Vitamin D – How much do we need?
Carroten sunscreen is vital to protect your skin from the sun, but does it affect your vitamin D levels? Find out what vitamin D is, why you need it – and why you still need your sunscreen.
There’s a lot of negative press around the sun and UV rays, and rightly so – they can be extremely dangerous for our skin, contributing to an extensive list of short and long term damage. However, there is one positive function that sunshine offers – our skin uses it to make vitamin D.
So what is vitamin D? And if we need it so much, why do we emphasise sun safety?
What is Vitamin D?
Food and drink is the only way our body can get the nutrients it needs – with the exception of vitamin D. While some foods do contain vitamin D, one of the best ways to get a healthy dose is to allow your body to make its own.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that controls calcium levels in the blood. It forms in the skin when it is exposed to the UV rays from sunlight. While UV rays are generally harmful for our skin, in very small amounts they can help promote the body’s natural production of vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for our bodies to stay healthy, and especially to support healthy muscles and bones. Being physically active can also help support vitamin D production.
How Much Sun Do We Need?
While vitamin D is essential to maintaining a healthy body, most people don’t need much sunlight to meet your daily requirement. It’s not necessary to deliberately seek out the sun – for most people, incidental contact with the sun as they go about their day is enough. There is only a limited amount of vitamin D that the skin can use at one time, so longer sun exposure is definitely not better.
The amount of exposure needed will vary depending on the season, location, skin type and amount of skin exposed. When the UV index is above 3, which happens in all Australian states during summer and a few states in winter months, you will still need sun protection if you are outdoors for more than a few minutes.
Around Australia, those few minutes of sun exposure in summer is enough to ensure sufficient vitamin D production. In some areas, such as Brisbane and Darwin, a few minutes will still be sufficient even in winter. In more southern cities such as Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney and Canberra, residents will need 2-3 hours of sun exposure per week to top up their supply. The early morning and late afternoon are the best times to get into the sun, as the UV Index should be at a safer level.
When Should We Protect Our Skin?
In most cases, topping up your vitamin D levels is no excuse to avoid using sunscreen. When the UV Index is higher than 3, or if you plan to spend a long time outdoors, sunscreen is essential to protect your skin and will not prevent you from getting your daily requirement of vitamin D.
Carroten offers a wide range of sunscreens with a choice of SPF protection. Our SPF 30+ sunscreens offer UV protection and with limited sun exposure your skin will still be able to top up your vitamin D.
Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D deficiency needs to be diagnosed by a doctor using a blood test, as it often doesn’t have obvious symptoms until it becomes severe.
As a general guide, Osteoporosis Australia recommends most people should have a vitamin D level of at least 50 nmol/L at the end of winter, which means people may have levels 10 – 20 nmol/L higher during summer (60-70 nmol/L).
Who is at Risk of Deficiency?
Some groups of people have more chance of being vitamin D deficient. You might need some extra supplementary help if you:
- Are naturally dark-skinned
- Cover your skin for cultural or religious reasons
- Are frail, elderly or stay mostly indoors
- Are obese
- Are taking certain medications or have a condition that causes poor absorption of vitamin D
If you could be at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, you should talk to your doctor about whether you need help to maintain your levels. Over-exposure to UV rays are never advisable, even for those who are deficient – your doctor will recommend a supplement.
Safe Sun and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for your body to build healthy muscles and bones. Low levels of vitamin D can have very serious consequences, and must be diagnosed by a doctor. However, while this vitamin is so important, only a few minutes of sun exposure are necessary to meet the needs of most people.
Pay close attention to UV levels and be sure not to over-expose your skin to the sun. Carroten sunscreen can help you stay protected from the negative effects of UV rays, and still allow sufficient vitamin D production in the vast majority of people.
Make the most of the sun and your health by staying sun safe, and your skin will thank you.