You need sunscreen to provide protection from harmful UV rays that cause skin damage and disease. But in the process, are you also boosting your risk for a vitamin D deficiency?
There are estimates that as many as one billion people around the world have low levels of vitamin D. Of course, that number depends on who you ask. Some suggest a person needs 800-1000 IU per day to be healthy, while others suggest going much higher. The reason is that low levels of vitamin D are associated with a host of health conditions including osteoporosis, bone fractures, heart disease, anxiety, and depression.
The best source of vitamin D, however, is the sun. So, do you have to ditch the sunscreen to get your fill of healthful vitamin D? Not necessarily.
One of the determining factors of how well sunscreen works is the amount you wear. If you regularly apply a thick layer before going outdoors—which is defined as roughly the size of a golf ball (1 oz.) to cover the entire body—along with wearing a hat and sun-protective clothing, you could be putting yourself at risk for a deficiency.
But if you apply sunscreen the way most people do—a thin layer, rarely re-applied and blotchy—you’re probably getting enough vitamin D. One Australian study noted that those who applied sunscreen or used a placebo had similar vitamin D profiles, indicating that people simply don’t put on enough to get the full protective value indicated on the package.
Of course, it does appear that getting the right amount of vitamin D and protecting your skin from potentially dangerous damage are at odds with each other. So, what should you do? The best thing to do may be to apply your first sunscreen layer of the day as normal. After that, reapply thick layers every hour or two, depending on how much you’re sweating and the length of time in the sun. If you’re outside in the middle of the day when the sun rays are most intense, apply more generously.
There are also other ways to boost vitamin D levels if you simply don’t want to risk potentially dangerous sun exposure. Fortified foods like bread, cereals, and juices, as well as natural foods like salmon and eggs contain trace amounts of vitamin D. You can also safely supplement 1,000 IU per day, or more if directed by a doctor.
So, in short, hold on to the SPF!