Benefits of Sun Exposure: Vitamin D

TJ Williams, DC, PhD

By TJ Williams, DC, PhD

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. One in eight people will get some form of skin cancer during their lifetime and one in fifty will get melanoma. This makes skin protection important for everyone. However, sun exposure is tricky because you need sun exposure to make Vitamin D. 

Exposing 90% or more of your skin to the sun until you get a Minimal Erythema Dose (MED) will produce around 20,000 IU of Vitamin D in your skin. The MED is how much sun exposure it takes for your skin to turn slightly red. For white skin in the beginning of the season this is about 15-20 minutes. For pigmented skin, it can be up to 45 minutes initially.

We are currently experiencing an epidemic in Vitamin D deficiency in this country due to our avoidance of the sun, working indoors, and use of sunblocks and sunscreens that prevent the production of Vitamin D in our skin. Low Vitamin D levels have been associated with an increased risk of many significant diseases including several different types of cancer. Low Vitamin D is also associated with Metabolic Syndrome, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and cardiovascular disease. This is one of the reasons we prefer graded sun exposure with protective covering and limiting sun blocks to high risk burn areas. This allows you to produce Vitamin D in your skin yet prevent excessive sun exposure and sunburn. 

Graded Exposure

The best way to approach sun exposure is through graded exposure and clothing that covers the skin. This means that during the beginning of the spring/summer season you only expose yourself to the sun for a limited amount of time, say 15-20 minutes, and use protective clothing to cover up during all other times. High-risk areas like your face, hands, arms, etc. should have sun block applied before or after your initial 20-minute exposure, depending on your sensitivity. This way you get your daily dose of Vitamin D, prevent excessive skin exposure to potential chemicals in skin protection products, and prevent sunburns. As your skin gets accustomed to the sun, you can expose more of your body for longer, always being aware of the Minimal Erythema Dose of sun. Of course, if you feel more comfortable avoiding the sun or you have had previous skin cancer scares, a high quality Vitamin D supplement can help maintain adequate levels. 

If you would like more information regarding any of the treatments, therapies, or services offered at The Institute of Natural Health, please contact us at (314) 293-8123 or visit us at inhstl.com. Dr. TJ Williams is the Clinic Director for the Institute of Natural Health and the host of the radio program Wellness 101, which provides common-sense, science-based strategies for a healthy life. Wellness 101 airs Sundays at 2:00pm on FM NewsTalk 97.1.