To wear sunscreen or not to wear sunscreen? This is the question.
If you don’t, you’ll end up with deep wrinkles and unsightly dark spots. You’ll look older before your time and, if you’re really unlucky, get cancer, too.
If you do, you may not be getting your vitamin D fix, which is just as bad.
Getting enough vitamin D without exposing your skin to the sun unnecessarily is a tough balancing act. Worse, there are no clear guidelines for how to do it well.
So, I’ll just tell you what I do:
What The Heck Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that performs many important jobs in your body:
- It maintains healthy calcium levels, preventing rickets and osteoporosis
- It keeps your teeth health
- It helps prevent cancer
- May have a role in metabolic syndrome and heart disease
A deficiency in vitamin D is serious business. Unfortunately, about 32% of US adults don’t have enough of this vitamin!
That’s because it’s hard to get. There are only a few foods that are rich in vitamin D:
- Fatty fish, including salmon, sardines, herring, tuna and mackerel
- Specially fortified foods
This usually accounts only for little more than 10% of your vitamin D requirements! You need to get the rest either through a supplement or the sun.
Like it or not, the sun is the best, most effective way to get your vitamin D fix. Your skin naturally produces this vitamin when exposed to UVB rays.
The amount it produces depends on where you live, what time of the day or year it is and your skin colour. If you live in sunny California, for example, your body will produce all the vitamin D you need a lot faster than if you’re stuck in rainy London.
The Problem With Getting Your Vitamin D Fix From The Sun
I understand that for some of you getting your vitamin D fix from the sun is the only option. But it could also be a dangerous one.
As you now know, UVB rays are responsible for making vitamin D. The same rays that give you sunburns. If you get more than 5 severe sunburns in your life, your risk of skin cancer more than doubles!
Besides, UV rays are not only UVB rays. If you don’t wear sunscreen, your skin will be hit by UVA rays as well. Those cause premature wrinkles and dark spots and contribute to skin cancer.
Skipping sunscreen is not an option, ladies!
How Much Does Sunscreen Affect Vitamin D?
So, we can’t do without sunscreen. But, how much does sunscreen affect vitamin D?
After all, sunscreen prevent UVB rays from hitting your skin, so it makes sense it stops the production of vitamin D in its tracks.
Under very strictly controlled conditions, this is exactly what happens. But IRL? Not happening. A 2009 study has found that its [sunscreen’s] “normal usage does not generally result in vitamin D insufficiency.”
How is this possible? There are several reasons for this:
- No sunscreen blocks 100% UVB rays: SPF 30, for example, blocks 97%, SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%.
- You don’t apply enough: most of us don’t apply 1/4 of a teaspoon on the face or a small shot glass on the body every day, let alone reapply it every 2 hours.
- You often miss a spot of two: like your ears, your scalp or between your fingers. You may think these patches are small but they’re enough to provide you with all the vitamin D you need.
Why risk going without sunscreen when you can still get your vitamin D fix with it?
How To Get Your Vitamin D Fix From The Sun Safely?
Chances are you already do. See above.
But, what if you think you have a vitamin D deficiency? The first step is to go to your doctor and have your levels of vitamin D checked. No point in fixing something before you know it’s broken.
If you’re deficient, you need to take into consideration all the factors that go into the production of vitamin D, such as where you live and what time of the year it is.
Here in the UK where the weather is crap for most of the year, for example, the NHS recommends that almost everyone take a vitamin D supplement.
If you live on a tropical island, a few minutes of unprotected sun exposure a week may do the trick.
I know, it’s a bit confusing. Sadly, there aren’t universal guidelines to follow. Just consult your doctor and use common sense. If you can, pop a supplement instead.
The Bottom Line
Chances are that you’re still getting enough vitamin D from the sun even if you religiously wear sunscreen. If in doubt, consult your doctor and come up with a safe game plan to up your level of vitamin D (hint: it’s usually a supplement).
Are you getting enough vitamin D or are you deficient? Share your experience in the comments below.