Vitamin D and Sunscreen

Now that it’s summer you’re probably ready to lather on the sunscreen. But you may also be wondering about news reports that say sunscreen interferes with the body’s ability to make vitamin D, a nutrient you must have to absorb calcium and build strong bones.

How much vitamin D your body makes depends upon your skin color, the time of year, your age and where you live. Just 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure twice a week without sunscreen may be all you need. Some
experts believe even that may be too much, however. Unprotected exposure to sun increases your risk for skin cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you wear sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 15 whenever you’re outside, even on cloudy days. Supplements and food sources can fulfill your vitamin D requirements.

When you buy sunscreen

Buy products that provide broad spectrum protection, meaning they block UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays. UVB rays make skin turn red and cause sunburn. UVA rays are longer, penetrate skin more deeply, and cause wrinkling and other signs of aging. Both can cause skin cancer.

Sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher will block all UVB rays, but only some UVA rays. To get the maximum UVA protection read the label and be sure that either avobenzone, Parsal 1789, zinc oxide, or titanium oxide is in the ingredients.

Vitamin D requirements

  • From birth to age 50: 200 IU (international units)
  • Age 51 to 70: 400 IU
  • Age 71 plus: 600 IU

Supplements and certain foods are ways to get vitamin D. Good food sources include: fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel; dairy products and ready-to-eat cereals fortified with vitamin D; orange juice with calcium and vitamin D.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; National Institutes of Health; Skin Cancer Foundation