Sensible sun exposure is necessary for your health
Summer is finally here and its time to embrace the sun! The first step is learning how to navigate the many misconceptions surrounding sun exposure.
“The sun causes skin cancer!” “Don’t expose yourself to its harmful rays”, blurts the uninformed.
This baseless fear has probably convinced you to avoid the sun altogether and when you have no choice, you’ll probably slap on some chemical laden sunscreen and go out all day. Doing this, you may end up going from no sun exposure; to a six-hour beach day with (let’s face it), an inadequate amount of coverage. Because, who actually reapplies sunscreen liberally in the middle of a raging pool party? No one.
Hashtag Vitamin D #Goals? #Not
Having this type of unhealthy relationship with the sun will leave you Vitamin D deficient (if you aren’t already) and even worse, expose your immune system to the risk of cancer and disease.
Sounds dramatic? Well, buckle up and read on if you want to find out why adequate sun exposure without sunscreen is imperative for your health. Yeah that’s right, I said it, no sunscreen.
With so many myths surrounding the sun and it’s impact on our health, I have decided to refer to the ultimate medical authority regarding Vitamin D and sun exposure; Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D, M.D.
In this article, I have laid out the facts regarding Vitamin D and sun exposure, including recommendations by Dr. Holick to put your fears of sun exposure to rest . My goal is to inspire you to go out and reap the many benefits that come with maintaining a healthy relationship with the sun.
“The idea that sunlight is dangerous denies basic evolutionary science” – Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D., M.D
Who is Dr. Michael Holick?
Dr. Holick is a world-renowned endocrinologist. Because of his scientific breakthrough in Vitamin D research (the identification of 25-Vitamin D), we now know more about Vitamin D than ever before.
In his book, The Vitamin D Solution he lays out over 30 years worth of scientific knowledge that puts all false claims regarding sun exposure to rest.
What is Vitamin D and why is it necessary?
Vitamin D is actually not a vitamin, it’s a hormone. Our bodies create this hormone once exposed to UVB rays from the sun. Every cell and tissue in our bodies contain a Vitamin D receptor; which means that, the need for Vitamin D is essentially embedded into our DNA. This relationship directly affects how our immune systems function. The fact is, sun exposure is necessary and it has always been necessary since the beginning of evolutionary time.
How do I know I’m getting enough Vitamin D?
Chances are, you’re probably not. Scientific studies show close to 50% of people living in sub-tropical regions (like Florida), are Vitamin D deficient. And that says a lot. Simply walking from your car to an air-conditioned location, or walking your dog for 5 minutes, doesn’t suffice. UVB rays also cannot penetrate glass, so that car ride doesn’t count either. If you are curious about your levels, ask your doctor to perform a Vitamin D test on you. And, for the most accuracy, ask to be tested on 25-Vitamin D also known as “serum 25 (OH)D” for lab reports. Ideal levels are between 40-60 ng/ml, year round.
“Vitamin D may be one of our most reliable proactive ingredients bolstering comprehensible immunity and reinforcing the body’s natural defenses” – Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D., M.D
What are the benefits of Vitamin D produced from Sunlight?
If you want to combat premature aging, Vitamin D is key.
A few of the benefits include:
- Bone Health: Prevents bone disease, as the strong symbiotic relationship between Vitamin D and calcium, renders Vitamin D crucial in calcium absorption
- Cellular Health: Prevents cancer by regulating cell growth
- Organ Health: Prevents inflammatory diseases (such as heart disease and diabetes) and prevents weight gain
- Muscular Health: Supports long term muscle strength
- Autoimmune Health: Prevents multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis
- Brain Health: Prevents depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia
- Mood-Related Health: Elevates sense of well-being (stimulates the production of ‘feel-good’ hormones such as; serotonin, dopamine and beta-endorphins), prevents SAD (seasonal affective disorder), prevents PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and corrects sleeping disorders
The benefits listed above are just the tip of the iceberg regarding what Vitamin D can do for your health.
Ever crave a beach day or just a day out in the sun?
Well, that’s normal! We as human beings feel natural gratification when exposed to sunlight because this relationship is engraved in our DNA. The best benefit of all is that this form of solar-therapy is provided to you for free.
“Vitamin D may be the most underappreciated and misunderstood anti-aging secret” – Dr. Michael Holick, Ph.D., M.D
Should I go out into the sun without skin coverage?
Yes, but doing so moderately is key. Dr. Holick recommends, 2-3 times a week.
However, the specific amount of time you should spend out in the sun isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. This will depend on a number of factors such as: your ethnicity, where you live, and what time of year it is.
Click here to find out the appropriate length of time for you, year round. You can also download Dr. Holick’s app; dminder available for free in the App Store.
Different time is needed for different skin types. For example, African Americans and ethnicities with darker skin tones have naturally built in SPF (sun protective factor), so they need to be out in the sun twice as long to obtain optimal Vitamin D levels (compared to those of European origin). The correlation between Vitamin D and immunity was proven by large scale Harvard studies in 2005; which concluded that African American men had an 89% higher cancer risk than Caucasian counterparts (due to Vitamin D deficiency). The same theme goes for women, as a Harvard study done in 2007 proved that women with the highest levels of 25-Vitamin D had the lowest risk of breast cancer.
Can I still produce Vitamin D while wearing sunscreen?
Aside from supplementation, the activated form of Vitamin D (25-Vitamin D) cannot be produced by your skin without the exposure to UVB rays. Broad spectrum sunscreens block out both UVA & UVB rays from being absorbed by your skin. An SPF 30 will reduce your UVA & UVB exposure by 99%. But this isn’t an excuse to take the extreme route and stay out in the sun for a relentless amount of hours. This coverage is not guaranteed and Dr. Holick strongly cautions against sunbathing and tanning for hours in the sun – even if you are wearing sunscreen.
But, I supplement. Why risk being exposed to sunlight without sunscreen?
This so-called “risk” has far more reward than you think.
The Vitamin D naturally produced by your skin from sun exposure actually lasts twice as long in your bloodstream, compared to a supplement. Also, a supplement doesn’t provide you with all the “feel good” stimulations and serotonin production that being out in the sun will bring you.
Furthermore, sensible and consistent sun exposure, will help you produce your own natural SPF (contained within melanin production). This is extremely beneficial because, the more you go out into the sun (with moderation) the more protected you will be on that summer beach day, thereby reducing the risk of sun damage.
Another reason to get your Vitamin D from the Sun; is that you can never overdose on Vitamin D from sunlight. It is possible to accidentally overdose on supplements – and the results aren’t pretty. Sunlight actually has the ability to destroy any excess Vitamin D produced, thereby maintaining your levels right where they need to be.
Our bodies are very high functioning machines and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Is supplementation necessary?
Yes, supplementation is necessary to maintain healthy Vitamin D levels. In addition to sun exposure, it is beneficial to supplement daily with 1000IU (generally). You can take either Vitamin D2 (vegan option) or Vitamin D3 to maintain healthy levels. For specific recommendations of Vitamin D intake through supplementation, feel free to visit Dr. Holick’s website where he has a readily available chart of recommended dosages (depending on age, sex and other detailed factors).
Supplementation is crucial if you work 9-5 and cannot get out into the sun consistently during high UV exposure times, or if you live in colder regions, where UV rays cannot reach the Earth’s surface at an ideal angle for you to produce Vitamin D. Supplementation should be used in addition to sun exposure, not in place of it (exceptions are those with chronic/fatal medical conditions, consult your doctor if this is the case). The Vitamin D produced by your skin naturally has a plethora of benefits that cannot be replaced with supplementation.
Does the sun give you skin cancer?
No, that’s a myth. A weakened immune system can give you skin cancer, and you need Vitamin D to regulate cell growth, to in turn prevent skin cancer (or any other form of cancer). An example of proof is a long-term study done by Dr. Sigismunt Peller of NYU, published by the American Journal of Medical Sciences. The test subjects who had jobs that required them to be outdoors for a majority of the time proved to have the lowest rates of melanoma compared to those who had indoor jobs. This was further confirmed by an FDA conference in 2005 that identified melanoma as; a disease often seen in people who do not receive moderate and consistent sun exposure (compared to those that did).
Consistent studies prove that when you moderately expose your skin to UV rays, on a regular basis; your skin naturally produces its own SPF. The more you go out into the sun, the more protected you are overtime. This is the ideal approach, as opposed to never going out into the sun, and getting sunburned when you do. Sunburns have proven to be truly dangerous, as they completely fry your skin and destroy your DNA on a cellular level; leading to chemical imbalance and abnormal skin growths… like cancer.
Moderate & consistent sun exposure is KEY
So, is the sun dangerous? No. Rather, anything in excess is harmful. Is water poisonous? No; but if you drink too much of it at once, you can die. Just like exercising, consistent moderate sun exposure is far more effective than a random 2-hour sunbathing session. Develop a healthy relationship with the sun, and overtime you will reap the benefits. When doing so, be smart and plan ahead. Dr. Holick always recommends wearing protective eyewear (to prevent cataracts) and a hat (to protect your face, as it is only about 9% of your body so you wont be producing much Vitamin D from it anyways).
Protecting your lips and face with a natural sunscreen and exposing your arms and legs without sunblock for your specific allotted duration, is the way to go.
If you will be out in the sun for a longer period than the duration allotted; absolutely wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen. UVA rays are generally associated with aging and UVB rays are generally associated with burns. I personally recommend using a natural sun block that will not aid in the production of free radicals in your skin.
“Water works wonders, air can do even more, but (sun) light works best of all”- Arnold Rikli
For more information, I highly urge you to read The Vitamin D Solution by Dr. Michael F. Holick, Ph.D., M.D and for more updated scientific publications regarding sun exposure and Vitamin D, visit www.pubmed.com