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Vitamin D in Your Skin

sunlight, vitamin D, sun exposure, safe tanning, tanning guidelines, skin colorResearchers have found that the production of previtamin D3 in your skin varies depending on several factors, which include skin type, weather conditions, and sunscreen use.

During the winter at latitudes above 35 degrees, there is minimal previtamin D3 production in the skin. Darker skin pigmentation, application of sunscreen, aging and clothing can also have a dramatic effect on previtamin D3 production.

However, at the other end of the scale, excessive exposure to sunlight does not result in vitamin D overdose, because previtamin D3 and vitamin D3 are photolyzed to biologically inert chemicals before they can build up to dangerous levels.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I believe the evidence is quite clear; your likelihood of developing deadly skin cancer from sun exposure is nowhere near as high as you have been led to believe in the past. The benefits of  normalizing your vitamin D levels FAR outweigh any risk you may have from optimal sun exposure. 

So I’m glad to see that there are more scientific arguments promoting healthy sun exposure, and the focus is finally shifting toward making sure you’re getting the right amount of exposure based on your individual variables. 

Why Anti-Tanning Propaganda Takes Lives 

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the Moore’s Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) concluded that increasing the intake of vitamin D3 throughout the world could easily prevent diseases – including 16 types of cancer -- that would otherwise claim close to 1 million lives each year worldwide.  

The truth is, this pervasive and persistent anti-tanning campaign has not done you any favors. It has enriched sun lotion manufacturers, but most likely caused more disease than it prevented. 

The only risks of UVB come from overexposure. This can be greatly minimized by avoiding sunburn, and eating a healthy diet, rich in antioxidants. The recommendation to never go out in the sun without wearing sunscreen, however, is simply misguided advice. Slathering on sunscreen will effectively shield you from the sun’s inherent health benefits, so your body will not synthesize vitamin D properly.  

It’s also important to remember that you can develop sun damage even with sunscreen. Sunscreens don’t stop the damage from occurring, they simply stops the burn. But damage can still occur on a cellular level.  

Even worse, most sunscreens contain toxic chemicals that absorb through your skin, adding to your toxic load and even increasing your cancer risk.  

Individual Variables That Affect Your Vitamin D Levels 

It’s important to bear in mind that everyone responds differently to sunlight, depending on factors such as: 

  • Antioxidant levels, and diet in general
  • Age
  • Skin color
  • Current tan level
  • Latitude and altitude (elevation)
  • Cloud cover and pollution
  • Ozone layer
  • Surface reflection
  • Season
  • Time of day 

A person with dark skin, for example, may need as much as ten times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of vitamin D as a person with pale skin.  

You will need to carefully determine your own sunlight needs and tolerances, and learn what kind of exposure you need to tan without burning. Let’s look at how a few of these individual variables can affect your vitamin D levels, and the amount of sun exposure you might need. 

How Antioxidants and Vitamins Can Help Prevent Sunburn 

You may not realize that the amount of antioxidants that you have in your skin plays a major role in your development of sunburn. The more antioxidants you take in, the lower your risk of sunburn. Foods containing effective antioxidants to boost your “internal sunscreen” include whole fresh vegetables and fruits such as: 

  • Goji berries (not the juice)
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries 

Vitamins A and C are also vital as your cells use these vitamins to regulate both light absorption and protection against overexposure. According to nutritional researcher Krispin Sullivan, Scandinavians and other very light skinned people can benefit tremendously from making sure they are sufficient in these vitamins as it will protect their skin from burning too quickly. 

Safe Tanning Guidelines 

If your skin is unused to the sun, it is important to build up your tolerance regularly and gradually. It’s good to start early in the year, in the spring and early summer. This will prepare your skin for the stronger sunlight later in the year.  

At the beginning of the season, go out gradually and limit your exposure to perhaps as little as 10 minutes a day. Progressively increase your time in the sun so that in a few weeks, you will be able to have normal sun exposure with little risk of skin cancer. 

Time of Day -- Early morning is, for similar reasons, the best time to sunbathe if you have not already built up a base tan, because you’re less likely to burn in the mild morning sun than later in the day. In addition, it’s best to sunbathe when the temperature is below 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius), so that you don’t overheat. 

Regular Intervals -- Regular sunbathing is extremely important; you can’t cram all of your sun exposure into a two or three week vacation period and expect to experience the benefits.  

It’s also important to treat your tanning as a medicine and control the dosage; frequent, short periods of exposure are best. You don’t want to overindulge or skip too many days. Regular exposure actually protects against skin cancer, but intermittent overexposure can increase the danger. 

Show Some Skin -- A common myth is that occasional exposure of the face and hands to sunlight is "sufficient" for vitamin D nutrition. For most of us, this is an absolutely inadequate exposure to move vitamin levels to the healthy range of 45-55 ng/ml. For optimal benefit, strive to have at least 40 percent of your skin uncovered. 

Optimal Exposure Time -- In Caucasian skin, equilibrium occurs within 20 minutes of ultraviolet exposure. It can take 3 to 6 times longer for darkly pigmented skin to reach the equilibrium concentration of skin vitamin D.  

So, bearing in mind that you need to gradually increase your time, starting in the spring, you should be aiming towards exposing large areas of your skin to the sun, anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours at a time, depending on your skin type and environmental factors. 

A light-skinned person fairly far from the equator (such as in the UK or the northern U.S.) needs at least three of these 20 minute sessions per week, in bright midday sunlight and with few clothes. Longer will be needed if sunbathing occurs at off-peak times for ultraviolet light (before 12 PM or after 3 PM) or at the beginning or end of the summer (April or September).  

A dark-skinned person, of course, should be outside significantly longer. 

Using Your Skin as a Guide-- If you have light-colored skin, you can use the color of your skin to tell you when you’ve had enough sun and it’s time to get in the shade (or cover up using a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat). Stay out just long enough so that your skin turns the very lightest shade of pink.  

Remember that continuing UV exposure beyond the minimal dose required to produce skin redness will not increase your vitamin D production any further.  

 Please Remember to Check Your Vitamin D Levels 

Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked regularly, and adjust your sun exposure accordingly to maintain your optimal vitamin D level. For more information about the correct test to get and your optimal -- as opposed to “normal” – levels, please review my previous article, Scientists Admit -- Sun Exposure Benefits Outweigh Risks that I wrote earlier this year.   

Additionally, my new book, Dark Deception, which is coming out later this spring, will help to clear up the confusion about sun exposure once and for all.

+ Sources and References