winterblues, sad, seasonal affective disorder, vitamin d, sunscreen

The Controversy about Vitamin D and sunscreen

Let’s take a look at the controversy about getting enough Vitamin D (especially this winter) while still wearing sunscreen every day. ¬†None of us want to get a case of #SAD, so use these tips to help boost your daily intake.

First consider why vitamin D is so important:

  • It’s primary purpose is to assist parathormone and other metabolic agents in regulating and maintaining normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body.
  • Calcium requires vitamin D for efficient transport from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.
  • Recent research suggests that vitamin D is important in the prevention of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, several forms of cancer, and some immune-system diseases. It has now replaced Vitamin C and E as being the “wonder” vitamin, if there is one.

There are two forms of vitamin D that are important in humans:

  • Vitamin D2 : Ergocalciferol contained in plants
  • Vitamin D3 : Cholecalciferol, manufactured in the skin from exposure to UV radiation and present in certain foods.

The controversy:

Recent studies find many individuals in Canada to be deficient in vitamin D. They wear sunscreen for protection in the summer and spend the long winter months wrapped from head to toe in warm clothing. This limits the production of vitamin D from the lower UV exposure. Some recommend to spend a limited time of 10 minutes in the sun without a sunscreen from time to time. At  CyberDERM and Laserderm (our sister medical clinic) we advocate stringent sunscreen protection all year round. The risk of UV exposure far outweigh any benefits from maintaining vitamin D production by the skin:

  • Most cases of skin cancer are potentially preventable, yet across the USA non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) has tripled from 1 million cases in 1987 to 3.5 million in 2009.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that melanoma rates have been increasing by 3.1% per year since 1986, despite the use of sunscreens, since most sunscreens may not protect against the longer UVA rays.
  • 3% of Canadians will develop some form of skin cancer this year.
  • In North America over $6 billion is spent removing actinic and cancerous lesions.
  • UV radiation from sun exposure causes skin cancer, and photoaging and pre-mature aging.

How much vitamin D do you really need?

We prefer that you get your Vitamin D from diet and supplements. The RDA may not be high enough for most Canadians. Most experts agree that children and adults who stay out of the sun require 1000-2000 IU daily, but you can safely take 2-4 thousand IU per day, particularly in the winter months.

What you may not know about vitamin D:

Every Morning Sun Whip, Simply Zinc Sun Whip
Got to love Vitamin D while still protecting yourself from the Sun
  • Vitamin D in the body has to be processed by the liver and the kidneys into a usable form. Whether the source is dietary or from sun exposure, once vitamin D is processed, the metabolic effect is the same. That is why dietary vitamin D works. Your body does not know whether the vitamin D being used came from sun exposure and the skin or from your diet.
  • You can get vitamin D from a variety of sources. Foods such as salmon, sardines, shiitake mushrooms, and egg yolks naturally contain vitamin D. Some foods like milk, orange juice, yogurts, and cheeses are fortified to increase their vitamin D and calcium content. Finally, there are prescription and over-the-counter vitamin D supplements that come in capsules and liquids.

Get your Vitamin D from diet and select your sunscreen wisely:

As mentioned in previous blogs, using a truly broad spectrum for sunscreen is essential. Avoid the high SPF trap where most believe that the higher – the better. For adequate sunburn protection measured by the SPF number, most need a minimum of SPF 25-30. Ensure you get truly broad-spectrum protection from even long wave UVA, most high SPF sunscreens will not protect you adequately. Current research and the findings of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) confirm that zinc and titanium-based formulations are among the safest, most effective sunscreens on the market. Zinc gives complete UVA and UVB, while titanium affords complete UVB and partial UVA protection. Clear zinc products, such as CyberDERM’s Every Morning Sun Whip, provides the complete protection in an aesthetic invisible film.

5 thoughts on “The Controversy about Vitamin D and sunscreen

  1. Anonymous

    great article! However I do have a concern and question. I read an article recently that stated that M.S is highest in Canada and Scotland mainly Due to Vitamin D deficiency. what are your views on that?

  2. Sara Dudley

    Hey! It’s above my non-existent medical degree to comment on the link between Vitamin D and M.S. but it makes sense that us Canadians and Scots would be vitamin D deficient. Let’s face it we have hard winters full of hibernating. It just goes to show that we need to be eating diets rich in Vitamin D (so that you’re also getting the necessary Calcium to complement it). We once had a physician at a trade show tell us she thinks we should all be taking a spoonful of castor oil a day! That may not be to everyones taste but it seems fair enough to supplement if needed. Who knows if it is a ‘wonder vitamin’ but science does seem to back up that it is necessary.

  3. Anonymous

    Interesting article. Can you still get Vitamin D from sun exposure while using sunscreen with SPF 30 and when looking for a sunscreen, is it always recommended to have the protection for UVA and UVB to be the same?

  4. Anonymous

    the sun just makes me feel better, so does a tan some of us are born in warmer climates but live in Canada now. and without the sun for six months out of the year. now having to avoid it can get pretty depressing and we can turn yellow and sallow. any suggestions?

  5. Sara Dudley

    Hi, for the sallow complexions- think about brightening the skin as opposed to tanning. Great skin brighteners include turmeric and Emblica. You might also considered making sure that your foundation base does not have too much yellow in it. As for tanning, there is a chemical reaction in the skin when tanning that can be quite addictive. You can still head outside in the winter (while wearing your sunscreen, Simply Zinc is the best option since snow can reflect 80% of UV light!). Replace the endorphin hit you get with tanning with physical exertion. A little exercise in the crisp cold air can be exhilarating!


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