Sunscreen and Vitamin D Absorption
There has been a lot of debate over the last 10 years about whether or not sunscreen blocks the body’s ability to generate vitamin D from exposure to the sun. UVB rays, which are the type of ultra-violet rays that cause sunburns and which over exposure to over time can lead to skin cancer, also produce vitamin D. It’s the result of the skin’s reaction to the UVB rays. It is estimated that just 5 minutes of unprotected direct sun exposure can provide sufficient daily amounts of vitamin D.
Sunscreens, whether oxybenzone-based, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide-based, are designed to keep UVB rays from reaching your skin and causing a burn. If a sunscreen stops UVB rays from reaching your skin, then how can your body produce vitamin D?
Perhaps the concern is not so much that your body doesn’t get the vitamin D it needs from the sun, it’s that people are not compensating for that by increasing their intake of vitamin D in their diet. And this has led to the results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2001-2004 which showed that 9% of American children were deficient in vitamin D and 61% showed insufficient levels, most prevalently among black children.
What is Vitamin D?
So, what is the deal about vitamin D?
Evidence has shown that vitamin D helps regulate the immune system, stimulates the secretion of insulin, regulates growth of hair follicles, “and may reduce the likelihood of developing certain types of malignancies.” (ModernMedicine.com)
It helps the body absorb calcium. Without vitamin D, children may develop rickets and adults osteoporosis.
Vitamin D is instrumental in cell growth, neuromuscular signal communication, immunity, and even reduces inflammation.
There are not many foods that naturally contain vitamin D, so there are many products (such as baby formulas and milk) that are fortified with vitamin D. Other food sources include: fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms, breakfast cereals, yogurt, margarine, soy beverages, and some brands of orange juice.
Benefits of Sun Protection versus Vitamin D production
Only direct sunlight and exposure to UVB rays stimulates the body’s natural production of vitamin D (the body will not produce vitamin D if exposed to sunlight through glass). Obviously, overexposure to the sun, especially in childhood, is one of the leading causes of skin cancer later on in life. “ ‘There are studies demonstrating that sunscreens can reduce ultraviolet-radiation-generated vitamin D in the skin…,’ these are mostly lab studies…; other studies examining actual use of sunscreens have failed to confirm an effect, probably because people use too little and fail to reapply the lotions as recommended.” (Dr. Richard D. Granstein, chairman of dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College/New York-Presbyterian Hospital via New York Times)
There are also somewhat conflicting recommendations from the Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health (June 2011) and the American Academy of Dermatology (January 2011). The NIH says that people should continue to get their vitamin D from direct sun exposure, so long as people don’t stay in the sun for longer than a few minutes. The American Academy of Dermatology’s official policy is that people still protect as they should with the use of sunscreen and obtain proper intake of vitamin D by increasing their dietary intake and supplementation.
It is important to have your vitamin D level monitored because just as too little vitamin D can have consequences, so does having too much. Discuss the option of adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet with your family doctor before you begin so as to not take in too much.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health. Web. June 29, 2012.
Dermatologists can help separate fact from fiction for sun exposure, sunscreen and vitamin D. American Academy of Dermatology. Web. June 29, 2012.
Academy issues updated position statement on vitamin D. American Academy of Dermatology. Web, June 29, 2012.
A Face in the Sun. Claiborne Ray, C. New York Times. Web. June, 29, 2012.
Sunshine, sunscreen, Vitamin D? McMillan, Julia A. ModernMedicine.com. Web. June 29, 2012.
Eat a Diet Rich in Vitamin D. Shroeder Kassel, Karen.
Vitamin D Deficiency. McCoy, Krisha.
Vitamin D, Does Sunscreen Inhibit the Absorption of Vitamin D (VIDEO). Garland, Dr. Cedric.