Before there were vitamin D pills, humans made this essential nutrient whenever their skin was exposed to sunlight. Nowadays, dermatologists warn us that any sun exposure is bad for our skin. They are absolutely right that ultraviolet rays damage the epidermis. Premature aging and wrinkling, not to mention skin cancer, result from excessive sun exposure. But can vitamin D from the sun be beneficial? How much is enough and how much is too much?

She Wants to Know If You Can Get Vitamin D from the Sun?

Q. I’ve heard that sun exposure might be better than pills for getting vitamin D. How much time do you need in the sun without sunscreen to get a good dose?

A. A lot depends on geography, time of year, time of day and the shade of your skin. Someone with fair skin can get adequate vitamin D from about three weekly sessions of 15 to 20 minutes in the summer time.

If you were in a northern locale, you might need twice that. People with darker skin need more time in the sun to make the same amount of vitamin D.

Dermatologist Discourage Getting Vitamin D from the Sun

We have yet to meet a dermatologist who says vitamin D from the sun is OK. There is almost universal agreement that the only safe way to get vitamin D is from a pill.

Skin doctors love sunscreens. They absolutely prevent sunburn. There is little doubt that burning the skin is bad news. But there is new concern about the safety of some sunscreens. If you have not read our Health Alert from last week, here is a link.

Sunscreen Gets Under Your Skin | Is It Safe?

The Vitamin D Paradox:

Everyone recognizes that vitamin D is absolutely essential for good health. Low levels of this nutrient have been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, immune system diseases, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, fractures, chronic liver diseases, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and chronic kidney disease (Aging and Disease, May, 2017). 

Do vitamin D pills prevent any of these complications? As far as we can tell, the jury is still out. For example, one big study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (online, Nov. 10, 2018) concluded that vitamin D supplements don’t prevent cancer or heart disease. 

Learn more about this research at this link:

Study of Vitamin D Supplements Results in Disappointment

Your dermatologist will not be happy about this concept. Most skin doctors warn that any sun exposure without sunscreen is hazardous.

The Quandary:

There is substantial evidence that low levels of vitamin D have negative consequences. Vitamin D supplements may not be as beneficial as most people would like to believe. We are awaiting further research to know the answer to that question. We understand why people would like to know if it is possible to get enough vitamin D from the sun without doing substantial damage to the skin.

We discuss dosing, signs of low vitamin D and home tests for vitamin D levels in our Guide to Vitamin D Deficiency. We also highly recommend Dr. Tieraona Low Dog’s fabulous book, Fortify Your Life: Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals and More.

Related People's Pharmacy Health Guide

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