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mirifique's avatar

Safe UV lamps for the vitamin D deficient?

Asked by mirifique (1511 points ) June 21st, 2010

Every time I spend 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen (after which I put on sunscreen), I notice immediate changes in my mood, energy level, alertness, mental acuity, focus and ability to sleep; I also simply think my skin looks better and healthier. I also know that I am vitamin D deficient, but even after 6 months of taking 5,000 IU vitamin D supplement pills once a day, I still only notice the above effects after time spent in the sun. I read “The Vitamin D Solution” which confirmed my theory that 20 minutes of sun exposure 3 times a week is necessary for production of the “vitamin D” hormone. However, what is one to do in the winter, or if you live in a northern, gray city, such as Vancouver, Canada? It is summer here but extremely gray and cloudy, and in the winter, if you work in an office building, it’s nearly impossible to get sun exposure. Most commercial tanning booths emit 95% UVA rays, which I do not believe are as effective at stimulating vitamin D hormone production as UVB. I have also purchased a “blue light” lamp which is believed to activate certain retinal photoreceptors, thereby decreasing the effects of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but still, this is not nearly as effective as 20 minutes in the sun. The only other solution would be to purchase a UVB sun lamp (such as Sperti’s Vitamin D/UV-F lamp—but I cannot seem to find any research or user reviews on the safety of such lamps. Could anyone advise? Short of moving to So. Cal., I really feel stuck. Am I better off waiting 5 years until these lamps have been more sufficiently studied and calibrated?

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19 Answers

lilikoi's avatar

Even on cloudy days, your skin can pick up UV outdoors…at least that’s what I’ve always been told. That’s why people say to wear sunscreen even when it is cloudy.

Also, if you sit next to a window indoors, some of the rays even with high performance windows are getting through. I just recently read somewhere that it is possible to get skin cancer from sitting in an office next to a window every day without sunscreen on. Obviously other factors are involved, but the point is just that UV rays make it through windows.

Not sure how much exposure you are getting in either scenario or how it compares to how much you need on a daily basis.

I just try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I would absolutely not want to sit under any kind of lamp, but that’s just me.

lilikoi's avatar

Just saw this posted on the Beauty Forum on Craigslist:

interesting article on yahoo about skin <—> 06/21 13:59:51

cancer and tanning booth use

“frequent tanning bed users proved three times more likely to develop melanoma than non-users, and subjects that used tanning beds for any amount of time showed a 74-percent higher rate of melanoma than non-users”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20100620/sc_livescience/whyskincancerisontherise

JLeslie's avatar

Not sure about the lamps, but I want to add that if you wear SPF while outside then you block D absorption. So if SPF protection is in your makeup or your lotion you are not getting D outside. Also, I take prescription D 50,000 IU once a week. My numbers after 6 months of taking it are finally getting to a point where I am going to switch to every other week, or possibly over the counter, it took that long. Lastly, the feel of the warm sun and seeing blue skies will never be the same as a pill or a lamp in my book, but I don’t mean to discourage you from the lamp. When I lived in Florida it changed my life! I felt like I was on vacation every day, I looked outside and felt happy, even though I was the whitest and later I found out very dificient in D, because I always protected my skin since I lived in a sunny place.

mirifique's avatar

@lilikoi @JLeslie Thanks for both your comments.

@lilikoi, Yes, however, during the winter (or this year’s summer) months in Vancouver, it is simply not sufficient to go outside in the rain and expect to get enough sun as one would during the summer, with rolled-up sleeves. Secondly, I realize that tanning booth use is dangerous, which is what prompted me to ask my question, which is about safe UV lamps.

@JLeslie, I agree with your points, but I am trying to find a solution that doesn’t require relocating, although you seem to suggest this is the only option of which you’re aware…

BhacSsylan's avatar

@mirifique In general, a straight UVB lamp for 20 minutes a day should be fine, and should help. I can’t speak from experience, but i know that in the general sense, there is a false dichotomy between UVB exposure and melanoma. 15 to 20 minutes of good sun exposure a day has been shown to be sufficient for good D production without any statistically significant increase in melanoma. I would assume that this would hold for UVB lamps, as that’s the requirement for D production.

Also, i’d agree with @JLeslie on a theoretical level as far as taking Vitamin D pills, i would expect it to take awhile for you system to get used to ingesting high amounts of D. A normal diet only has a few hundred IU’s of D per day, and so your system, at first, won’t be efficient enough to metabolize larger amounts of D. So, if you give it some time, you may yet see good effects.

@lilikoi To your first point, they have done studies that show that there is a huge decrease in D production with season. People in northern climates need hours to get the proper IU during winter months. As to your second, though, yeah. Tanning beds are horrible for you.

mirifique's avatar

@BhacSsylan Great. So you would you have any thoughts on using a UVB (“vitamin D”) lamp such as this one?

BhacSsylan's avatar

@mirifique I’d say it would probably work decently well. I would be careful with it’s use (just as you should be careful of sunlight normally). Only use it for 15–25 minutes a day, don’t fall asleep with it on, etc. It’s still a carcinogen if you get too large of a dose. I would also go for one with a good return policy, just in case this solution doesn’t seem to help.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Actually, I would more highly suggest talking to a doctor, possibly a dermitologist. You didn’t say if the Vitamin D supplement was suggested by a doctor. If it was, speak with them about it. From reading some articles on the subject it seems that 10 minutes three days a week, if getting a large dose (one study i read was with a one-piece bathing suit, so all arms and legs and shoulders exposed), would be enough. Since it’s almost pure UVB, a lesser dose is necessary, and higher doses can be more dangerous then normal sunlight. My suggestiong of 15–25 minutes a day is of bright sunlight, which changes things. So at least start out slow, and talk to someone who’s got better training then me.

you may also be able to simply call up a dermitologist office and ask, depending on the office they may simply give the advice, though they’ll probably suggest you come in and get seen

LuckyGuy's avatar

I use UV A, B, and C for all kinds of lab applications. I know what I’m doing and UV-B andC scares me. It is very risky. Eye damage is quick and feels like sand in your eyes.
Stick with UV A.
It is not worth it.

BhacSsylan's avatar

@worriedguy But UVA actually causes more skin melanoma and has almost no vitamin D activity. UVB can be more dangerous, but pretty much only to your eyes. It can cause damage to your retinas because of the unprotected photoreceptors, which aren’t a problem as far as skin.

Also, I likewise work with UV in my lab, and i’ve never had the ‘sand in my eyes’ feeling the few times I’ve accidental looked at a UV source without protection. What UV sources do you use? Because disinfecting sources are probably much more powerful.

Though, that does bring up the case that you should have a good way to shield your eyes, @mirifique, like tanning goggles. Even 10 minutes three times a week could render you blind if you don’t have a good face mask.

mirifique's avatar

@BhacSsylan Okay, so the takeaway here is: buy a UVB lamp and wear tanning goggles.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Pretty much. And be careful. Otherwise, good luck, and I hope it works.

@worriedguy Just to say, I did look up some journal articles on the use of UVB lamps for treating D deficiency, and from the literature it seems pretty widely used and effective. And I also found a review of cancer rates over a large number of UVB treatment studies, which found no statistical change, several even had a lower cancer rate then the comparison group. Hopefully that makes you believe I know a little about it, and am not possibly leading him into trouble.

mirifique's avatar

@BhacSsylan Would you mind providing links to those articles, or if possible, could I PM you and give you my e-mail address and you could email them to me? Thanks!

BhacSsylan's avatar

@mirifique Here’s the two that i found the best:

This is a case study of the use of UVB to treat a woman with Vitamin D Deficiency as a result of Chrons, who hadn’t been responding to supplements.

And this is a review of the relative cancer rates for quite a few different diseases which are treated with UVB. Most don’t necessarily have to do with Vitamin D, but it is a very good study as far as cancer risks are concerned.

[EDIT]Also of note, i found a few articles by the doctor who tested the lamp you linked, Michael Holick, and looking over his site it looks pretty good on information. So it’s probably on the level.

{Last EDIT, really]Looking over the site again, the manual they provide seems very good. It gives explicit instructions as far as use time and positioning of lap and the rest, and is conservative in it;‘s suggested dosing times, starting very low and working up. So, this seems like a surprisingly well done documentation.

LuckyGuy's avatar

UV-A is is 356 nm typ, UV-B is 302nm typ UV-C is 254 typ. (with a trace of 186)

It’s the UV-C that is really bad. The further you are away from that, the better. If you have a leaky 302nm bulb that lets a little 254nm through, you can really hurt yourself. If you use a UV-A there is less chance of having a leak down to 254nm.
We use 60 watt sources of 254 nm for sterilization of large areas. If it’s DNA based, it’s dead. End of story.

If you are going to play with UV-B make sure you know it’s a clean source.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

There already exist on the market light boxes containing full spectrum fluorescent lamps.

These have been shown to be very effective in preventing and treating Seasonal Affective Disorders. The key to its effectiveness is for your eyes to be exposed to this kind of light.

It resets the brain’s internal clock by making it think the days are longer.

The Vitamin-D explanation is off-base but harmless.

The lights are best used for 20–30 minutes early in the morning and in the late afternoon to create the effect of being exposed to sunlight throughout a long day as in summer.

Skin exposure is not that important or necessary to derive this benefit.

This approach has been used effectively for decades!

JLeslie's avatar

@mirifique Not necessarily relocate, but if you can take a vacation twice in the winter to a hot tropical place I suggest it. Vancouver is a fantastic city! I went there on my honeymoon and loved it. You said you know you are vitamin D dificient, is that from a blood test, or you are just assuming? Also, I think SAD and D dificiency are two different things, so I wonder if you are mushing the two together?

BhacSsylan's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence I would agree that SAD is a major problem, but a) the OP has already tried that, apparently to not much effect, and b) Vitamin D deficiency is a major problem, with far-ranging effects. This can easily be seen in effects on people who’s melanin levels are higher, either from excessive tanning or simply being of darker skin who live in brighter climates. They have no effect from SAD, yet still can have large issues with vitamin D deficiency, since the excess melanin blocks production of Vitamin D

Now, I do agree his symptoms sound more like a personality disorder like SAD then a deficiency, but Vitamin D deficiency does have symptoms of depression and chronic fatigue. So, while it is certainty possible that it is SAD, considering he has already tried the blue light to no effect i think D deficiency shouldn’t be dismissed off-hand

Though, again, i do suggest getting a device with a good return policy if this isn’t the solution.

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