Are We Starving Ourselves Of vitamin D? At least a third of the population in some countries are deficient in vitamin D, and experts say it’s time to get back out in the sun. . . in small doses.
When it comes to sun safety. the message is becoming increasingly lazy. For decades we’ve been urged to protect our skin by slopping on the sunscreen and covering up. Now some health experts believe that we have taken the message too far and may have insufficient levels of vitamin D, the best source of which comes from UV radiation from the sun.
Not only is this chemical hormone vital for bone and muscle health, but new research shows it may also guard against a range of other ailments. including, most surprisingly, skin cancer.
One woman who is learning this the hard way is Monica Adams, a vigilant mother who, thanks to a routine blood test, has discovered she is seriously low in vitamin D.
lt was a huge shock as I didn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me, says the 45-year-old. I feel healthy, l eat well, I’m pretty ﬁt and vigilant in my skincare regime.
A little too vigilant, it seems. While routinely sun-smart – Monica is rarely spotted sans hat and sunscreen – she wrongly assumed she was getting enough incidental sun. I walk the kids to school. play netball and am at the beach in summer doing Nippers with the kids.
Calcium Vitamin D Supplements
Yet Monica’s levels are so low she needs to take vitamin D supplements for the rest of her life. She is also at risk of osteoporosis and has to bump up her calcium intake.
That’s because vitamin D improves calcium absorption, explains Professor Rebecca Mason, from the University of Sydney’s Bosch Institute.
vitamin D not only reduces fractures in old people. it improves muscle function and coordination thereby stopping them from falling over in the first place, explains Professor Mason. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Vitamin D Deficiency
Are you deficient? Some people can’t access enough sun to maintain vitamin D levels and should consult their doctor about supplements. They include:
The elderly and those stuck indoors
Dark-skinned people — the pigment in their skin reduces UV penetration, making it harder to produce vitamin D
Those with fair skin
Those with a history of skin cancer
Breastfed babies and infants of vitamin D-deﬁcient mothers
Those on immunosuppressants
Those who cover-up for religious or cultural reasons
Those with osteoporosis
Vitamin D Sunlight
Let the sunshine in. Every tissue in the body has the capacity to respond to the vitamin D hormone, says Professor Mason, including, most surprisingly, your skin.
There is some evidence that small exposures to sunlight might actually beef up your skin’s repair mechanisms, protecting cells from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
You know how you tend to get burnt at the beginning of summer and not so much at the end? That’s partly because you get a bit more color in your skin and also because you get a slightly increased outer layer of skin that actually protects you. It’s been estimated that it gives you an SPF of about 15.
Vitamin D Reduce Risk Of Skin Cancer
So has Monica weakened her skin by covering up too much? There is some evidence to suggest that a little exposure may improve your ability to withstand further sun damage, Professor Mason says. We have evidence in animals that if you put vitamin D compounds on the skin you can reduce immunosuppression and skin cancer development.
In fact, preliminary research shows that vitamin D may signiﬁcantly reduce your risk of developing all types of cancers.
A four-year study of women in Nebraska, for instance, found that those given vitamin D and calcium had between 60 and 77 percent reduced risk of developing a variety of cancers including breast, colon, and skin cancer. However, more substantial research is required.
Professor Mason says there are associations between low vitamin D and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cardiac mortality, and autoimmune disease.
A Scandinavian study found that children with inadequate D as infants had about a two-and-half-fold increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes. vitamin D may also protect against rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and depression.
Vitamin D Benefits
So has the slopping on the sunscreen and covering up campaign gone too far? Not at all, argues Professor Ian Olver, CEO of Cancer Council Australia.
We have 1600 deaths from skin cancer a year in Australia, so we can’t pull back on the campaign in the middle of summer, but we’ve got to make it clear that it doesn’t apply to winter, Professor Oliver says. Early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the sun isn’t as intense, that’s probably okay.
Instead, he would prefer us to focus on the daily UV index. If it’s under three. it’s safe to go walking in the sun without protection. We need to get the balance right.
A US study found that women who were given vitamin D and calcium had up to a 77 percent reduced risk of developing cancer.
Too Much Vitamin D?
Balance is the key. Studies show that too much sun exposure will not help your vitamin D levels either, as the body can only make a certain amount of it at a time. If you keep exposing your skin to UV, the rays start to break down vitamin D, Professor Mason says – Short, frequent exposure is best.
And while the body can store vitamin D for 30 to 60 days, Professor Mason says you don’t make enough in winter to carry through to summer, so you need regular exposure. Nor should you rely on foods, such as oily ﬁsh, eggs and liver, which only provide up to 10 percent of our vitamin D needs.
Calcium And Vitamin D Foods
There are some fortiﬁed foods, such as milk and cereals. The calcium in dairy also helps protect your vitamin D from being broken down, but really it’s sun, supplements, or both.
If you choose supplements, Opt for brands that contain calcium and speak to your doctor about dosage. There is evidence starting to emerge that exercise might also be important for helping you to maintain vitamin D levels. Professor Mason adds.
For the rest of us, it’s about getting the balance right. and if that means lingering a little longer outdoors, you probably won’t ﬁnd many complaints.
Vitamin D Guidelines – The New Sun Rules
How much sunlight? You need to determine the best regime for your skin type, location, and activities.
Check the UV index daily. Only expose your skin if UV radiation levels are below three. During summer, and in the sunnier northern states, this is usually before 10 am and after 3 pm.
You only need to expose your skin for about 10 minutes a day, depending on the UV index, your skin type, and age. In summer you might drop this down to two minutes and up to 20 minutes in winter, preferably at about 12 pm.
You can stand in the sun naked in winter for an hour or so at 8 am or 4 pm and not make much vitamin D at all, Professor Rebecca Mason says. Infants need just a few minutes daily.
You only need to expose 15 percent of your body at a time. The more skin you expose, the less time you need
Does Sunscreen Give You Pimples? Can It Expire? And Do You Really Need To Wear It Indoors? We Have The Answers To Separate The Myth From The Reality Of Sun Protection.
FACT: You Should Wear Sunscreen When You’re Indoors
Sunscreen should be worn every day, and especially when the UV index is three or above. You can check the index on the weather report or on a UV Index app.
Even if you’re spending most of the day indoors, it’s still important to apply it. You might want to go outside to get the mail, have a walk or hang out the laundry. so it’s best to be protected.
FACT: Sunscreen Should Be Reapplied Regularly
Applying sunscreen each morning is great, but if you’re outdoors. you’ll need to follow the directions, reapply throughout the day, and avoid prolonged sun exposure.
Sunscreen can be expected to give skin protection for up to two hours if applied as directed. Even though some sunscreen labels may state a four-hour water resistance, it’s generally recommended to reapply once every two hours.
Swimming or sweating can also reduce the sun-protection time, and you should always reapply sunscreen if you towel-dry after a swim.
FICTION: The Sunscreen Ln Your Skincare Or Make-Up Is All You Need
Your favorite moisturizer or foundation may show an SPF on the label but if used alone, it’s unlikely to give enough protection. It’s important to always use a dedicated sunscreen.
As for the order in which to apply your products: Moisturiser first and then sunscreen so as not to dilute the product and therefore decrease the effectiveness of the sun protection. If you wear make-up, finish by applying it over the sunscreen.
Don’t forget that sunscreen is only part of the equation – using this together with a hat, sunglasses and clothes gives the best protection.
FICTION: Sunscreen Gives You Pimples
This one isn’t always so straightforward. Some experts don’t believe that sunscreens generally cause pimples, however, others believe that the mineral components of some sunscreens can block the sebaceous glands or the pores and that even chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin and cause pimple-like lesions.
But the good news is that even if you‘re prone to acne or pimples, there’s a sunscreen to suit your skin. Simply look for a non-comedogenic formula – which is made from ingredients that won’t block pores – in a gel or lightweight lotion.
How Much Do You Really Need?
According to experts. many of us apply less sunscreen than is recommended. To get the best protection, use at least a teaspoon of sunscreen for each arm, each leg. the front and back of the torso, and the head, neck, and ears. That’s about 35ml sunscreen for one body application, for an average-size adult.
FACT: Sunscreen Can Expire
Just like your milk has a best-before date, so too should sunscreen be used before its expiry deadline. Most sunscreens should last two to three years, so you can use them from year to year. Using an expired sunscreen may mean that it’s no longer effective.
To check a sunscreens expiry date, look for the stamp on the back of the bottle or at the crimped end of a tube.
Other signs your sunscreen might be past its prime: sometimes you may have an indication that it’s ineffective by the fact that it doesn’t look or smell like it did when you purchased it. A change in consistency might also indicate that the ingredients are no longer active and therefore will give you less protection than what the label suggests.
FICTION: You Should Always Keep Sunscreen In Your Car – Just In Case
While it can be handy to keep a tube in your glove box. the heat of a hot car in summer can cause the product to deteriorate. Ideally, they should be stored below 30°C – that’s a problem if you’ve left them in your car or on the beach for a long period of time. Get into the habit of applying sunscreen at home each morning, and stash a hat and sunnies in your glove box instead.
FICTION: SPF50 Gives Almost Twice The Protection Of SPF30
The concept of SPF can be quite confusing. The SPF rating indicates the amount of UV radiation that can reach the skin if the sunscreen is applied according to directions. For example. SPF3O is estimated to filter 96.7 percent of UV radiation, compared to SPF5O. where 98 percent of UV radiation is filtered. Based on this. the difference is only marginal between SPF5O and SPF3O.
What’s important is that you find a sunscreen that you’re comfortable wearing, use enough of it and reapply it often.