Getting your daily dose of sunshine is often recommended to boost your vitamin D levels. Unfortunately, if you have been heading outdoors with a layer of your trusty sunscreen slathered on, you may not be getting the full benefits of sunlight exposure.
Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for the body, needed to develop a strong musculo-skeletal structure and to avoid rickets, osteomalacia, and fractures. A deficiency of vitamin D has also been implicated in some cancers, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, as well as cardiovascular disease.1 Dietary guidelines from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies suggest about 600 IU daily for anyone under 70. 800 IU is suggested for those over 70 years.2
How Do You Get Your Vitamin D?
The primary source of vitamin D is skin photosynthesis. This process is triggered by solar irradiation by UVB (ultraviolet B) rays. In summertime, it is recommended that a fair skinned person get about two or three sessions per week, of between 20 and 30 minutes, in the sun at midday. Both the forearms and the face must be uncovered to get the benefit of this direct exposure.3
Fatty fish and fish liver oils are a source of vitamin D, but most Americans get their dietary intake of the vitamin through fortified milk. Supplements offer another alternative route to get your vitamin D.4
Why Sunscreen May Not Always Be Good
Sunscreen is your first line of defense against skin damage. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. They suggest one with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or higher. However, they also mention that sunscreen use could cause the skin’s vitamin D production to decrease.5 So where does that leave you?
One study on adults using sunscreen showed that in spite of sufficient sun exposure, they had low vitamin D levels in the body.6 And there are dozens more that echo the same findings.
Specifically, researchers have found that when a properly applied sunscreen with SPF30 is used, the skin’s loses its capacity to produce vitamin D. The decline is nearly 98 percent – which means virtually none is being produced. For SPF15 properly applied, the skin’s capacity for vitamin D production is reduced by 95 percent.7 8
With as many as 60 percent of all adults and about 40 percent of all children suffering from a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, this is now a widespread health concern.9
Alternatives To Traditional Sunscreen
One option is to skip the sunscreen for just that small 20–30 minute window midday when you get your sun exposure for vitamin D. The rest of the time, cover up and use sunscreen. But you do still expose yourself to the risks, albeit for a shorter window.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests using vitamin D supplements to get in the requisite amount of vitamin D, rather than risk unprotected sun exposure.10
Natural alternative likes coconut oil or olive oil are considered beneficial – they form a protective film over the skin but do not inhibit vitamin D production. Peppermint oil as well as tulsi (holy basil) oil are also photoprotective.11
Using an aloe vera moisturizer after sun exposure can also limit skin damage. However, these oils are not SPF rated, and the extent of protection they offer is still under scrutiny.
Best Of Both Worlds: Breakthrough Sunscreen Solar D
The most exciting new development is a brand new sunscreen that offers protection while letting the body carry on with vitamin D production. Carrying an SPF15 tag, this formulation uses a different mix of ingredients to optimize the production of previtamin D3, but still has its protective property against sun rays. Researchers found that the in vitro enhancement in previtamin D3 production was as much as 50 percent.
“SolarD”, the name given to this new formulation, was arrived at by studying the effective irradiance for both previtamin D formation and erythema. A filter composition that struck the right balance between protection and previtamin D production was found.12
The revolutionary new sunscreen is already on sale in Australia and will hit US shores by summer 2016. Going by the early response to the product, your sunscreen dilemma may finally be behind you.
|↑1||Wacker, Matthias, and Michael F. Holick. “Sunlight and Vitamin D: A global perspective for health.” Dermato-endocrinology 5, no. 1 (2013): 51-108.|
|↑2||Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D, National Academy of Sciences.|
|↑3||Pearce, S. H., and Tim D. Cheetham. “Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency.” Bmj 340, no. January (11) (2010): 5664-15664.|
|↑4||Vitamin D, National Institute of Health.|
|↑5, ↑10||Sunscreen FAQs, American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑6||Binkley, Neil, Rachel Novotny, Diane Krueger, T. Kawahara, Yihe G. Daida, Gary Lensmeyer, Bruce W. Hollis, and Marc K. Drezner. “Low vitamin D status despite abundant sun exposure.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 92, no. 6 (2007): 2130-2135.|
|↑7, ↑9, ↑12||Kockott, Dieter, Bernd Herzog, Jörg Reichrath, Kevin Keane, and Michael F. Holick. “New Approach to Develop Optimized Sunscreens that Enable Cutaneous Vitamin D Formation with Minimal Erythema Risk.” PloS one 11, no. 1 (2016): e0145509.|
|↑8||Matsuoka, Lois Y., LORRAINE IDE, JACOBO WORTSMAN, JULIA A. MACLAUGHLIN, and MICHAEL F. HOLICK. “Sunscreens Suppress Cutaneous Vitamin D3 Synthesis*.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 64, no. 6 (1987): 1165-1168.|
|↑11||Kaur, Chanchal Deep, and Swarnlata Saraf. “In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics.” Pharmacognosy research 2, no. 1 (2010): 22.|