We are well into summer now, so you have likely pulled out your sunscreen, or gone shopping for some so that you are ready for spending time outdoors. Is sunscreen really a good idea? As each summer approaches the media reminds us to wear sunscreen. At the same time we are told Canadian's are deficient in vitamin D. The sun is the best source of vitamin D, and wearing sunscreen inhibits the formation of vitamin D. What is a person to do?
BENEFITS OF VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is an incredibly important nutrient with hundreds of functions in our bodies. Some of its functions include bone health, calcium metabolism, gut health, immune function, muscle function (including the heart), brain development and research has shown that it has anti-cancer properties.
For people who suffer from skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis the sun can help to alleviate symptoms. (for a long-term solution, gut health needs to be addressed)
HOW SUNSHINE MAKES VITAMIN D
When UVB rays from the sun hit your skin, it converts 7-dehydrocholesterol (an oil in your skin) to vitamin D3. D3 then has to journey to the liver where it gets converted to 25-hydroxyvitamin D. Then it continues on its journey to the kidneys where it undergoes another conversion and becomes 1, 25 dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D), which is the active form that our bodies are able to utilize. Pretty complicated!
It is possible to get vitamin D from some foods, such as egg yolks, butter and liver, but these are typically present in small amounts. The sun is the best source of vitamin D.
THE PROBLEM WITH SUN
The biggest problem with sun is that increased exposure increases the risk of skin cancers.
For sufferers of rosacea or cold sores, the sun can trigger a flare up, so it can be problematic for some skin conditions as well.
SAFE SUN EXPOSURE
The reality is that we need to find a balance between getting enough sun exposure to get adequate vitamin D, without risking sunburn or overexposure. A good way to do this is to start by exposing a significant portion of your skin (aka wear a bathing suit or shorts and short-sleeves) for a short period of time such as 5 minutes. Err on the side of caution if you are very fair skinned. The darker your skin is, the greater the amount of time you can be in the sun. Slowly build up the time you spend in the sun. As you develop a tan, you will be able to spend longer periods of time in the sun without burning. Build up slowly by adding a minute or two each day. 15-30 minutes will provide adequate vitamin D levels for most people. You want to avoid burning, so starting with a short time and slowly building up is the best way to get safe sun exposure.
Keep your face covered with a hat. The skin on your face in thinner than elsewhere on your body, so warrants more protection.
Other than your designated exposure to get vitamin D, keep yourself covered with clothing or use a sunscreen that isn't full of chemicals. Check out the sunscreen guide that the Environmental Working Group puts out to find safe sunscreens.
Living in Canada means that we have a short summer, and suffer from vitamin D deficiencies during the winter months. Everyone wants to take advantage of our short summers by being outdoors, but after months spent indoors, skin needs to be gently reintroduced to the sun. It's important to get safe sun exposure so that you can maximize the vitamin D your body produces without risk of burns or health concerns.
Happy, Healthy Tanning!