The Vitamin D Dilemma

With blue eyes, pale skin, and freckles, I have always been  prime candidate for a good sunburn.  My whole life I have avoided a sun burn by slathering on sunscreen and spending hours in the sun, not realizing that I my sunblock was blocking UVB rays, which totally prevent the formation of Vitamin D.  The worst part is that most of the time I still got a sunburn.  We see Vitamin D enriched milk, cereals, supplements, etc, but what does it actually do and what is the best way to get it?

“The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. Recently, research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases. ” – Mayo Clinic

Cancer?  Isn’t that what we’re trying to AVOID with sunscreen?  The cause of Melanoma, the cancer of the skin is NOT CLEAR-that is what Mayo Clinic says on the issue.  Overexposure to sunlight or tanning beds can increase your risk for Melanoma, but there is not research that says sun exposure causes Melanoma.  As I said, it does increase your risk of cancer, so OVEREXPOSURE should be avoided.  Not ALL exposure. 

We are told by dermatologist, doctors, the American Cancer Society, and many others to make sure we wear sunscreen when out in the sun in order to avoid overexposure.  But think about it, if you are out in the sun with sunscreen, aren’t you more apt to spend MORE time in the sun?  I know during my vacations to the beach in the past, I have covered myself in SPF 50 and layed out in the sun for 8-9 hours a day, after spending the past 8 months hiding under heavy sweaters in wintery Indiana.  I was most DEFINITELY not protecting myself from overexposure to the sun.  Sunblock protects you from exposure to UVB rays, which cause the sunburn, but you’re still getting exposed to UVA rays. “UVA is the wavelength that doesn’t really burn but does stimulate the melanocytes (the pigment producing cells), which can cause melanoma.” – Dr. Michael Eades.  There are sunblocks that block both types of rays now, but while blocking UVA rays, you are also blocking the absorption of Vitamin D, which, as stated earlier can lead to many other problems.

A sunburn is your skins way of telling you “I’VE HAD ENOUGH SUN!  PLEASE COVER ME UP!”  And that aweful pain that comes along with it is your skins way of telling you “I HATE YOU!  I’M GOING TO KEEP YOU AWAKE AND MAKE A HUG FROM YOUR CHILD MORE PAINFUL THAT CHILDBIRTH!  DON’T DO THIS TO ME AGAIN!”  Trust me, I’ve heard these cries before.  It has only been recently, in the past 2 years, that I have avoided using a lot of sunscreen and increased my time in the sun.  In these two years, I have moved to the South, where I am closer to the equator and the sun is out more often, been on 5 vacations to the beach, and begun spending more time outside than I have since I was a little girl.  And what has happened?  I have had only a couple subtle sunburns that go away within a day, as opposed to the numerous, red-lobster burns I’ve experienced in the past, while using sunscreen.  What’s the difference?  I let my skin do the work for me.

During the early months of summer, I begin exposing myself to the sun for 10-15 minutes each day.  I do my stretching outside, or read a book for a few minutes, I re-introduce my skin to the sun.  My freckles start popping out, I feel refreshed and more energetic, I can literally FEEL my body soaking up those rays, and saying “Thank you!  We needed some Vitamin D after you covered us up with all those damn sweaters!”  When my skin gets warm, I cover up or head back inside.  When I am gardening, I check to see if my cheeks are pink and put on a hat when I need to.  It may sound old-fashioned, but it is makes sense. Our bodies are amazing, they have a built-in system to protect us from a harmful sunburn: a tan.  Even me, miss pale skin, freckles and blue eyes can slowly, and cautiously develop a tan. “Those who are out in the sun a lot develop a tan.  The tan blocks UVA, so there is less of the simulation for melanoma.  Those who go into the sun occasionally – office workers who vacation at the beach for a week – use sunscreen and stay out too long, receiving way too much UVA. UVA that increases the risk for melanoma.”- Dr. Michael Eades

Even when on a short trip to the beach, you can protect yourself from a sunburn and overexposure, all the while getting the tan you came for.  During our honeymoon, my husband asked me to trust him and to go without sunscreen, as long as I promised to listen to him when he said I needed to cover up because I was getting pink..  Alright, I can do that, I said.  So, the first day I was out in the sun for maybe 20 minutes when he told me to put on a t-shirt over my bathing suit, as my shoulders were getting pink.  We went on with the rest of the day playing beach volleyball, swimming, and doing everything I would have with sunscreen, I just wore a comfy t-shirt and a baseball cap instead.  Later on in the day I threw on a pair of shorts when I saw the tops of my legs start to get pink.  It didn’t ruin my time or give me terrible tan lines, it actually made the day a lot more fun because I was constantly worried about reapplying sunscreen or getting burned. 

The next day, I was in the sun for a little longer, and the next day a little longer, and I steadily built up the best, and least painful, tan I’ve ever had.  I didn’t lose any sleep from a sunburn or spend the next 2 weeks peeling.  Instead, I enjoyed our vacation and spent the rest of the summer at home, continueing to build my tan–aka, my sun shield! There were days during vacation where I put a little sunscreen on the top of my ears and the base of my neck because I wasn’t wearing a turtle neck and ear muffs, but overall, I was able to stay protected by paying attention to my skin and throwing on a sun cover.  I am not saying that sunscreen in is the devil, but I am ALSO not saying that it is going to save you from all ailments, such as skin cancer.  Your best bet at avoiding overexposure to the sun, which is painful and can be dangerous, is to pay attention to your body’s signals; warmth and redish/pink skin. 

The sun is the absolute best way to get Vitamin D, but if you’re still worried about the risk of developing Melanoma, let me share one statistic with you.  In 2009; 8,700 people died from Melanoma, while 40,230 died from breast cancer, 32,050 died from prostate cancer, and 51,370 people died form colon cancer.  What is the connection?  Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer are all thought to be related to a lack of sun exposure, a lack of Vitamin D.  In addition, there are 250,000-350,000 new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis each year, a disease much more common with little sun exposure.

My view is that my body wouldn’t use the sun to create Vitamin D and the 5-10 other photoproducts we synthesize from sun exposure, if it wasn’t necessary for my health.  Our body will tell us when we’ve had enough sun, the skin starts to get pink and warm and that is our cue to cover up or head inside, but avoiding it altogether will lead to a lack of Vitamin D.  Even with the use of a Vitamin D supplement, after all they are called SUPPLEMENTS, meaning they supplement the Vitamin D you are getting from the sun, they don’t replace it.  There’s nothing like the real thing!  Unfortunately, we see more commercials for sunscreen and Vitamin D-enriched products  than we do for a little kiss from the sun, that’s because no one is making money off of you getting a tan.  So go out and get a little sun, listen to your body, be smart, and you’ll feel the energetic effects of an increased about of Vitamin D in your system!

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit the sites where I gathered a lot of my information by visiting these links:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s