We all know that vitamin D plays a crucial role in calcium absorption and strong bones (among countless other tasks). But did you know that your body evolved over millennia to create its own preferred form of vitamin D from sunlight? Put simply, special cells in our skin produce vitamin D3 when activated by ultraviolet (UVB) light. The perfect vitamin D - just like that, free of charge, with no trips to the supplements store.
But here’s the conundrum: while sun exposure enables our bodies to produce this superior source of vitamin D, excess sun also causes dry skin, wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen seems like a great idea, but it’s a bit totalitarian and blocks the beneficial rays as well as the harmful ones. Fortunately, it’s possible to avoid the dangers of excess sun without giving up the benefits.
3 Tips for Safe Sun Exposure:
- Protect the delicate skin of your face, neck, chest and hands by wearing (nontoxic) sunblock with an SPF of at least 15, preferably 30+.
- Expose your arms and legs (and tummy if possible) to the sun for 10-15 minutes a day,* preferably in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky.
- After 15 minutes, put on sunscreen and additional clothing to protect all exposed skin if you plan to stay out in the sun for any greater length of time.
Of course, baring all in the middle of winter can be difficult, but logging as many days as you can during the warmer months will allow your body to store up for rainy or cold days ahead. It’s also important to note that even if you’re getting your 15 minutes a day in the sun, age and other factors affect how much vitamin D your body is able to manufacture, so be sure to have your doctor test your vitamin D levels and help you determine the correct dose of vitamin D3 needed to fill the gap.
Enjoy soaking in the summer rays this year and be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group's guide to safe sunscreen for the whole family.
*Fair-skinned individuals should start with just a few minutes and work up to 10-15 minutes over the course of a couple of weeks.
Note: This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used in place of advice from your physician.