Optimizing Vitamin D through Safe Sun Exposure
By following sensible sun exposure rules, including making sure you do not get burned, you can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of skin damage that could lead to skin cancer. Overexposure, not completely avoiding the sun, is the real issue for increasing your risk for skin cancer. At the same time, optimizing vitamin D through regular sun exposure can decrease your risk of many forms of cancers that are far more common than Melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.
So how much sun exposure is enough?
The answer depends on your skin type, time of year, time of day, and where you are located! The closer you are to the equator the less time you need in the sun because the sun is stronger and more UVB rays hit your skin (UVB is the key to Vitamin D). Depending on your location time of year can be very important. For example in the Northeastern US you cannot get enough sunlight exposure during winter to max sufficient amounts of Vitamin D for optimal health (one of the reasons tend to get sick more in the winter). Time of day is also important. Ideally mid-day sun provides the highest level of UVB light BUT you also need much less sun exposure and it is much easier to burn!
As mentioned above your skin type is also important! There are technically 5 skin types as it relates to sun exposure times: Type I – White; very fair; red or blond hair; blue eyes; freckles Type II – White; fair; red or blond hair; blue, hazel, or green eyes Type III – Cream white; fair; with any eye or hair color; very common Type IV – Brown; typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin Type V – Dark Brown; mid-eastern skin types Type VI – Black
If you are skin type 1 to III, you will produce vitamin d more quickly than if you have skin type IV to VI. A simple rule is to obtain half the sun exposure it takes your skin to turn pink (NOT BURN). This will tend to optimize benefits without risks. The more skin you can expose the better! Once you have been in the sun this long you should cover up – actually covering up is ideal versus using sunscreen. So wearing hat shirt and pants made out of a light but UV blocking material is ideal if you are going to be outside longer than half the time it would take for your skin to turn pink.
According to the national Institutes of Health, between five and 30 minutes of sun exposure to your unprotected face, arms, legs or back between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. two to three times every week is enough for your body to produce all of the D3 it needs. So for extremely fair people during peak summer or live close to the equator just 5 minutes of mid-day sun is all it takes, but for a person with dark skin who lives farther from the equator it is probably more like 30 minutes. Now the key is NOT to burn so start with less time and gradually increase it!