We all know about the dangers of not protecting our skin from the sun. Too much sun exposure can lead to sunspots and early aging signs such as wrinkles and fine lines and at its worst to life-threatening skin cancers. But the sun isn’t actually an enemy. The sun is the most excellent source of Vitamin D, which our body needs to function correctly. When your Vitamin D levels are extremely low, you can have many different health issues.
What Are Some Symptoms of Low Vitamin D?
Signs of Vitamin D deficiency can be vague and many times are overlooked. Some common signs are depression, muscle and bone pain, and fatigue.
How Can You Find Out Your Vitamin D Levels?
Finding out your Vitamin D levels are as easy as a simple blood test called a 25-hydroxy Vitamin D test performed at your doctor’s office.
What Health Concerns does Someone with Low Vitamin D Levels Face?
Besides the common symptoms listed above, a person with chronic low levels of Vitamin D can face a greater risk of diabetes, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.
A person with a Vitamin D deficiency can also have brittle, weak bones which can lead to rickets in children’s osteoporosis in adults.
So if Vitamin D is so Important, How Can We Be Sure We’re Getting Enough from the Sun While Protecting Our Skin with Sunscreen?
There are people who think that the medical field has caused too much alarm over the sun and the use of sunscreen. But these people definitely have their facts about Vitamin D and the sun wrong. Here’s what you have to know.
- To get all of the Vitamin D you need each week from the sun, you only need up to 20 minutes of sun exposure on areas such as your hands, legs or face two times a week.
- On average, it takes sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes to protect your skin from the sun after you apply it. Check out your sunscreen bottle; it probably says to apply up to 30 minutes before you go into the sun. If you apply it right before you go outside, your skin is still getting the Vitamin D for the day.
- While many of us are good at remembering sunscreen in our daily moisturizer or putting it on before we go play outside in the summer, most of us aren’t as good as we think we are. For example, did you know the SPF in your moisturizer only lasts a couple of hours before you should reapply? How many of us put on more before we go out in the afternoon? What about the days where you are wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and you take your dog for a quick walk or drive to the store? Needing only 40-60 minutes of sun a week in small areas of your body is easy to do without even thinking about it. Without even realizing it you are already getting enough Vitamin D from the sun.
And You Can Get Vitamin D in Foods Too!
To play it safe, add foods with Vitamin D to your diet. Some great options are different types of fish, such as cod and salmon, shiitake mushrooms, and eggs. There are also many options for Vitamin D fortified foods to choose from such as milk, breakfast cereals, and some types of orange juice. If food is Vitamin D fortified it will say so on its label.
Still Not Convinced You Can Get Enough Vitamin D When Using Sunscreen?
If you want to get out in the sun uncovered to get your weekly doses of Vitamin D, do so in the morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t straight overhead. The UV rays aren’t as strong in the mid-morning and late afternoon as they are midday. Go ahead and head out in the sun twice a week for 15 or 20 minutes and you’ll be set.
What About During the Winter?
If you live in the northern states, it’s a good idea to take a supplement in the winter. (Though, don’t forget about sunscreen in the winter, because you can still get sunburned even when it is cold outside)
Vitamin D deficiency is a serious business, and it’s important to stay on top of it. Check out your multi-vitamin; chances are good you’re getting the daily recommendation without even knowing it.
Vitamin D from the Sun: Is It Safe
A few years ago I was diagnosed with very low Vitamin D (and B12). Combined deficiencies left me feeling exhausted, left my brain feeling foggy, and I was down and depressed. We all need Vitamin D in our bodies to make us healthy, but there is controversy over how we get our Vitamin D.
There are those who recommend getting our vitamin D from the sun, avoiding sunscreen altogether, and those who recommend getting it via diet or supplements to save ourselves from the risks of unprotected sun exposure. But in all reality, very few people really understand how much time it takes to get what we need from the sun or if a supplement is a good option for those who take no chances when it comes to the sun’s UV rays.
Here are some facts about Vitamin D, the sun, supplements, and how to make sure you are safely getting the amount you need.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that your body uses in many ways. Most noted is the vitamin’s ability to help strengthen bones, but it also aids in healthy muscles, heart, brain, and even fighting against cancer risks. It’s a super important vitamin that so many people are deficient in due to our diligent sun protection habits.
How Do I Get Vitamin D?
The two best ways to get Vitamin D are from unprotected sun exposure and from dietary supplements such as fish oil. You can also get a small amount of Vitamin D from your diet, but you likely won’t be able to meet your needs from your diet alone, though foods such as some fish, eggs, and fortified foods will help. Recommendations vary on how much Vitamin D you should get depending on your age. The range is from 600 to 5,000 IU’s a day. Talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you.
Vitamin D from Unprotected Sun Exposure
According to nutritionist Shereen Jegtvig, one needs only to expose their skin to the sun for 5 to 30 minutes, twice a week, for optimal amounts of Vitamin D. The range, of course, depends on your skin tone and how many UV rays your town gets.
The Vitamin D Council recommends you stay unprotected from the sun for half the time it typically takes you to get any pink. Jegtvig notes that you are unlikely to get your Vitamin D from the sun in the winter in the northern states, which means a supplement is necessary.
Is Unprotected Sun Exposure Safe?
We highly recommend you ask your doctor what is safe in terms of the sun and Vitamin D but here’s what we do. We know that it takes our sunscreen a good 20 minutes to fully activate and protect our skin. Every so often we will apply and go right outside without waiting for 20-30 minutes as we typically do. This allows our bodies to get a limited amount of unexposed time in the sun.
Those who have a history of skin cancer might feel differently and recommend that no unexposed time is safe in the sun. If you feel that way, the great news is that your body creates vitamin D from supplements very easily. Ask your pharmacist what supplement is best, and it is very easy and safe to add it to your daily diet. The one, my doctor, recommended I use is the NOW brand of Vitamin D which is a super small soft gel that comes in multiple different levels.
The Bottom Line
The quest for optimal Vitamin D levels is not an excuse to skip sunscreen no matter your skin tone. Too much unexposed time in the UV rays ups your risk of skin cancer, aging, age spots, and other unwanted effects. If you want to get your Vitamin D from the sun, be careful to avoid sunburn and note the small amount of time it will take actually to get the Vitamin D you need. The quest for healthy Vitamin D levels does not mean giving you a free pass for pool-side sunbathing all summer long.
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website’s content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra’s expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.