There have always been two sides to sun exposure; expose yourself to the sun to obtain natural vitamin D or protect your skin with clothing and sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. The answer is that both options are important, it just depends on the extent.
There are three modes of vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin: food, supplementation, and the sun. D2 is the specific type of vitamin D that some plants provide, while D3 is the type of vitamin D synthesized from the sun and its UV rays. It’s recommended that to see if we are lacking in vitamin D, that we get a blood test. A good range of vitamin D is between 20-50ng/ml and 40-80ng/ml. It’s recommended also that adults should be getting an average of 400-600 IU/day. Individuals could be at risk for vitamin D deficiency if they are overweight, have a lack of sun exposure, or have fat maladsorption diseases. Some ways to get vitamin D through food is with fortified milk, fatty fish, juice, or any other fortified food products.
When someone gets a sunburn, this is the short-term overexposure sign and skin cancer is the long-term overexposure. Unfortunately, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It’s recommended to use at least SPF 15 or higher to reduce skin cancer by 50% and skin aging effects by 24%. In the case that vitamin D isn’t produced thoroughly enough through sun exposure, for instance in northern states in the winter months, a vitamin D supplement can be used, however, it’s best to get your vitamin D through food sources as described above.
Let’s start with the pros to reasonable sun exposure (5-15 minutes of sun exposure for 2-3 times per week):
1. Exposure to D3 which helps absorb Calcium and Phosporous
2. Ample vitamin D to prevent rickets in kids and osteomalacia, osteoporosis, or osteopenia in adults
3. Sufficient vitamin D can promote bone growth and immune system health
4. No matter how much sunscreen is used, there will still be some rays that penetrate the skin (approximately 2-7%)
Now let’s look at the negatives to sun exposure:
1. Sun exposure without sunscreen for vitamin D absorption can lead to skin cancer risk
2. Oral medications may influence the results of sun exposure and thus can increase absorption and burn
3. Excess sun exposure can also result in blinding eye disease as well as cause cataracts or eye cancer
4. Most of us in the U.S. get enough sun exposure or over enough, not much sun exposure is needed to make enough vitamin D, unless living in the northern states
5. Our skin can only produce a small amount of vitamin D at a time, more time in the sun will not increase vitamin D levels