Vitamin D Facts: How to Get Vitamin D Safely
Summer is the season to soak up your vitamin D. Most of our vitamins and minerals come from the healthy foods we eat, but vitamin D is a special exception. Although some foods contain this vitamin our best source comes directly from the sun.
However, what if your skin is sensitive to the sun? What if you have darker skin, or lighter skin? What if you live in a climate that is cloudy or overcast most of the year?
We have all of the answers to your questions about vitamin D, and how to get your daily recommended dosage of this essential vitamin safely this summer.
Why is vitamin D important?
Despite the health importance of vitamin D, only about 58% of Americans get enough of their daily recommended amount. Vitamin D is what tells the cells in your digestive system to absorb calcium and phosphorus. These two minerals help you maintain healthy bones and teeth, and vitamin D allows your body to absorb them efficiently.
If you aren’t getting enough vitamin D you can be at risk for osteoporosis, cancer, mental health issues (such as depression), and overall muscle weakness.
How do I get vitamin D from the sun?
When your skin is exposed to the sun it converts the cholesterol from your cells into vitamin D. This process occurs from UVB rays (the sun’s ultraviolet b-rays), which provides the energy needed for vitamin D synthesis from our skin cells.
Although some vitamin D can be obtained from foods, the best way to ensure you get enough is by exposing your skin to the sun.
How much sun exposure is bad?
When we’re always being told to apply and reapply sunscreen to prevent premature aging, sunburn, and skin cancer, it is confusing to also be told that direct sun exposure is a good thing.
Sun exposure is a balance, and although getting enough is vital to preventing the risks we mentioned above, getting too much is also linked to numerous health risks.
How do I get vitamin D safely?
Try to get your sun exposure around midday.
Limit your exposure to between 15-30 minutes at least three times per week. The recommended daily dosage of vitamin D for an adult is between 400-1,000 IU. However, by allowing short levels of regular sun exposure you can easily get the equivalent of 10,000 IU each day.
Consider your skin type.
People with darker skin typically have more melanin (natural skin pigmentation) than people with lighter skin. Melanin is what helps to protect the skin against overexposure to sunlight, acting like a natural sunscreen. Therefore, someone with darker skin will need to spend more time in the sun to get the same amount of vitamin D compared to someone with lighter skin.
Show your skin but use shade (rather than sunscreen), for a limited amount of time.
Some scientists have recommended wearing clothing that exposes your skin (such as a tank top and shorts) for about 10-30 minutes three times a week for lighter skin, and 30 minutes to an hour for darker skin. Shading your head with a hat is helpful as well, since your head is higher up it risks too much exposure and you’ll get more benefit from exposing your arms and/or legs due to surface area.
After recommended exposure, slather on the sunscreen!
We’ve toted the importance of wearing sunscreen many times however putting on sunscreen before you’ve absorbed enough vitamin D will limit how much you can get. Sunscreen reflects a wide spectrum of rays (including UVB rays that make vitamin D), however allowing even just a small amount of sun exposure will help. Just be sure to slather on the SPF as soon as you’ve gotten enough, especially if you will be outside for a prolonged period of time.
When in doubt, supplement.
Live in a consistently cloudy or overcast climate? You may need to supplement with some sunshine. Find a vitamin D supplement from a reputable brand since not all supplements are created equal. Your doctor or dietitian can make recommendations for quality brands as well as how many IU’s to take each day. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble it is absorbed best in the bloodstream when taken with healthy high-fat foods such as nuts or nut butter, avocados, fish, or grass-fed butter.
Skip the tanning bed.
Sunbeds or tanning beds are not a good substitute for vitamin D, and can do more harm than good. It’s best to either increase your intake of foods rich in vitamin D (such as mushrooms, fatty fish, and egg yolks), or take a supplemental pill (produced by a reliable source without added fillers whenever possible) as recommended by your doctor or dietitian.
This is a wonderful time to get in your vitamin D, especially since it’s much safer to hang out with friends and family outdoors. Following these steps will help you get in your recommended daily amount of vitamin D while keeping you happy and healthy for the remaining sunny summer months.
[Credit: Healthline. “How to Safely Get Vitamin D From Sunlight.”]
[Credit: NEJM Journal Watch. “How Much Sunlight Is Equivalent to Vitamin D Supplementation?” Craig A. Elmets, MD]