Sunscreen and Vitamin D: How much protection is too much protection?

As UVA and UVB rays fire from the skies and we all head outside, the number of people claiming we’re depriving ourselves of vitamin D through using sunscreen continues to grow. Although there’s no denying we shouldn’t shut out the sun entirely, is there evidence to suggest that we’re taking our battle against skin cancer too far?

Our sunscreen habits

Today, there’s a lot of hype surrounding our supposed propensity for shutting out Vitamin D. As a substance that helps to fortify our bones, combat depression, and keep our kidneys ticking along, it’s easy to see why doing so is concerning.

Fortunately, such concerns are largely unfounded. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only 71-percent of Americans use some form of sun protection. Roughly 34-percent use adequate sunscreen, and only 38-percent use protective clothing. Few people use more than one method, suggesting our attempts to block out UV rays are a little lackluster. 

Getting your daily dose of Vitamin D

Not only are we barely touching the surface as far as blocking Vitamin D goes, it’s ridiculously easy to get the right daily dose of sunshine. Let’s say you spend just 10 minutes per day exposing a portion of your skin to the sun; you’re doing enough toward manufacturing 10,000 IU/Day of vitamin D. Even better, your liver is a clever creature, so clever that it can store up to four months’ worth. So, if you’re unlucky enough to face a flurry of snow for a few months a year, it’s highly unlikely that you’re hurtling toward brittle bone disease.

Although it’s unlikely that you’re so devoid of the sun’s favorite vitamin that you’re running the risk of adverse health effects, you can take steps toward helping the sun along. You need 2000 IU of vitamin D each day if you’re an adult and 400 IU/Day if you’re a kid. Bearing in mind that just 10 minutes of serious sun time attracts five times the amount a healthy adult needs, the chances are you’re getting enough. 

With that said, anybody who lives north of Atlanta may struggle slightly in the winter, even after their liver throws out all of its stores. But, if you take a supplement, you’ll address any depletions with ease. If you’re dousing yourself in sun regularly during the winter, turn to fortified cereals. In reality, maintaining your vitamin D levels is easier than it seems; sunscreen or no sunscreen.

Blocking UVB moves beyond preventing skin cancer

Aside from reducing your skin cancer risk, blocking most of the sun’s rays comes with other health benefits. For example:

  • Too many UVB rays will fry away at the corneal surface to the retina, so stick on some shades
  • Certain types of antibiotics increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, so carry on with the sunscreen if you’re taking one
  • If esthetics concern you, too many UVA and UVB rays may lead to hyperpigmentation later in life

While nobody would recommend depriving your body of UVB rays altogether, the time to panic about low vitamin D isn’t here just yet. If you exercise some common sense, you can immerse yourself in 10 minutes’ worth of sun per day, slap on the sunscreen, and still lower your risk of skin cancer. Who said we can’t have it all?


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.