How Much Sun is Too Much Sun?

It’s a tricky balance between getting your vitamin D and risking overexposure. Here’s what the experts say.

By now you are probably aware that you don’t need a suntan to get a healthy does of Vitamin D. In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation tells us that getting a tan, whether golden, brown, red, or purple, is bad news for your health. But if you are like me, you may have been confused lately with contradictory information about how much sun is healthy.

The best source of natural vitamin D is the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation—but these same UV rays are the leading cause of skin cancer. With more than 1.3 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the U.S., it seems worth getting the facts straight.

What is Vitamin D and why is it so good for you?

Vitamin D is used in our bodies to keep bones and muscles strong and healthy. Recent studies have also shown it fights depression and prevents colds. Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UVB radiation from sunlight. Some foods, such as oily fish and eggs, also contain small amounts of vitamin D. However, food only makes a small contribution to the body’s overall vitamin D levels, and some experts say it is difficult to get enough from diet alone.

So is spending the day poolside good for my health?

You might be surprised to hear that many health professionals say you get all the sunshine you need from something as simple as walking from your office out for lunch, around 20 -25 minutes a day. However, not all scientists agree. Many say, since all sun exposure is cumulative, even 20 minutes a day ultimately contributes to an increase in your chance of skin cancer. These health professionals argue you should stick to dietary supplements and vitamin D fortified foods.

Either way you look at it, other factors like your fitness levels and skin color can also affect your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D. And you won’t be surprised to hear the amount of vitamin D you make is also related to the amount of skin exposed to the sun—if you expose more of your skin, in most cases you’ll make more vitamin D.

Daily exercise will also assist your body with the production of vitamin D. As will fatty fish , eggs and fortified milk and juice.

What’s important to remember is prolonged sun exposure does not cause your vitamin D levels to increase further, but does increase your risk of skin cancer. And when the UV index is high, anything over 3, you will want to avoid sun exposure all together.

I’m covering up and using sunscreen, am I getting enough vitamin D?

Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. When sunscreen is tested in lab conditions it is shown to block vitamin D production, however, regular use in real life has been shown to have little effect on vitamin D levels.

This is probably because people who use more sunscreen spend more time in the sun, so naturally they will have higher vitamin D levels.

Solariums should never be used to boost vitamin D as they emit dangerous levels of UV that increase your risk of skin cancer.

So, at the end of the day, if you want to be full of vitamin D, but not increase your chances of skin cancer, be sensible: get a little sun here and there and maybe skip the all the day poolside tanning sessions. If you know you are going to be outside all day, cover up and slap on your sunscreen.

Photo by Ali Kaukas

jane_yogaJane Emerick is a travel writing momma and yogi adventurer. From the top of the mountain to the depths of the sea and everything in between, find Jane on her snowboard, skis, surfboard, or bike any given day. A self-proclaimed “unorganized Mom,” Jane is a hippy at heart who loves to explore. She teaches yoga and has a background in marketing and writing. Follow Jane on Instagram, or her blog: