Yes, I do have naturally darker skin tone and don’t burn easily, but even in long periods in the sun you won't catch me applying sunscreen and I will rarely wear a pair of sunnies. Why you ask? Let's explore this one a bit deeper than the slip, slop advert that may be manipulating your "sun smart" decisions.
THE BENEFITS OF SUNSHINE
It may come as a shock in our sunscreen-happy society, but your skin was naturally designed to be exposed and nourished by the sun. Sunshine works as a major player in optimal health by enhancing your production of vitamin D. Technically a hormone, vitamin D stimulates every cell in your body and plays a crucial role in modulating your immune health, strengthening your bones and cardiovascular health, controlling your appetite and inflammation, enhancing the look and feel of your skin, balancing neurotransmitters for healthy brain function, promoting balanced hormones and protecting against cancer. Since the 1970’s there has been both a 30% increase in sunscreen sales along with a 30% increase in deaths from melanoma.1
Specifically for hormone health, adequate vitamin D levels have been shown to increase ovarian reserve, improve IVF outcomes and reproductive health in PCOS and endometriosis2, as well as being helpful in the treatment of fibrocystic breasts.
Throughout pregnancy, sufficient maternal vitamin D levels can prevent both miscarriage and a low birth weight baby.3,4 Deficiency in you as the expecting Mum can cause a deficiency in your newborn and has been linked to issues with neurodevelopment of your baby, particularly contributing to childhood challenges with gross and fine motor skills as well as social skills.5,6 Low vitamin D levels during this time have also been linked to autism, asthma, allergies, low immunity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, as a child grows.7 For further preconception health guidance, see my guide Glowing Mumma and gain my next level support for a healthy pregnancy here.
HOW DO WE GET VITAMIN D FROM THE SUN?
Vitamin D, also known as colecalciferol, is produced from cholesterol in your body when you are exposed to UVB sunlight rays. Cholesterol is transported to your skin, unpacked and converted into Vitamin D3 after sun to skin contact. D3 is not the active form of vitamin D used by the body. It is required to further undergo a process first in your liver, to form 25-hydroxyvitaminD. This form of Vitamin D circulates in the blood and is processed in your kidneys, to produce the active form of vitamin D, calcitriol.
Sunshine is by far the best source of vitamin D for you, as you would need to eat a whopping 1 kg of butter per day, to get the equivalent of around 1 hour of daily midday sunshine.
ARE THERE ANY LIMITATIONS?
It is important to note, that vitamin D can’t be produced from sun exposure through glass and when wearing sunscreen. These both act to filter out the UVB rays that are required to be exposed to the skin.
HOW SUNSCREEN WORKS
Are you ready for your beliefs around sunscreen to be challenged?
Your sunscreen will not only block vitamin D producing UVB rays, but it fails to effectively block the damaging UVA rays from the sun. UVB and UVB rays are important to receive together as they will give you a signal, through the pigmentation of your skin when you have been out in the sunshine for long enough.
UVA rays are not blocked with sunscreen application and alone will fail to give you a sunburn red-flag. UVA rays actually damage vitamin D, contribute to photo-ageing and skin cancer. The damage is silent and you are blissfully unaware of the oxidative damage occurring in your skin. It is important to note that UVA rays still penetrate through glass, so cover up when you are near a sunny window seat.
Liz Wolfe bluntly explains in her book, Eat The Yolks, “When we block UVB rays while keeping the door open to UVA rays, thinking we’re protected because we aren’t getting burned, we allow the most damaging rays to penetrate our skin and do the insidious work, even as we block our burn signal and stop the production of melanin and cancer- preventing, immune boosting vitamin D. This may leave us more vulnerable to cancer than ever before.”
Sunglasses also limit your exposure to the full spectrum of UV rays. They will block the important UVB, needed for vitamin D production, however let through the damaging UVA rays.
Sunshine exposure free from sunglasses (even if you are in the shade), stimulates your pineal and hypothalamus glands in your brain and triggers the hormone balancing effects these glands have to offer. Wearing sunglasses in the morning can also prevent optimal cortisol production, the hormone needed to create a wakeful state by suppressing your sleep hormone melatonin. I personally limit the use of sunnies to the times involving a squint-fest when driving or on a very sunny day.
SO WHAT DOES SUNSCREEN CONTAIN?
Apart form blocking protective Vitamin D producing UVB while allowing damaging UVA rays, sunscreens contain a myriad of harmful carcinogenic chemicals and endocrine disrupting substances such as phlalates and parabens. More information can be found about these toxins here.
“…chemicals like oxybenzene, polymers, petroleum, parabens and PABA will cause the skin’s respiration process to be inhibited from inhaling oxygen and exhaling toxins and as we soak up the sun these chemicals are baking into our bodies. The main ingredient that makes sunscreen work is oxybenzene and that is a powerful free radical generator that is classified as non carcinogenic, until it is exposed to sunlight!” Nadine Artemis explains the damage the toxins found in sunscreens can have on your health. Listen in to her full interview on the Luke Story podcast here.
ENHANCE YOUR VITAMIN D
The most effective time to increase your vitamin D level is midday, when the suns UVB rays are strongest, but the time needed for direct sun to skin contact (without sunscreen) is dependant on your skin tone. You do not however want to over expose yourself to the sun to the point of causing sun burn- it’s about knowing your limits. If you burn easily, you may need to avoid midday initially, but receive longer times in the sun in the morning and late afternoon.
To enhance your production of vitamin D from your sun exposure, ensure you are consuming adequate cholesterol through your diet. Yes, I did just encourage you to consume cholesterol! Without it, your body struggles to produce hormones and convert sunshine into vital vitamin D. More information in my book Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones.
NATURALLY PREVENT SUNBURN
The worst thing you can do is cover up for majority of the year in sunscreen and then expect to be protected when you head off for a swim under the summer sun.
It is best to begin building your direct sun to skin exposure gradually in spring, to allow your body’s melanocyte cells to produce a protective pigmentation (also known as a tan). Start with 15 minutes morning and afternoon sunshine, with as much skin exposed as possible, before turning pink. By slowly building your sun exposure over time, as your tan develops you you may be able to head out at midday for longer, because you will be better protected from the suns harsher rays, present during the summer months.
I encourage you to get your daily dose of the sunshine vitamin- free from sunscreen and sunglasses. If you’re outside for long periods of time and further protection is needed, cover up with clothing such as a collared shirt and a wide brimmed hat. Consider non-nano Zinc Oxide, head for a shady tree or bring along appropriate shade if you're at the beach, such as an umbrella or tent.
Antioxidant rich foods can also provide natural protection against burning, such as rubbing in coconut oil onto your body at night and consuming coconut products, berries, spirulina, sea buckthorn, olives, turmeric and green leafy vegetables in your daily diet. Enhancing your Glutathione levels through supplementation, will also provide important antioxidant skin protection.
To protect yourself from an unbalanced vitamin D exposure, it is best practise to combine vitamin D rich sunshine time with protective and synergistic vitamins A and K2. My favourite food sources are cod liver oil, patè, grass fed butter, slow cooked whole chicken or beef cuts on the bone and also enjoying the bone broth this brings.
EMBRACE THE SUN
Theres no denying the abundance of health benefits sufficient vitamin D levels bring. We are naturally designed to be moving about outside, soaking up the UVB rays.
See how taking off your sunnies (especially in the morning), holding off on the toxin-laden sunscreen and gaining direct sun to skin exposure, serves you. Begin your increased sun exposure in Spring to strengthen your body’s process of natural sunburn protection for the summer months ahead and embrace the many benefits an increase in your vitamin D levels will bring.
(1) Daniel Redwood, “We Fought Cancer … and Cancer Won,” Newsweek, September 10, 2008.
(2) Lerchbaum E, Rabe T. Vitamin D and female fertility. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2014 Jun;26(3):145-50
(3) Andersen LB, Jørgensen JS, Jensen TK, Dalgård C, Barington T, Nielsen J, et al. Vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased risk of first-trimester miscarriage in the Odense Child Cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Sep;102(3):633-8 DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103655
(4) Nobles CJ, Markenson G, Chasan-Taber L. Early pregnancy vitamin D status and risk for adverse maternal and infant outcomes in a bi-ethnic cohort: the Behaviors Affecting Baby and You (B.A.B.Y.) Study. Br J Nutr. 2015 Dec 28;114(12):2116-28 DOI : 10.1017/S0007114515003980.(5) Darling, Andrea L., et al. “Association between maternal vitamin D status in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood: Results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).” British Journal of Nutrition 117.12 (2017): 1682-1692.