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How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun (And Still Get Enough Vitamin D)
By Brandi Black, RHN
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Updated June 29, 2020
The sun is one of the best natural sources for vitamin D. Our bodies have the ability to make vitamin D from direct exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Unfortunately, it’s estimated 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and 90% of these cases are the result of UVB (ultraviolet-B) exposure from the sun (1). But this doesn’t mean you should skip out on the sun entirely.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient to our health and wellness. Luckily, there’s a way to maximize vitamin D levels while still making sure the sun exposure is safe. I’ll explain the ways to get vitamin D from safe sun exposure in just a moment, but first, let’s take a quick look at why meeting your vitamin D requirement is so important and who is at risk for deficiency.
Who is at Risk for Vitamin D Deficiency?
As a vitamin we can produce from sun exposure, it makes sense that vitamin D deficiency affects those who live in colder climates and/or don’t spend much time outdoors. Vitamin D deficiency is also common in people with darker skin. Darker skin contains higher levels of melanin, which reduces the skin’s ability to create vitamin D (2).
Other populations that are susceptible to vitamin D deficiency are older adults and overweight individuals (3).
Why Vitamin D is Important
Vitamin D plays numerous roles in our health. It helps us absorb calcium for healthy bones and teeth and also contributes to functions that support our immune system.
How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?
According to MayoClinic, the average adult needs around 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Of course, this number will vary based many factors: a person’s current state of health, climate, age, region, and life stage (for example, pregnant or breastfeeding), skin tone, and how often they spend time outdoors.
Maximize Vitamin D With Safe Sun Exposure
10-15 minutes of sun exposure 3 times per week can be enough to meet your daily vitamin D requirements (4).
Here’s how to increase vitamin D levels while still keeping sun exposure to a minimum.
Avoid direct sunlight between 10am-4pm.
The sun’s UV rays are the strongest between 10am-4pm, so it’s best to spend time outdoors outside of these hours on warmer days (5). If you’re spending an afternoon at the beach, you’ll want to pull out your beach umbrella and seek shade during this time frame.
Wear a wide brimmed hat.
Your ears, face and neck are most sensitive, and susceptible to sunburns, which is why wearing a wide brimmed hat in the sunshine is a good safety precaution against UV rays.
Wear light layers of clothing.
If you’re spending the day in the sun and you can tolerate wearing light layers of clothing, such as loose fitting, light, woven shirts, you can block most of the sun’s UV rays, while still absorbing helpful amounts of vitamin D (6). However, thick layers such as sweaters and tight fitting tops are more likely to block UV rays completely, which you’ll want to avoid if you’re looking to increase your vitamin D intake.
Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection— but not just any sunscreen.
It’s heavily debated whether sunscreen is good for your skin or does more harm than sun exposure itself based on the chemicals some types of sunscreen contain. The truth is, applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection before and during sun exposure is crucial for preventing cancer (caused by UVB rays) and premature aging of the skin (caused by UVA rays) (7).
According to skincancer.org, “controlled studies have shown that regular use of an SPF 15 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen reduces your chances of developing melanoma by 50%, squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and premature skin aging by 24 % (8).
However, not all sunscreens are created equally. Many types of sunscreen may contain harmful chemicals. Click here to learn more.
Caring For Your Skin Year Round
Of course, every-day skin care is important to protect your skin from the sun and other conditions in your daily environment. Always protect your skin barrier with a good moisturizer in addition to sun protection
Using an antioxidant skin cream underneath your natural SPF is the best way to support healthy skin. Personally, my favorite way to protect my skin year-round is by using Astarella Primetime Skin Cream twice a day, before SPF.
Author: Brandi Black, RHN