During the height of summer, you might think maintaining optimal Vitamin D levels even while wearing sunscreen isn’t something you need to think about. But not so fast! Unfortunately, keeping your Vitamin D levels in check isn’t that simple. At the same time, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming when ensuring you’re still receiving a healthy level of Vitamin D this summer.
Why is Vitamin D important?
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that keeps our bodies running optimally, from supporting our muscles, heart, lungs, and brain to keeping our bones strong and healthy. It also helps our body fight illness and heal well. With an integral connection to our skin, Vitamin D regulates many physiological processes in our skin from cellular proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis to barrier maintenance and immune functions. Vitamin D deficiency has been tied to inflammatory skin conditions, like acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. In addition, a lack of vitamin D has been linked to other conditions such as cancer, asthma, type-II diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s and type-I diabetes.
There are two types of Vitamin D:
First, we have Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, found in a number of foods like fortified milk, oily fish, and eggs. Next, there’s Vitamin D3, or cholecalciferol, which is photochemically produced in our skin when we’re exposed to UVB rays. Once processed by our body, Vitamin D3 converts into a hormone. It’s impossible to get the correct amount of Vitamin D from diet alone. Your body needs exposure to sunlight or a supplement.
So, can I get enough Vitamin D when wearing sunscreen?
This is where things get a bit complicated. When we wear sunscreen, we’re protecting our skin from sun rays that burn us, otherwise known as UVB rays. Since we’re blocking UVB rays from penetrating our skin, the same type of rays needed for our skin to produce optimal Vitamin D levels, we need to be deliberate in how we go about acquiring enough of this essential vitamin.
However, keep in mind your geographic location, the time of year and day, and even your specific Fitzpatrick skin type has a direct impact on how well your body naturally obtains Vitamin D from sunlight. Outside of the prime of summer, you may need to consider many other factors unique to your skin, lifestyle, and where you live.
How do I get enough Vitamin D with sunscreen?
As we mentioned earlier, getting enough Vitamin D isn’t dependent on your diet. In order to get enough Vitamin D, we need to expose our skin to sunlight regularly. Our skin can produce large quantities of Vitamin D when we have substantial portions of our skin exposed and the sun is at a high point in the sky. At the same time, you don’t need to burn or tan to get enough vitamin D when exposing your skin to UVB rays.
For example, if you have a fair skin tone you could possibly receive enough Vitamin D within 15 minutes of UV exposure without sunscreen. Whereas a darker skin tone may need hours of exposure to receive the same level when exposing limbs without sunscreen.
To get an optimal amount of exposure, a large portion of your body needs to be exposed, such as your legs, torso, back or arms. A general rule of thumb is to expose a quarter of your body to quickly gain enough Vitamin D.
You can still wear sunscreen and receive some Vitamin D.
Many of us don’t apply our sunscreen properly, don’t wear enough sunscreen, and sometimes we miss areas of our skin. Also, if we aren’t reapplying sunscreen regularly, its effects wear off within a period of time dependent on the specific sunscreen you use.
However, to get enough Vitamin D naturally, you should safely expose your skin every day for a specific amount of time. This should be based on your unique skin tone, among several other factors. That said, you may find the best way to achieve optimal Vitamin D levels within your lifestyle comes down to supplementing with a good quality, daily vitamin. Always check with your doctor before adding a Vitamin D supplement into your routine!