of 1,414 white women in the UK, and compared the information thus gathered with the subjects' skin type and details about the number of foreign holidays, sunbed use and the number of times they had been sunburnt.
The researchers found that people with the fairest skin and red or blonde hair had the lowest levels of vitamin D.
The new finding contrasts conventional scientific thinking that suggests people with greater levels of melanin-the pigment that causes darker colour in skin-make less vitamin D, despite the fact that there is evidence to show that those with Asian and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds have trouble producing the vitamin.
Dr. Bataille, a consultant dermatologist at Hemel Hempstead General Hospital and a researcher at Kings College London, also found that people with fair skin also had the lowest levels of sun exposure through the number of holidays they had abroad and sunbed use.
Based on their observations, the researchers came to the conclusion that people with fair skin actively avoided sun exposure more, due to their increased sensitivity and so produced less vitamin D.
They, however, said that there might also be a genetic element, meaning that people with fair skin metabolise vitamin D differently.
The findings come after another study by Dr. Bataille's group that showed sunlight might not be the main cause of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Instead they concluded that the number of moles on the skin was a better indicator of risk.
"The advice on sun exposure needs to be reviewed. It is potentially harmful if people are getting the message that they should completely avoid the sun. The advice needs to be better tailored to the differences in skin type and sun levels around the country," said Dr. Bataille.
Vitamin D can be obtained from food, including oily fish and eggs, but it is harder for the body to obtain enough from these sources and consumption of these products in the UK has dramatically declined.
Dr. Bataille feels that people can make enough vitamin D from just 15 minutes exposure to sunlight while wearing a T-shirt, but this would need to be increased for those with dark skin or during the winter months when sunlight is lower.
Another study from University College London has shown that 20 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men are presently classed as being clinically vitamin D deficient, while levels of the vitamin in nearly two thirds of women and 57 per cent of men are "insufficient".
Dr. Vasant Hirani, who led the study, added: "The advice on sun exposure does need to be clarified."
However, Nina Goad, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said that she doubted public health messages were responsible for causing vitamin D deficiency.
"Vitamin D deficiency is likely to be due to our lifestyles meaning we spend a lot of time indoors, to a lack of vitamin D in our diets, and to our climate meaning we have limited sun exposure for much of the year," she said.
A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said: "We are not saying that people should avoid all sunlight. Indeed a small amount can help to maintain vitamin D levels. Sunbathing incurs the potential hazard without adding to vitamin D levels."