We all need vitamin D. It spurs bone growth, and without it we’d be at high risk of conditions such as osteoporosis.
Vitamin D also gives an important boost to the immune system, and some in the medical community believe it can help stave off any number of diseases, while a D deficiency can open a Pandora’s box of ailments.
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it manufactures vitamin D. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with a protein called 7-DHC in the skin, converting it into vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D. The sun’s most dangerous burning rays are Ultra Violet B. These are called UVB for short. Think “B for burning.”
The problem is, too many people think that using sunscreen and other forms of sun protection leads to vitamin D deficiency, and that the best way to obtain enough of the vitamin is through unprotected sun exposure.
Studies have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency. In fact, people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels.
As a Cosmetologist, I want to explain why letting the sun beat down on your face and body is not the way to satisfy your D quotient. Let me show you how you can have your D and literally eat it too, without abusing the skin you’re in.
In short, unprotected sun exposure puts you at risk for any number of conditions that can permanently damage your skin, disfigure you, sometimes even kill you. And the regular use of sun protection can go a long way to keep any of that from happening.
The truth is, it doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce vitamin D. Even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection. That minor amount of exposure produces all the vitamin D your body can muster. After that, your body automatically starts to dispose of vitamin D to avoid an overload of the vitamin, at which point your sun exposure is giving you nothing but sun damage without any of the presumed benefit.
UVB rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Make every effort to minimize your time outdoors during these hours and cover with a sun protection. While you have to be so careful during those hours when the sun is the strongest it is ok to go for a late walk around 5 p.m without your SPF and “get that vitamin D” without putting your skin into risk of sun burn and sun damage. But remember! You only need 10-15 mins in the sun.
The thing is, even just those unprotected 10 or 15 minutes are way more than enough time to cause DNA damage, and every bit of this damage adds up throughout your lifetime, producing more and more genetic mutations that keep increasing your lifetime risk of skin cancer.
And that’s not to mention the damage caused by the sun’s longer-wave UVA radiation (320-400 nm), the key UV rays behind premature skin aging as well as a cause of skin cancer.
A 2015 study published in Science found that UVA damage can start in less than a minute in the sun. The damage to the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes) actually keeps developing hours after the sun exposure ends. Melanocyte damage can lead to melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The Foundation and the medical community at large also strongly caution against trying to use tanning beds as a vitamin D source, since it’s pointless as well as dangerous. When you lie in an indoor tanning bed, you are exposed primarily to UVA. But it is UVB, not UVA, that helps the skin make vitamin D, so you are increasing your risk of skin cancer without receiving any benefit!
The question is, if not from UV exposure, how can you obtain enough vitamin D?
It’s pretty straightforward, actually. You can acquire vitamin D from a combination of diet and supplements.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna are especially good sources. Small amounts are also present in egg yolks, beef liver and cheese. And many common foods such as milk and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D
Food, supplements and incidental, protected sun exposure will give you all the D you need, without subjecting yourself to the multiple risks of unprotected sun exposure.