Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium, which gives your bones their strength and hardness.

There are three ways you can get vitamin D:

  • From safe sunlight exposure
  • From your diet
  • From vitamin D supplements, if needed

Getting vitamin D from sunlight

When the sun’s rays fall on your body, they react with your skin to make vitamin D. 

In the UK, your skin can only get vitamin D from sunlight between April and September.

During this time, it's recommended you expose your skin to direct sunlight for around 10 minutes, once or twice per day.

There are some important things to remember when getting vitamin D from the sun:

  • If the weather is cloudy, it may take longer to produce the same levels of vitamin D as on a sunny day
  • It’s important that you go outside - glass blocks the sun’s rays
  • If you have darker skin, it produces vitamin D at a slower rate, so you need to spend longer in the sun to get the amount your body needs
  • Using sunblock or high factor sunscreen stops the sun's rays reaching your skin, which reduces the amount of vitamin D that your body makes

Avoiding sunburn and skin damage

It’s important to give your skin short periods in the sun, when you haven’t applied sunscreen. But don't be tempted to avoid wearing sunscreen to increase your vitamin D levels. You may do more damage to your skin than good for your bones.

To protect your skin, aim to get your vitamin D from the sun while you're doing short outdoor tasks, like:

  • hanging out the washing
  • pulling up weeds
  • walking to the shops

If your skin is exposed to the sun for more than 10 minutes, always apply a sunblock or sunscreen. And avoid exposing your skin to direct sunlight when the sun it at its strongest, in the middle of the day.

Babies and children have very sensitive skin, so need careful protection. 

How much vitamin D do you need?

It is advised that everyone over the age of one should get 10 micrograms (400IU) of vitamin D a day, from your diet or a supplement, all year round. For babies up to one year old, 8.5-10 micrograms (340-400IU) is recommended.

This is in addition to any vitamin D you get from sunlight.

Getting vitamin D from your diet

From April to September, most people get all the vitamin D they need from the sun.

At other times of the year, its important to make sure you're also getting it in your diet, and consider a supplement if you don't think you're getting enough.

Whatever your dietary needs, there are foods you can eat to get vitamin D through your diet.

Foods naturally-rich in vitamin D include:

  • oily fish, like herring, salmon and mackerel
  • eggs
  • some pork products
  • lamb's liver

Some foods have vitamin D added to them, such as some bread, some yoghurts and specially processed mushrooms. This is advertised on the packaging.

Use our Vitamin D-rich food chooser to find more foods rich in vitamin D, and calculate how much you're getting each day.

Do you need a supplement?

A vitamin D supplement is recommended all year round if:

  • Your child is under one year old, unless they get at least 500ml of formula milk a day
  • Your child is between one and four years old
  • You don't get much exposure to sunlight, such as:
    • you cover up your skin for cultural reasons
    • are confined to the indoors
    • use sunblock for medical reasons

In all other cases, it's recommended you consider taking a 10 microgram (400IU) supplement to ensure you're getting enough vitamin D, especially in the winter months.