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Sunlight exposure and cutaneous production of vitamin D in Black African/Afro-Caribbean adults

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr M Farrar , Prof L Rhodes , Prof Ann Webb Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Our main source of vitamin D is through skin exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and is associated with reduced incidence of several cancers and immune-mediated disorders. However, UK guidance on sunlight exposure geared towards skin cancer risk in light-skin people provides little to assist darker-skin people regarding sunlight exposure and their vitamin D deficiency risk. Biological and behavioural factors influence vitamin D status, with skin melanisation an important determinant. The relationship between sunlight exposure and vitamin D production in Black (skin type VI) African/Afro-Caribbean people living in the UK is poorly understood. This significant knowledge gap can be addressed through study of the impact of natural sunlight exposure on vitamin D status linked to interventional study of responses to different levels of simulated UK sunlight. This project will firstly involve a longitudinal study in UK black/dark brown-skin adults to determine seasonal vitamin D status, personal levels of sunlight exposure and lifestyle factors impacting on these. An intervention study will then determine the impact of a dose-range of simulated UK summer sunlight on vitamin D status. Longitudinal and interventional data will be compared with our published datasets in lighter skin people (white Caucasian and South Asian), to evaluate behavioural impact and biological differences respectively. This project will provide greater understanding of the relationship between sunlight exposure and skin vitamin D production in Black people. It addresses a significant knowledge gap and also an inequality in healthcare, by facilitating appropriate national guidance on sunlight exposure for this at-risk group.

This project provides training in a leading, internationally-recognised interdisciplinary environment. Training will be provided in human in vivo research (including ethical and regulatory aspects); photobiology intervention study; UVR measurement and dosimetry, and data management and analysis. The successful candidate will benefit from interactions with other researchers and group collaborators, and have the opportunity to contribute to national / international conferences and public engagement activities.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a biological science. Candidates with experience or an interest in human dermatology / photobiology / nutrition research are encouraged to apply.

This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


Kift R, Rhodes LE, Farrar MD, Webb AR. Is sunlight exposure enough to avoid wintertime vitamin D deficiency in United Kingdom population groups? Int J Environ Res Public Health 2018;15:E1624.
Farrar MD, Mughal MZ, Adams JE, Wilkinson J, Berry JL, Edwards L, Kift R, Marjanovic E, Vail A, Webb AR, Rhodes LE. Sun exposure behavior, seasonal vitamin D deficiency and relationship to bone health in adolescents. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2016;101:3105-13.
Farrar MD, Webb AR, Kift R, Durkin MT, Allan D, Herbert A, Berry JL, Rhodes LE. Efficacy of a dose-range of simulated sunlight exposures in raising vitamin D status in South Asian adults: implications for targeted guidance on sun exposure. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:1210-6.
Kift R, Berry JL, Vail A, Durkin MT, Rhodes LE, Webb AR. Lifestyle factors including less cutaneous sun exposure contribute to starkly lower vitamin D levels in U.K. South Asians compared with the white population. Br J Dermatol 2013;169:1272-8.
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