Updated: Aug 8, 2019
I'll give it to you straight right off the bat- I don't have all of the answers when it comes to sunscreen use and vitamin D intake. Using sunscreen daily is important, but so is getting adequate levels of vitamin D. But if you use sunscreen, it blocks UVB rays, keeping vitamin D intake minimal, right? Hmmm...
I've been reading about this topic for a few years now. I've gone through times where I haven't used any sunscreen because, "Eek! Too many chemicals! And I need vitamin D." I've also gone to the other end of the spectrum, lathering up my entire body in sunscreen everyday.
I've come to my own personal conclusion that the best thing for me is to be somewhere in the middle. Here is my perspective on how to get vitamin D while still protecting yourself from skin cancer.
Disclaimer: My perspective is in no way meant to persuade anyone else to use or not use sunscreen. Please consult with your doctor before starting a new supplement or changing your skin care routine.
Why Do We Need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating calcium levels (something many American's are low in), which supports healthy bones and teeth. It also supports the immune system, is known to regulate mood, and ward off depression.
Sources of Vitamin D
Sun- The most common way of getting your vitamin D is through sun exposure. Your body naturally produced vitamin D when it is exposed to sun.
Food- You can get it through food sources such as salmon, tuna, egg yolks, milk, cheese, mushrooms, and cod liver oil. However, getting enough vitamin D through food sources alone would be difficult, unless you are willing to down cod liver oil two times a day. Vegans have a very difficult time getting sufficient vitamin D through diet alone as all of the highest sources are from animals.
Supplements- Vitamin D supplements are widely available and a nice "backup" plan. I always like to try to get my vitamins and minerals with my food, using supplements as insurance- there when I didn't quite get it naturally.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?
The average, healthy adult should be getting between 600-2,000 IU a day if ingesting it. If getting it through sun exposure, it is recommended that you expose bare skin to the sun for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times a week. That's it!
Can We Get Vitamin D While Using Sunscreen?
Yes. Well, kinda. A sunscreen that is SPF 15 filters out about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters 97%, and SPF 50 or above filters about 98%. So you are still getting some of the UVB rays that, while they can burn you and cause skin cancer, also give you vitamin D. And these percentages are when we use sunscreen perfectly. When we don't use it perfectly (most of us) we are letting in even more UVB exposure.
My Sunscreen and Vitamin D Routine
Taking all of this info into consideration, to me it is most important to protect myself from skin cancer. I am a pale, freckled, blonde, Irish gal whose skin is more susceptible to skin cancer, so I want to protect myself.
It's important to me to get outside everyday to help me wake me up and get my circadian rhythms on track (as well as exercise the pups), so on a daily basis I use a non-toxic face lotion that is SPF 30 and a body sunscreen (particularly on my chest and shoulders). I wear a hat nearly every time I go for a walk, run, or am going to be outside for a while. A couple of times a week I do expose sunscreen free limbs to the sun for a few minutes, just to be sure I'm hitting my quota (ex: roll up my yoga pants an inch for the first few minutes of my walk, watering the plants outside before putting on my sunscreen for the day, etc.). However, knowing that some vitamin D does penetrate through sunscreen, this part of my routine might change.
And as you can see above, I have options when it comes to ingesting vitamin D. I take a supplement, being judicious with it in the winter and less so in the summer. I also enjoy the vitamin D filled foods mentioned above so I naturally get a good dose of vitamin D in my diet.
How to Choose a Sunscreen
A tough part for me about coming to the conclusion that I should be wearing sunscreen everyday was the fact that they are laden with toxins. Our skin is our biggest organ and takes in so much toxicity with lotions and beauty products. You want to avoid any sunscreen and insect repellent combos, any spray sunscreens, and sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, phthalates, fragrance, or parabens, all known hormone disruptors. Find a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, meaning it protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Checkout ewg.org to find non-toxic sunscreen options.
My sunscreen and vitamin D routine might not be right for you. Heck, I might even change it up! But what I know is that vitamin D intake is important as is enjoying the outdoors while protecting yourself from sun damage. Luckily, you can protect yourself while still getting adequate vitamin D, you just need to be a little thoughtful in doing so.