To Sunbathe or Not to Sunbathe

Dr. Juliet Ghodsian, ND

The lowdown on SUN SAFETY AND VITAMIN D

It’s almost here!  What we’ve spent the long fall, winter and sometimes spring months dreaming about.  Cloudless skies and beautiful sunshine. Every day, all day, as often as we can get it!  The more the better, right?  Not so much.

In the face of seemingly contradictory information regarding the importance of vitamin D, the risks of deficiency, and risks of skin damage and melanoma, how do make the healthiest choices for summer sun safety?

Let’s review some basic information that should help clarify the sun safety situation and help you know when to sunbathe and when to cover up.

NOT ALL SUN EXPOSURE PRODUCES VITAMIN D:

Did you know that for some people the skin requires only 10 minutes or so of sunlight to start manufacturing vitamin D?  The basic rule of thumb is that vitamin D production is optimal after about HALF the time it takes for your skin to turn pink or show signs of sunburn.  This could be just 10-15 minutes for a very fair-skinned person or a couple of hours for a dark skinned person.There is one catch though.  The angle of the sun to the earth has to be greater than 45-degrees.  If it is any lower, the UV rays will get filtered out and never make it to your skin surface. Therefore, only sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., during the months from April to September produce vitamin D for those of us living in BC.  Fall and Winter, no vitamin D. Summer sun after 3pm, no vitamin D. When you expose your skin to the sun outside of this time frame you are only experiencing sun damage from unhealthy UV rays. There really is no health benefit at all. This is important information to remember as we plan when to protect our skin with sunscreen and when to work on our vitamin D stores.

Here’s a few tips to consider:

-If you are heading to the beach all day arriving in the morning, consider allowing yourself some time (varies based on your skin tone) to indulge in sunbathing.  Apply sunscreen periodically the rest of the day

-If you are heading to the beach in the afternoon for a long, lazy BBQ and you don’t get there until 3pm, looks like a no-vitamin D day for you. Time to sunscreen it up!

-If you will be in and out during the mid-day, but not constantly under the summer sun, perhaps you opt for a light sunscreen on the face but leave arms and shoulder free to pick up some extra vitamin D while you are out.

SUNSCREENS WITH HIGH SPF DON’T GUARANTEE GREATER SKIN PROTECTION:

Many sunscreens offer false hope with sky-high SPF levels of 50+.  The SPF measures the ability of a sunscreen to reflect UV rays, primarily UVB. Studies show that people who use high-SPF products are exposed to as many or more UV rays as those who use lower SPF products.  Many experts believe that people feel a false sense of security with these products and will apply less sunscreen, wait too long to re-apply and spend more time under intense sun rays.

SPRAY SUNSCREENS MAY NOT BE AS EFFECTIVE

The ease of application of a spray sunscreen is very appealing to parents of children of all ages.  Who can keep their kids still to apply layers of sunscreen all day long?  Much easier to just spray and go, right?  In 2011 the FDA said that it lacked sufficient data to confirm that spray based sunscreen products are both safe and effective.  Manufacturers have been asked to provide proof that a spray can provide an effective barrier for skin protection and that inhalation of spray products do not pose a health risk over time.  The information gathering on this topic is still happening and if the data does not add up then products can eventually be blocked from sale. However, until this information is gathered the products remain available for purchase.  Be informed that the skin protective value of these products has not been unquestionably established.

Keep in mind these few tips for healthy sun exposure and healthy skin throughout the beautiful summer months.

Happy, safe sunbathing!

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