How To Get More Vitamin D & Yet Stay Sun-smart
- 7 Minute Read
- Written by: Dr. Jatin Bhide
Why is Vitamin D important to us?
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for our body as it is needed to absorb calcium which ultimately helps in better bone growth, healing, and immunity. It can also help in beating depression and weight loss and most importantly it can help you have a better fighting chance against the coronavirus.
As soon as the sun’s rays fall upon our skin, our body starts producing vitamin D instantly. But that doesn’t mean that we need to get a tan or a sunburn to get the ‘D’ from the sun. Our body is capable enough to make the necessary amount of Vitamin D in half the time that it takes to get a skin burn.
Benefits of natural Vitamin D from the sun
Our body needs a steady source of vitamin D for many different functions. Sun is solely the best source and the vitamin D council states that spending as little as 15 minutes to a couple of hours a day, depending on your skin tone, in the sun can provide the body with all the vitamin D necessary for the day.
Moreover, fewer foods contain a good quantity of vitamin D, so this is why it is so important to get it by scheduling a regular time outdoors. Some examples include dairy products like cow’s milk, soy milk, cheese, egg yolks. Citrus fruits like orange, mandarin, etc. Fishes like salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines and also red meat, beef liver. One can also get it from vitamin-enriched cereals and dietary supplements like cod liver oil capsules.
However, while getting the body’s share of Vitamin D from the sun is a great way, make sure to apply sunscreen and stay hydrated if you spend a lot of time out working in the afternoon sun.
Read more about hydration and its effects in “Are you drinking enough water”.
The side effects of Vitamin D deficiency
Failing to get the required amount of vitamin D can make our bones fragile and can cause osteoporosis. Also, one major issue is that wearing sunscreen limits the body’s ability to make vitamin D. But again, spending too much time in the sun without it can cause sunburn and may also lead to skin cancer. Current advice from the experts suggests that one should stay in the sun for half the time according to the skin type before it makes your skin red and then retires to the shade2,3.
What to keep in mind while soaking in the sun
The right skin exposure: One factor you need to watch out for is the amount of skin exposed. More skin exposure to the sun makes more vitamin D in the body. Say, exposing the back for instance allows the body to absorb more rays of the sun, and produce more vitamin D than exposing just the hands and face.
Skin color: The next is skin color. People with a lighter skin tone produces vitamin D faster than ones with a darker skin tone.
The region you live in: The place where you live also makes a significant impact on the production of vitamin D. E.g. a person living close to the equator and southern regions can find it easier to make more vitamin D than people living in northern regions. The best times to be out in the sun are late March/early April to the end of September.
7 ways for skin protection from sun damage
Use a sunscreen (a good one!)
This is very well-known but yet a very important tip. Sunscreen products are assigned a number called ‘sun protection factor (SPF)’ that ranks their ability to block the harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays A and B. Higher the number, better the protection. E.g. a sunscreen with SPF 15 is fine to use even on cool or partly cloudy days.
Some dual-function products can block both UVA and UVB sun rays. They are important because UVA rays are the main culprits for causing premature aging and skin cancer. UVB rays usually cause sunburns and damage the skin a lot. So, the next time you go out make sure you have good sunscreen and apply it on all the parts of the exposed skin to protect yourselves. Oh, and yeah, it tends to wear off so make sure you keep it in your bags if you plan to stay more than 2 hours in the scorching sun.
Avoid peak sun
One should always try to avoid the time when the sun is at its peak height i.e. between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s just because at this time your skin is more vulnerable to skin damage from the sun. But if you can’t avoid it, do apply the thing in point 1 and you’ll be fine.
Throw in some shade
One can always reduce the skin damage from the sun by using an umbrella, hiding under a tree, or any other shelter. Even under any shade, make sure to protect your skin by applying sunscreen or wearing a protective cloth.
Choose a good outfit
This directly brings us to this point i.e. have a good outfit that includes long-sleeved shirts, pants, and skirts. Experts suggest tightly woven fabrics are the best in terms of offering protection. Moreover, a wet shirt offers lesser protection than a dry one and darker colors keep you shielded much better than the lighter ones. Some certified clothing products provide you with UV protection no matter the color. So, you can try that as well. This is needed because a typical t-shirt has an SPF of less than 15.
Be like a mad ‘hatter
For protecting that beautiful face of yours and also the ears and neck, make sure you wear a hat. E.g. a hat made of tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, protects your skin from UV rays. Most importantly, avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A dark-colored hat offers more UV protection. If one’s wearing a baseball cap, make sure you protect the ears and the back of your neck. Keep in mind to cover those areas with appropriate clothing or just use sunscreen.
Style it with sunglasses
Since you’ve already decided to move out, why not go in style right? Buy a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. Wearing glasses also protect the tender skin around the eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays are the best. Additionally, wraparound sunglasses like the one’s policemen wear are the best too, as they offer protection from the rays that get through the side of our eyes8.
Medicines and sun
You must be very cautious if you’re on some medications that can make you more sensitive to the sun. Some examples include- antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, blood pressure medications, and chemotherapies. Always consult your doctor if you go out often. This will help you prioritize your tasks better9.
Well, all in all, you know how it’s important to get some vitamin D from sun exposure. But one must also be aware of the consequences if you stay out for a long time. So, make sure you follow these tips to have the best of both worlds and stay fit and healthy. In case you need more information, read the sources below.
- Meltzer, D. O., Best, T. J., Zhang, H., Vokes, T., Arora, V., & Solway, J. (2020). Association of vitamin D status and other clinical characteristics with COVID-19 test results. JAMA network open, 3(9), e2019722-e2019722. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19722
- Gilchrest, B. A. (2008). Sun exposure and vitamin D sufficiency. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 88(2), 570S-577S. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/88.2.570S
- Holick, M. F. (2016). Biological effects of sunlight, ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared radiation, and vitamin D for health. Anticancer Research, 36(3), 1345-1356. https://ar.iiarjournals.org/content/36/3/1345.long
- Kimlin, M. G. (2008). Geographic location and vitamin D synthesis. Molecular aspects of medicine, 29(6), 453-461. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mam.2008.08.005
- Roth, A. D. (2014). Vitamin D: an opportunity for improving athletic performance. AMAA Journal, 27(1), 5-8. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A370214599/AONE?
- Califf, R. M., & Shinkai, K. (2019). Filling in the evidence about sunscreen. Jama, 321(21), 2077-2079. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.5528
- Linos, E., Keiser, E., Fu, T., Colditz, G., Chen, S., & Tang, J. Y. (2011). Hat, shade, long sleeves, or sunscreen? Rethinking US sun protection messages based on their relative effectiveness. Cancer Causes & Control, 22(7), 1067-1071. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10552-011-9780-1
- Backes, C., Religi, A., Moccozet, L., Behar-Cohen, F., Vuilleumier, L., Bulliard, J. L., & Vernez, D. (2019). Sun exposure to the eyes: predicted UV protection effectiveness of various sunglasses. Journal of exposure science & environmental epidemiology, 29(6), 753-764. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41370-018-0087-0
- Farrer, F. (2014). Medicines and the sun: family feature. SA Pharmacist’s Assistant, 14(4), 26-28. https://hdl.handle.net/10520/EJC163328