As studies are showing that moderate sun exposure can be beneficial, people are considering getting outside to catch some rays. However, as other studies show a correlation between skin cancer and sunscreens, people are becoming increasingly confused about how to safely get the sun exposure needed to allow their bodies to naturally produce vitamin D for optimal health.
Dr. Michael F. Holick, an authority on vitamin D and author of The Vitamin D Solution, recommends moderate daily sun exposure. By carefully following Holick’s advice to get out into the sun and protecting yourself from the sun when exposure has been sufficient, it is possible to safely use the sun as a good source of natural vitamin D.
Benefits of Sun Exposure Over Supplementation
There are benefits to producing vitamin D through sun exposure versus taking it in pill form. Dr. Holick, in an article from November 26, 2008, “Vitamin D is Called the Sunshine Vitamin for Good Reason,” says that vitamin D garnered from the sun lasts twice as long as vitamin D taken from food sources. He also points out that there is no monetary cost associated with obtaining vitamin D from the sun. As well, he states that one cannot overdose on sun-sourced vitamin D, whereas there is a risk of toxicity when taking the pill form.
Doreen Virtue, in her book Angel Medicine: How to Heal the Body and Mind with the Help of the Angels, cites a variety of medical publications, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, that have published reports indicating that people in outdoor occupations are less likely to get the deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, than those who spend most of their time indoors. Dr. Holick’s research also backs this up, as does the research done by Dr. Edward Gorham, who discusses these findings in a video seminar from February 18, 2009, called “Skin Cancer/Sunscreens — the Dilemma.”
The danger from the sun, according to the studies, comes with overexposure to the sun and the indiscriminate use of sunscreens that only block out UVB radiation.
The Danger in Sunscreens
There are indications that some sunscreens do not block out the deeper penetrating UVA radiation that causes melanoma, but only the UVB radiation that causes sunburn and is also the same type of radiation that initiates the process of vitamin D production in the skin.
Holick explains that by blocking out only the type of radiation from the sun that causes you to burn, sunscreens encourage people to spend more time out in the sun. If the sunscreen used does not also block out the UVA radiation, then a person will be at risk of developing malignant melanoma from prolonged exposure to UVA radiation.
In his video seminar, Dr. Gorham explains that sunscreens interfere with the body’s ability to tan, and the ability to tan is important in protecting you from getting melanoma. Gorham cites a study by M. Berwick and associates that demonstrates that “sun exposure is associated with survival from melanoma.”
Factors Determining Safe Sun Exposure
A variety of factors come into play when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun and getting the correct amount of exposure.
- Ozone thickness and pollution — The thicker the ozone layer above a country, the higher is the incidence of malignant melanoma in that country. Thick pollution can also prevent UVB rays from getting through, which interferes with the manufacture of vitamin D.
- Skin pigmentation — The darker the skin, the lower the chance of getting malignant melanoma. UVB radiation that results in sunburn is also correlated to malignant melanoma.
- Latitude and altitude — Where a person lives determines how much sun he/she is exposed to through the different seasons and the angle of the sun’s rays during those periods. High altitudes have greater UV exposure than low altitudes.
- Time of day — Depending on the time of day, there may or may not be enough UVB light to stimulate the production of vitamin D. Dr. Holick recommends about ten minutes of unprotected sun exposure during the time between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM, varied by the other factors that come into play.
- Reflective surfaces — Snow, water and other reflective surfaces increase the intensity of the UV radiation.
- Body part exposed — To avoid wrinkles on the face, expose other parts of the body. It is possible to get enough vitamin D by exposing arms and legs. The more surface area exposed, the more quickly will the vitamin D quota be filled, and the less exposure time will be required.
- Duration of exposure — Holick suggests a duration of one quarter or one half the amount of time it would take to become slightly pink when exposed to the sun. This should be done two to three times per week in order to make sufficient vitamin D. Prevent overexposure by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen afterwards. Holick provides tables in his book to help determine correct exposure times based on skin type and the various factors that come into play.
While the advice to get moderate unprotected sun exposure is supported by research, particularly that of Dr. Holick, his conclusions have stirred much controversy and there are many who have argued that his recommendations are dangerous. It is always a good idea to get the advice of a licensed health care professional who has knowledge in the area in question before making any changes to diet, medication, or lifestyle.
Gorham, Edward, PhD. “Sun Screen and Skin Cancer: The Dilemma” (Accessed August 17, 2010).
Holick, Michael F., Ph.D., M.D., The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem, London: Penguin Books, 2010.
Holick, Michael F., Ph.D., M.D. “Vitamin D is Called the Sunshine Vitamin for Good Reason” (Accessed August 17, 2010).
Sebelius, Kathleen. “Experts clash over sun exposure to boost vitamin D” (accessed August 18, 2010).
Virtue, Doreen, PhD Angel Medicine: How to Heal the Body and mind with the Help of the Angels, Carlsbad: Hay House, Inc., 2004.
Image: Courtesy of Bob Tobin
Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute advice from your physician or health-care professional. Before beginning any health or diet program, consult your physician.