Summer has arrived, and with it comes plenty of days outside enjoying the warmth and sunshine. Though there’s a lot to love about the weather, absorbing too many sun rays can cause lasting damages to your skin and pose a serious risk to your health. Sunscreen can significantly reduce those risks.
The sun isn’t all bad, however. It’s a major source for vitamin D, a crucial element for the proper function of several bodily processes. However, new research suggests that while sunscreen is a necessity for stopping the body from taking in too much radiation, it could also be limiting the amount of vitamin D people are receiving. As a result, you may need to look for more vitamins from other sources.
Why is sunscreen important?
While limiting the amount of sunscreen you use may seem like a simple response to its potential for blocking vitamin D, the fact of the matter is that this product is too important to limit.
Skin cancer is the No. 1 most common cancer in the U.S., according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Though it has high survival rates when it’s caught and treated early, skin cancer does still lead to nearly 10,000 deaths a year in the U.S. Sun damage is cumulative over your lifetime. It takes just one to five blistering sunburns in your lifetime to increase the risk of skin cancer by 50 to 80 percent.
The AAD explained that radiation from the sun or tanning beds is the top contributor to the development of skin cancer. There are two main rays to be aware of:
- UVA rays age skin faster, causing a loss of elasticity and wrinkles. These rays deeply penetrate the skin and may contribute to mutations in skin cell structure.
- UVB rays cause sunburns. They are able to severely damage skin cells, to the point of altering their DNA, and causing skin cancer.
While avoiding spending too much time in the sun – and never using tanning beds – can drastically lessen the risks for UV exposure, it isn’t always possible to just avoid the sun. Even on an overcast day the sun’s rays are still able to penetrate cloud coverage (and in some cases, clouds may even reflect sun rays and make them stronger!) meaning that any time you try to leave the house during the day, you face a risk of radiation exposure.
Medical experts highly recommend the regular use of sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation stated that sunscreens are able to stop the skin from absorbing harmful UV rays. Just how much protection a particular sunscreen offers depends on the Sun Protection Factor. An SPF of 30 is the minimum recommendation – it blocks 97 percent of radiation absorption. An SPF of 50 stops 98 percent. At least 1 ounce of sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to going outside, and should then be reapplied every two hours. Depending on your needs you can get waterproof or sweatproof sunscreens, use them as sprays or oils and can event find brands of sunscreen for sensitive skin.
Does sunscreen prevent vitamin D absorption?
Sunlight is a positive source of vitamin D, however, and scientists have long speculated whether sunscreen can limit levels of this important element. But a new release from the American Osteopathic Association found that there may be a link after all.
The study found that as many as 1 billion people from around the globe may be vitamin D deficient as a result of sunscreen limiting sun exposure to the skin.
“People are spending less time outside and, when they do go out, they’re typically wearing sunscreen, which essentially nullifies the body’s ability to produce vitamin D,” said Kim Pfotenhauer, assistant professor at Touro University, adding that “we want people to protect themselves against skin cancer.”
Vitamin D can be formed as a hormone in the body released from cells when they absorb the sun. So using a product like sunscreen that specifically aims to block sun absorption can hinder this process.
The importance of vitamin D
Getting enough vitamin D is essential, however. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements from the National Institutes of Health, vitamin D plays a key role in a number of bodily systems. It helps to absorb calcium, which is necessary for bone growth and strength. It also supports the immune system and reduces inflammation. Rickets, a condition that causes soft and weak bones, comes from a vitamin D deficiency, as does osteomalacia which causes bone and muscle pain.
While the sun is an important source for vitamin D, there are other ways for you to get more of this nutrient without forgoing sunscreen. It occurs naturally in fatty fish and fish oils, such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, sardines and mackerel. Cheese, eggs and beef also contain small amounts of the vitamin.
— Vitamin D Council (@VitaminDCouncil) June 27, 2017
The ODS states that the best way to get vitamin D from foods is through fortified products, however. Milk, margarine and cereals can all be found with fortified vitamin D. BBC Health stated that people of all ages should take vitamin D supplements every day to ensure they receive as much as they need, emphasizing that sunscreen could be limiting how much people are able to have naturally.
Vitamin D recommended dosage depends on your age and biologic sex, according to the ODS. Men and women aged 18 and up should generally aim for 15 mcg of vitamin D each day. Infants need 10 and seniors over the age of 80 need 20. Women who are pregnant or nursing should be especially sure to monitor what they eat and how much of this essential vitamin they are getting, as they will need more.
When it comes to properly planning for your health, you don’t have to take a one-or-the-other approach. Using sunscreen to limit your risks of skin cancer doesn’t mean you have to forgo the vitamin D essential for healthy bones and muscles. By using the right supplement and making wise food decisions, you can improve your vitamin intake this summer.
For more information on Longevity Science Vitamin D, click here.