written by Raulla S. Mitchell
SOME SUN FEELS GOOD AND IS GOOD FOR US
- Feeling the sun on our bare skin makes us feel happy and light. Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as “the happy vitamin”. During the dark cold winter months without sunshine, many people suffer from a variety of sad or depressive emotional states which may be traced to insufficient vitamin D, and certainly less than optimal amounts of sunshine.
TOO MUCH UNPROTECTED SUN EXPOSURE COMES WITH SERIOUS RISKS
- While the warm sensation of sun on our skin feels too glorious a gift to be harmful, unprotected overexposure to the sun’s rays may be too much of an otherwise good thing. Seeing the effects of premature aging directly traceable to unprotected sun exposure may make us feel a little less happy, and dealing with the potentially irreversible effects of sun damage (including skin cancer) may be a rude awakening.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BALANCING VITAMIN D ABSORPTION FROM THE SUN AND PROTECTING YOUR SKIN
- While safe sun exposure during the summer months is important for optimal absorption of vitamin D to support strong bones and prevent illness and disease (including breast and other cancers which have been linked to deficiencies of vitamin D in the body), it’s essential to remember to protect yourself from the potentially harmful effects of the sun’s rays, especially during the daytime hours of 10h00-5h00, by regular and proper application of sunblock and protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
- If you wear a sunblock everyday, and are concerned that you may not be absorbing sufficient levels of vitamin D, speak with your doctor. Have your vitamin D levels checked with a simple blood test. Your doctor may prescribe a regimen of vitamin D and/or a vitamin D or fish oil capsule. Insufficient levels of vitamin D tend to be more prevalent since we’ve been applying sunblock to prevent skin cancer and premature aging. This does not mean to infer that we should head out into the sun to absorb vitamin D and store it up for the less than sunny months. In light of the potentially harmful effects of the sun, for many of us, particularly those at high risk (pale, sensitive skin from Northern climates) would do better to get our vitamin D from a capsule rather than entirely from the sun.
- Two years ago, during a routine examination and blood test, I discovered that I had very low levels of vitamin D. My doctor placed me on a temporary regimen of large daily doses of vitamin D capsules, followed by lower doses on an ongoing basis, and regular monitoring with successive blood tests until it was determined that my vitamin D levels had risen and were maintained at an appropriate healthy level.
- While diet may not be the most important source for vitamin D, it is important because it’s something we can do to raise our vitamin D levels. Foods that contain vitamin D include fish, milk, and egg yolks.
- For more information about how the sun effects your skin and your overall health, including vitamin D levels, discuss this with your general practitioner and your dermatologist to find the balance that’s right for YOU.
CUMULATIVE SUN EXPOSURE
- Even if you’re not laying on a beach or by the pool, but only running errands, your skin will be exposed cumulatively to the sun – all the minutes you expose your skin to the sun add up. In fact, most of your exposure to the sun will most likely not be from hours spent on vacation in the sun, but rather from small increments of time spent outdoors throughout the year. Ten minutes for one errand, and another 10 minutes for the next adds up to 20 minutes of sun exposure.
- Your skin is exposed to the sun through the windows of your car, and even on a cloudy day when you cannot see or feel the sun. Even if you’re walking just a few minutes to and from your car, if your drive is 15 minutes each way, your skin will be exposed to the sun for at least 30 minutes. Interestingly, this explains why in the U.S., the left side of one’s face may show greater effects of sun-related aging than the right side, while in the U.K. and Australia, the right side of one’s face may show greater sun-related aging effects. Moderate and sensible sun exposure is paramount to the protection of your skin, keeping you and your skin its healthiest and happiest.
- As with all things, moderation is key. Too much unprotected exposure to the sun is potentially very harmful. This is not up for debate. It is well documented and hopefully common knowledge. Sun damage, particularly that resulting in sunburns, can lead to the development of skin cancers, while no sun at all may put one at a risk for chronic physical illnesses resulting from a serious deficiency of vitamin D, or simply make you feel like a bit of a grumpster. While the latter may not seem as challenging, harmful or easy to trace to insufficient exposure to sunlight, who really wants to win the grumpster competition? We have one life to live, let’s live it happy, healthy and safe with moderation.