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Safe Sunbathing? Best Time to Get Vitamin D from the Sun
Can sunbathing be safe? Find out the role of Vitamin D in the body, along with the best time to get Vitamin D from the sun for optimal health benefits.
Even those with a basic understanding of skin care know that the sun can have negative consequences for the skin. Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can lead to premature wrinkles, sun spots and other blemishes. More importantly, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause sunburn, which studies have repeatedly linked to skin cancer.
These dangers often overshadow the benefits that regular sun exposure can offer. When practiced safely, sunbathing can provide us with Vitamin D, which our bodies need to carry out several important processes such as bone growth and disease prevention.
Here are three things to know about safely reaping the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun:
- Almost half of the world’s population are Vitamin D deficient. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to several health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease.
- The sun is one of the best sources of Vitamin D.
- Midday is the best time to get Vitamin D from sunlight.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, aka “the sunshine vitamin,” is crucial to several important processes in the body. Most notably, it helps our bodies utilize calcium properly to grow strong and healthy bones.
Several studies have indicated that Vitamin D can potentially help us fend off cancer, cognitive decline in older adults and cardiovascular disease. In a recent study published by Dovepress, researchers discovered that Vitamin D3 is essential to healthy cardiovascular health, playing a key role in triggering the endothelium, which are cells that form linings in the blood vessels (see claim: “…studies presented here strongly indicate that vitamin D3 restores endothelial function…”)
We get most of our Vitamin D from food and through Vitamin D synthesis triggered by sun exposure. Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is all too common. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, almost 50 percent of the world’s population is deficient in Vitamin D (see claim: “Vitamin D insufficiency affects almost 50% of the population worldwide.”)
The Best Time to Get Vitamin D from the Sun
Midday, preferably during the spring or summer, is when ultraviolet rays are at their strongest. This is the best time to get the most amount of Vitamin D in your body.
Normally, we’d tell you to avoid the sun during these hours and keep your daily moisturizer with SPF on hand to protect your handsome mug from the dangers of sunlight. However, if your goal is to increase your body’s levels of Vitamin D, then avoiding the sun during this time is the exact opposite of what you want to do.
That being said, we urge you not to skip your daily moisturizer with SPF. Yes, it will reduce your intake of Vitamin D from the sun, but here are a couple reasons why you shouldn’t skip your sunscreen:
- Most People Don’t Apply Enough Sunscreen—You’re probably not applying enough sunscreen in the first place, which means that you’ll get plenty of Vitamin D action anyway. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, most people apply roughly one-third the amount of sunscreen recommended by manufacturers (see claim: “…people typically apply much less sunscreen than the dose (2 mg/cm2) used in the SPF testing process…this varies between 0.5 and 1.5 mg/cm2.”)
- Skin Cancer vs. Lower Vitamin D—While you could go without your sunscreen, you’d likely get burned within minutes. According to a 2008 study published in Annals of Epidemiology, researchers found an increased risk of melanoma in those who suffered more sunburns in their lifetime (see claim: “An increased risk of melanoma was seen with increasing number of sunburns…”) Between low levels of Vitamin D and a higher risk of skin cancer, we know which one we’d choose.
This isn’t meant to turn you away from sunbathing, but rather to urge caution and smarts when it comes to taking sun safety precautions. While there aren’t many studies out there on the topic of sunbathing, one notable 2015 study published in BMC Public Health set out to compare the effects of Vitamin D supplements and sun exposure on Vitamin D deficient individuals.
Although their findings were inconclusive, one of the four groups was asked to protect their head and neck, leaving the rest of their body unprotected. This group spent 10-15 minutes in the sun—just enough to achieve a barely perceptible reddening of the skin.
The bottom line: Spend no more than 10-15 minutes in the sun (even less if you have a fair skin tone) to prevent sun damage and sunburn. The study also recommended wearing a hat to protect the head and apply generous sunscreen on the ears and neck because most skin cancers occur in these areas.
Striking the Right Balance
As you probably guessed, it can be incredibly tough to achieve the right amount of sun exposure for optimal health. To avoid increasing your risk of skin cancer, be safe and wear a moisturizer with SPF and reapply it as needed.