Sun exposure is a hot topic right now (pardon the pun). How much to get, how to protect your skin, how to get enough vitamin D, and the list goes on.
I recently read an article (which I highly recommend reading yourself!) that I believe was really well researched and documented. It basically sums up my feelings on the topic of adequate and appropriate sun exposure. Of course, I have further notes that I feel are important to look at when trying to get the most from the sun without being scared of it.
HOW IT WORKS
Why do you even need sun exposure in the first place? Vitamin D, created from sun exposure, is needed in every cell of your body to help things function properly.
There's a reaction that happens under your skin when the sun's rays react with specific enzymes, creating vitamin D3. This form of vitamin D then moves through your liver and kidneys where it's converted into different forms that are used elsewhere in your body, including in the bones and the brain. In order for this to happen, you need to be exposed to UVB rays from the sun, but safety first...
The Difference Between UVA & UVB?
is skin damaging
are most present in the early morning and late afternoon hours when the sun is lower in the sky
can pass through glass
is skin protective
is most present during peak daytime hours when the sun is higher in the sky
cannot pass through glass
If you reduce your exposure or use sunscreen to protect your skin from UVB rays, you'll sacrifice your production of the essential vitamin D. A balance is required - how much sun do you need in order to receive adequate amounts of exposure to boost your vitamin D levels without overdoing it?
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
You require approximately 10-20 minutes of exposure to produce a daily dose of vitamin D and the best time of the day to receive UVB rays is between 10am and 2pm. Unfortunately, these are also some of the hottest hours of the summer day! Consider the following when heading out for the day:
Do You Need To Be Outside?
If you know you'll be exposed to the sun for longer than 20 minutes a day (maybe your job requires that you're outside), get your exposure then protect yourself. Wear a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based natural sunscreen for full blockage, shade your arms, legs and neck with a light weight shirt, pants and a brimmed hat. If you're lucky enough, maybe you'll get super duper amounts of shade from a hat as ridiculously large as mine!
Check your daily UV index to know how quickly your skin will burn when exposed directly to the sun. On days when the index is higher, try to be out for a shorter period of time (i.e. closer to the 10 minute mark) and vice versa when the index is low.
While the sun is increasing in strength (i.e. when summer is approaching) is the best time to build up your skin's melanin content to protect throughout the season from sun burning. Start by spending 3-5 minutes of unprotected time in the sun per day and slowly increase the time you spend in the sun's rays to the 10-20 minute range, or longer if you can handle it. You want your skin to lightly tan, not burn. A tan is your skin's protection plan from burning, while a burn is skin and cellular damage. Let your body do what it's meant to do and try not to challenge it to survive.
It takes up to 48 hours for vitamin D to travel from the site of creation under your skin into your bloodstream. If showering isn't necessary following your day in the sun, avoid it. If a good washing is necessary, rinse your body and scrub only your pits and bits. Avoid scrubbing your arms and legs (i.e. the parts of your body with the largest surface area for vitamin D creation!).
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Time of Year
Don't let a sunny winter day fool you. In Canada, you're lucky if you get 3 good summer months to receive usable UVB rays to create vitamin D. What about the other 9 months? It's best to get as much sun exposure as we can throughout the viable season, but you may want to supplement with a liquid vitamin D3 or vitamin D3/K2 (for bone strength) throughout the remainder of the year. How much you need can be determined by your blood test results (see below).
Get Your Vitamin D Levels Tested
Know that vitamin D can stay in your bloodstream for up to 3 months after creation. Your personal demands, supplemental intake and sun exposure will determine how long this lingering effect will be. Being out in the sun for 3 solid months may hold you over for an additional 1-3 months, but it's more realistic to look at maintaining your levels going into the winter months to avoid the possibility of a depressed mood or a change in overall health. It's best to work with a professional (contact me!) to determine whether your levels are adequate and if not, how to get them where they need to be.
There's no need to fear the sun. After all, you need it to survive! Being knowledgeable of how to best utilize its blessings while avoiding its curses is good practice for a healthy relationship with nature's solar beast.
So go ahead and play outdoors! I encourage it. Respect the sun and it will do your body good.