The ol’ vitamin D production vs. sun protection debate. Is there a perfect balance? Yes! Let’s chat all about why it’s so important for the health of your body and skin, and how to find it…
Summer: the best time of the year to stock up on vitamin D.
And no, I don’t mean because all the supplement manufacturers decide to have some blowout sale on their vitamin D supplements.
I mean from the sun.
Yes, the very thing that we’ve been told we need to protect ourselves from with lotions and hats and beach canopies.
Our body’s main source of vitamin D is from unprotected sun exposure to our skin.
We also get it from a few foods like fatty fish, fish liver oil, and eggs.
But aside from supplementation or fortified foods (nope, cereal and milk aren’t naturally rich in vitamin D — it’s been purposely added!), sun exposure to the skin is the body primary natural source of this critical vitamin.
Vitamin D is SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT for a healthy body.
It’s essential for:
- A strong immune system
- Hormonal balance
- Healthy teeth and bones
- Reduced breast cancer risk (and likely other cancers, too, given its key role in the immune system)
- Mood and mental health (vitamin D is also known as the “happy vitamin” because of it’s intimate relationship with serotonin a.k.a. the “happy hormone”)
- Heart health
- Balanced insulin levels
… and the list really goes on and on.
According to Psychology Today:
Every tissue in the body has vitamin D receptors, including the brain, heart, muscles, and immune system, which means vitamin D is needed at every level for the body to function.
Yet almost half of all Americans are deficient in this key vitamin. And is it any wonder why!?
Many people have been scared completely sunless with so much talk about skin cancer and photoaging.
And this is of course important! So important.
Over-exposure to the sun’s rays — staying out in direct sunlight all day long and getting burnt — can most definitely cause skin aging and DNA damage that, yes, can even lead to skin cancer.
But here’s the thing: UVA and UVB rays impact the skin and body very differently.
UVB rays stimulate vitamin D production and cause burns.
UVA rays cause deep damage to the skin — the type of DNA damage that accelerates aging and can lead to skin cancer.
And different types of sunscreens block UVA and UVB rays differently.
Chemical sunscreens (active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate) don’t protect our skin from the aging, DNA-damaging UVA rays. Instead, they block the UVB rays that cause burning and produce vitamin D.
Let’s let that sink in.
We’ve actually seen a dramatic rise in skin cancer since SPF sunscreen was introduced to the public in the 1960s. Many believe this is because UVB-blocking, chemical sunscreens keep skin from burning and so allow people to stay out in the sun longer, all the awhile they’re still getting exposed to those damaging UVA rays with no protection. Plus — adding insult to injury — many people are deficient in the anti-cancer vitamin D as a result of using these UVB-blocking sunscreens.
This is NOT the case for broad-spectrum, mineral-based sunblocks (active ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) which protects us from UVA and UVB rays. So yes, this is the type of sunscreen you want and that I’m always recommending!
How much sun exposure do you need to maintain healthy vitamin D levels?
Not very much, actually — moderate exposure is the key.
To maintain healthy vitamin D levels, aim to get 10-30 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week. The darker your skin, the more exposure you’ll need — the lighter your skin, the less exposure you’ll need.
When you’re getting just the right amount, you WILL NOT BURN.
We always want to avoid burning as this is a sure sign from our bodies that we are getting way too much sun exposure.
I personally ALWAYS protect my face and neck with sunscreen — the surface area is small compared to the rest of your body (and so it’s not producing as much vitamin D as my legs or arms) and these are of course the areas that show our age first. Then I try to get as much direct exposure to my body during the cooler months, and about 15 minutes during the summertime before covering up, seeking shade, or applying my broad-spectrum sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide.
What about you? Do you consider vitamin D production when you’re in the sun?
Do you try to find a balance? Or are you a sunblock 24/7 and supplement instead type?
And hey, when was the last time you get your vitamin D levels tested!? If it’s been awhile, I suggest asking for a test at your next physical or check-up so you can start supplementing with the critical vitamin if need be OR look to get a bit more time in the sun.