When it comes to skin and sunlight, everyone faces a slight dilemma. On one hand, we need vitamin D to maintain healthy bones and we get the majority of our vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. On the other hand, most of us are well aware exposure to sunlight accelerates the aging process and increases our risk of developing skin cancer. So how do we address one issue without defeating the other?
Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium and phosphorus from our diet and these minerals develop and maintain healthy bone structure. Some foods deliver vitamin D (fatty fish like salmon and sardines, fortified milk and cereals, for example) and there’s always supplements, but our body creates most of its vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin. Therefore it’s essential to submit the skin to short daily periods of sun exposure without sunscreen, ideally during the months April through October. The key word is short.
How much time an individual needs to spend in the sun unprotected for their skin to make enough vitamin D depends on a number of factors. Fair skinned people will need far less time than darker skinned to produce the same amount of vitamin D. The time of year and the time of day matter as well as the amount of skin bared. Generally speaking, about 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure during the hours of 11am and 3pm April through October is enough for most people.
The sun’s UV-B rays are the only ones capable of producing vitamin D in the body and they need to come in direct contact with skin, free of sunscreen and unfiltered through glass. However, once the recommended amount of time skin should be exposed to direct sunlight has been accomplished, it’s time to take precautions. During extended time spent outdoors, cover up exposed areas with clothing or use sunscreen that offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.