by Dr. Arlene Noodleman
As a preventive medicine physician and co-creator of Revercel, I routinely advise my patients to avoid excessive sun exposure, wear hats and protective clothing, and to use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. That’s because 1 in 5 people in the United States will develop skin cancer during their lifetimes and excessive sun exposure increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
The flip side is that, while exposure to UV rays that burn the skin can result in skin cancer, some sun exposure is needed for our bodies to make vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is an extremely common, often unrecognized health problem. The benefits of adequate vitamin D, also known as “the sunshine vitamin”, go far beyond maintaining optimal bone health. Research now links vitamin D deficiency to cancer, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, infectious disease, depression, breast cancer, peripheral vascular disease, impaired cognitive function and other conditions. Women with aches and pains in their bones and muscles are often misdiagnosed as having fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome when they in fact are vitamin D deficient.
Almost everyone is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Screening is especially indicated for those who are pregnant, obese, have malabsorption or are elderly. It is also indicated for people with osteoporosis or dark skin pigmentation.
How can you practice safe sun habits when, at the same time, the best source of vitamin D is sun exposure? At Healthstyle, we advocate SENSIBLE SUN EXPOSURE. Did you know it’s actually good to be in the sun for a defined period of time – depending on the time of year/day, latitude, and degree of skin pigmentation? In California, that translates to roughly ten minutes of sun exposure to the arms and legs 2-3 times per week. Those with a greater degree of skin pigmentation have built-in sun protection and will need to be exposed to the sun for longer periods of time.
In the absence of sun exposure, I recommend that my patients get 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily from supplementation and dietary sources (but it isn’t easy to get enough vitamin D from your diet). Obese patients may need 2-3 times that amount.
It’s important to always use sun protection on the face, the body’s most sun-damaged area. The face makes up only about 9% of the body surface and doesn’t provide a lot of vitamin D. So go outside this summer, enjoy yourself, get some sun, and use sunscreen sensibly.