The Truth About the Sun and Vitamin D
Most of us know how risky it is to get UV exposure without any sun protection, but for some reason there continues to be ongoing confusion about the safety of getting vitamin D from the sun. To set the record straight, you should never intentionally expose your skin to the sun without protection in the form of a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30.
While vitamin D is indeed an essential component of our health and can keep bones strong as well as contribute to a healthy immune system, the best and safest way to get vitamin D is through our diets. It can be very confusing to know what’s healthy and what’s not, thanks to erroneous reports in the media encouraging people to get a dose of unprotected sun exposure before slathering on the sunscreen. “The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people get their vitamin D from diet only, not from purposeful UV exposure,” says Dr. Rebecca Kleinerman, dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Schweiger Dermatology. “While I think people should live their lives and enjoy the outdoors, I always recommend sun protection, not 15 minutes of sun exposure prior to UV protection.” And the truth is, no matter how vigilant you are with your SPF, you’re probably still leaving some areas of the skin exposed to the sun. So unintentional UV exposure is happening regardless.
The so-called “sunshine vitamin” is much better obtained through diet and supplements, not the sun. In fact, our bodies can only produce a very limited amount of vitamin D from sun exposure. Another thing to keep in mind before you head outdoors without any sunscreen is that even a few minutes of intentional sun exposure could put you at risk for skin cancer. According to the AAD: “There is no safe threshold level of UV exposure that allows for maximal vitamin D synthesis without increasing skin cancer risk.”
The American Academy of Dermatology urges people to get their vitamin D intake not from the sun, but from a daily supplement. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 IU for ages 1-70; 800 IU for adults over the age of 70 and 400 IU a a day for babies under one years old. Look for foods labeled “vitamin D-fortified” to add to your family’s diet. Foods rich in vitamin D include egg yolks, cod liver oil, and other oily fish.