How Sunscreen Blocks Vitamin D (and what to do about healthy sun protection)

For the past two decades, doctors have been telling us to lather up with sunscreen to protect our skin and prevent skin cancer. In the past five years, however, studies are showing that we may need to forgo the sunscreen so we can get enough Vitamin D. Confused about what to do? Read on to learn more about when to apply sunscreen and to forgo and soak up the sun.

Quick facts on “the sunshine vitamin”

Vitamin D is essential to our health, and a vitamin many of us are lacking in. It aids in bone, immune system, and muscle health, controls inflammation, helps maintain hormonal balance, modulates cells, and influences our genetics1 to name but a few of its important bodily functions. New research has been done on the adverse health effects of Vitamin D deficiency, and studies have shown inadequate Vitamin D can cause osteoporosis in adults, weakened immunity, greater susceptibility to certain types of cancers3. As you’ve likely read about or experienced during your last physical, doctors have noticed a sharp increase in
Vitamin D deficiency and now routinely test patients for Vitamin D levels, and studies are showing that the deficiency is related to our increase in sunscreen use4

how sunscreens impede vitamin d absorption

We get Vitamin D two ways:

  1. Absorbing sun rays into our skin
  2. Ingesting foods that contain the vitamin or that has the vitamin added to it (milk or cereal with added Vitamin D). 

Getting D through the sun is the most effective and natural way of getting this essential vitamin. When we are out in the sun and can absorb the UVA/UVB rays, a chemical process occurs where our bodies synthesize the sun rays into Vitamin D5. However, since the growing skin cancer awareness campaigns that began in the 1980’s, we have been unknowingly interfering in this natural process. When we apply sunscreen to block the UVA/UVB rays, we impede our bodies ability to synthesize those rays into Vitamin D, thus the increased cases of Vitamin D deficiency.  

the solution: high noon full sun exposure

The updated thinking on sunscreen use and Vitamin D is that we need to spend a least some time out in the sun without sunscreen to get enough Vitamin D. Studies suggest we spend at least 20-30 minutes outside at noon (when the sun is at its zenith and shooting the strongest rays of UVA/UVB rays) without sunscreen on to get the requisite amounts of Vitamin D. When the sun is at its strongest, we will get the highest levels of UVA/UVB rays in the shortest amount of time. This gives us the optimal amount of sun exposure we need to create the vitamin in our bodies and the shortest amount of time we need to be fully exposed to the sun so we don’t increase our risks of getting skin cancer 6. If you can’t (or don’t care to) make it out at high noon, check with your doctor about the right amount of sun exposure for your skin type and geographical location.

The Best Natural Sunscreens

Even though they do block Vitamin D absorption, sunscreens still have their place in keeping us healthy and preventing skin cancer. However, most commercial sunscreens out there are just loaded with harmful, hormone-disrupting chemicals, which studies have shown can negate their protective benefits and actually cause certain types of cancer7.

A decade ago it was hard to find good quality, non-toxic sunscreens, and the ones that were available were pricey. But today there are many more healthy choices out there for the whole family. To learn which sunscreen brands are the least toxic for the beach, sports, beauty, and kids we highly recommend checking out EWG’s 2019 Guide to Sunscreens or our post on our favorite sunscreens (and for even more information on healthy sunscreen use, be sure to read their special report “8 Little-Known Facts About Sunscreens”). 

get outside in the sun

To get your healthy daily dose of Vitamin D, go outside this summer. Take your kids outside at noon and have lunch outside and let them soak in the rays and allow their bodies to naturally create Vitamin D. Then put on chemical-free sun shirts 8 hats, sit under an umbrella, etc. to help minimize sunscreen use. And use commonsense when applying sunscreen. If you’ll be outside all day or if you work outside all day, bring a bottle of healthy sunscreen and apply it after you have gotten your requisite amount of D. Be healthy, be safe and have fun in the sun.

  1. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/enough-vitamin-d-may-protect-against-some-cancers[/note], and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease2https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318060.php
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170501102258.htm
  4. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-health%20Professional/#h7
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18348449
  6. https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/sunscreen
  7. https://youmemindbody.com/children/What-Chemicals-are-in-Rashguard-and-Swim-Shirts-to-Create-Sunblock

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