dreamstime_s_33656422Hello Sunshine!  I am enjoying hanging out in Florida this week celebrating a momentous birthday with my mother-in-law and soaking up the rays of the sun!  We all know that sunshine is one of the best ways to boost your vitamin D levels and how essential this nutrient is for building strong bones.  Throughout our history and evolution, we have always been dependent on the sun to make vitamin D.  Unfortunately, recent research suggests that close to 50% of adults in the US may not be getting enough vitamin D, primarily because people are not getting enough sunshine.  Most people don’t get enough sunlight because they spend daylight hours indoors, slather on sunscreen or shy away from the damaging effects of the sun.  Although there is strong reason to be concerned about skin cancer, Dr. Grant of the Vitamin D council, suggests that the negative publicity of sun exposure has become counterproductive. Melanoma incidence rates have actually climbed during the past several decades as average time spent outdoors has decreased, and a 2011 study published in Cancer Prevention Research suggests that optimal levels of vitamin D in the blood are needed for protection against sunburn and skin cancer. When people are told to limit time outdoors, the health benefits of the sun, even beyond vitamin D, are lost.

The amount of vitamin D your skin produces from the sun does depend on several factors such as time of day, where you live (not only geographically but also if you live in a city or a polluted environment), color of your skin, the amount of skin area you expose, and use of sunscreen. For example, a sunscreen as little as 8 SPF, reduces the sunlight’s ability to trigger the production of vitamin D3 by 95%!  Figuring out how much time you need in the sun to make optimal vitamin D can be complicated. To simplify things, follow Dr. Michael Holick’s advice for figuring out how much sun exposure you need.  Determine the time it takes in the sun to make your skin a little pink, then expose as much of your body as you can for 25-50% of that time, 3 times a week in Spring and Summer.  His research suggests that approximately 10-30 min of sun exposure between 11 am and 3 pm, 3 times a week to the arms, legs or back without sunscreen usually leads to sufficient vitamin D synthesis. Being in the sun long enough to get a light pinkness to your skin is equivalent to ingesting approximately 20,000 IU of vitamin D3. The good news is that you don’t need to tan or burn your skin in order to get all the vitamin D you need!

What about taking vitamin D supplements?  As with all nutrients, it is always best to get your vitamins from a natural source. The vitamin D you make from the sun lasts 2-3 times longer in the body than if you take it in supplement form. It is also impossible to get a toxic overdose from the sun, while the same cannot be said for excessive vitamin D supplementation.  However, supplementation can be very important to maintain optimal levels during the winter months.  According to Dr. Holick, you can’t make vitamin D in the winter months living anywhere north of Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s also important to note that the best time to get vitamin D from the sun is midday.  When the sun is low in the sky, you are exposing your skin to the harmful rays that increase your risk of skin cancer and skin damage without the benefit of vitamin production.

The best advice is to obtain vitamin D from sensible sun exposure when possible and from vitamin D3 supplements when not, with the goal of achieving blood serum levels of vitamin D of at least 50 ng/mL.
Sun, in moderation, is crucial for good health! Spring and summer are just around the corner so here are some guidelines for safe sun exposure so we can get out outside and appreciate the sun for all of its wonderful benefits.

Safe Sun Guidelines

  • Expose unprotected skin to the sun between 11 am and 3 pm to absorb the vitamin D producing rays.
  • Limit your initial exposure to the sun and increase your time in the sun slowly, allowing your body’s protective pigmentation to build up.
  • In the peak summer months, most people should aim to get 5-15 minutes of unprotected sun on arms, legs, abdomen and back, then use sun protection or return to the shade.
  • Always protect your face: The thin skin on your face doesn’t produce a lot of vitamin D and has a higher risk for sun damage.
  • Always keep your eyes covered. Sun burn to the cornea can be very painful and cumulative sun exposure can lead to cataracts, cancer, and even blindness.
  • Use safe non-toxic sunscreens. Some studies have indicated that many chemicals in sunscreen can actually generate harmful free radicals in the body.  Check out this site to learn more about healthy sunscreens: http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/best-sunscreens/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/


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