Getting Your 'Vitamin Sunshine': Damaging Versus Healing.
As you may know, vitamin D deficiency has become a serious health issue here in the Western world. And why is vitamin D so important? For a whole host of reasons! For starters, its deficiency can be linked to today’s prevalence of osteoporosis. Vitamin D metabolizes with calcium in the body helping to maintain sturdy bones. It’s also a vital part of the immune system: one of the lesser-known but critical attributes of vitamin D is that it provides essential support in helping the body to remove metabolic waste from cells, effectively enhancing the life-cycles of them, strengthening your body’s defenses.
Now here’s the issue:
Sunshine is, by far, the most generous source of vitamin D available. However, in an attempt to avoid skin damage and skin cancer, we slather sunscreen (most of them containing toxic chemicals, that are absorbed through the skin to enter the bloodstream) all over our bodies which ultimately reduces the intake of vitamin D. During my lectures about vitamin D deficiency being linked to the overuse of sunscreen, I would get some blank stares. We have been thoroughly convinced via effective product marketing that we are doing something good for ourselves by wearing sunscreen any and every time we are in the sun. Reality check—living vitamin D deficient is a bigger deal than most people realize. And it gets even worse. To make up for our lack of vitamin D from the sun, we take potentially toxic vitamin D that is extracted from lambskin. Something is definitely not lining up here.
Moderation and the Right Protection
The keys are moderating your time under the sun as well as the timing of your exposure to it. Indeed, it is very important to prevent over-exposure to the sun which can otherwise cause free-radical damage and increase risk of skin cancer. However, constantly eliminating a vital element we receive from the sun is not a good solution either.
The target scenario is a short time out in the sunshine with broad skin exposure. To get your vitamin D, five to ten minutes in the middle of the day in shorts and a t-shirt is likely adequate for fair-skinned people. Or up to twenty minutes if you’re darker-skinned. Over time, melanin increases in the skin which is the body’s natural and longer-term sun protection. Interestingly, high doses of vitamin C also boost melanin levels which is one of the big reasons I am passionate about both Infinity-C and Infinity Greens.
The time of day that we’re getting our sun exposure is very important. From the sun we can receive both UVA and UVB radiation. It’s the UVA radiation that causes potential damage to the skin. And it’s the UVB radiation from which we get our vitamin D. In the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky, UVB rays are plentiful. But when the sun is lower on the horizon, in the morning and evening hours, the UVB rays come through the atmosphere at an angle to then be filtered out.
For that short period in the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak, it’s important to take advantage of direct, unscreened, unadulterated, pure sunshine. Let the sun’s nurturing rays do their job, forming vitamin D on the surface of the skin which will then be absorbed into the bloodstream. Important side note: vitamin D is formed both within the skin cells as well as in the oils on the surface of the skin. It can take up to two days for vitamin D in the oils on the skin to be absorbed into the body. So for vitamin D’s sake, avoid using soap on the arms and legs (assuming your arms and legs are what you primarily have exposed to the sun) which can literally wash the vitamin D away. Rinsing is okay. Use soap where you need it (armpits, privates, etc.). Don’t worry—you’re not going to stink if you don’t use it on your arms and legs!
Note - younger people produce more vitamin D on their skin than older people; one reason that osteoporosis generally shows up later in life. Older or younger, the key is both right timing and maximum surface area of skin exposed to the sun. Hence, my suggestion of shorts and a t-shirt - even better, a tank-top. Or why not a little topless sunbathing in the backyard if that's an option? The benefit is very real making it unquestionably worth the small amount of time it takes.
Ah, but what if you’re planning an activity that’s going to involve being out in the sun all day? On the beach, maybe, or out on a boat? Sunscreens are necessary then, aren’t they? Most likely, but first, there are better options among the many sunscreens. By the way, know what’s in chemically made sunscreens? How’s this for an ingredient list: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. What?? These chemicals have been linked to skin allergies and hormone imbalances. Yup. They’re toxins that seep into the skin and accumulate in the body. No thanks. Go ‘mineral’ rather than ‘chemical’. Use zinc oxide sunscreens. This is the sunscreen that may go on leaving your skin a bit white. But it’s more natural, safer, and very effective. (I’ve actually found some brands that don’t turn your skin white. You’ll just have to try them.)
Incidentally, did you know that when manufacturers of sunscreens rate their product by SPF (Sunscreen Protection Factor), they’re assuming you’re rubbing one ounce of sunscreen on the body. That’s one shot glass. Outside of the laboratory, who's putting on that much sunscreen? A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 (meaning it theoretically provides 30 times the protection that bare skin provides) might, in reality, only be about a 10 given the amount most people use. Really your best sunscreen is shade, like a beach umbrella or a hat that shades your face and neck. When you’re at the beach and you want to take a dip in the water, jump in, get your sun exposure, then jump out and hit the shade again. But if shade is not an option, then yes, definitely use sunscreen.
If you spend a lot of your time out in the sun on a regular basis, it may be worth considering the average cotton t-shirt has an SPF factor between only 5 and 10. Fine if you’re not out in the sun all day, everyday. But if you’re constantly exposed to long days in the sun on a regular basis, thicker fabric offers more sun protection. It may also be worth checking out the lines of “sun protection” clothing, generally made from cotton woven with zinc. This clothing can provide all the SPF you would ever need.
There is one more important factor with sun protection. Diet affects your body’s natural sun protection! Like with every organ and function of the body, our diet makes everything weaker or stronger—the skin included. The quality of fats in your diet is a big one. In particular, the common omega-6 oils are a weak material for building skin and collagen and can essentially make the skin more vulnerable to sun damage. These are the oils rampant in the category of packaged foods—yet another important reason to be an ingredients reader, like I have always talked about.
A Note about Skin Care
While we’re on the subject, this is a good time to talk about skin care in general. Most people don’t realize that the chemical sunscreen ingredients listed above are in a lot of everyday skin care products. You may be using sunscreen without even knowing it! Skin is the body’s largest organ and deserves to be free of toxic chemicals. Always be aware of what you’re putting on your skin. It’s a sensitive and a semi-permeable membrane, meaning that stuff can get both in and out. Did you know that antiperspirant deodorants contain aluminum? It’s time to consider that the use of heavy metals for the purpose of clogging pores just might not be the best solution.
For any skin care products you use, stick with the most natural options. Want a good anti-aging moisturizer? Try olive oil, high in vitamin E and a superior upgrade from any lotion. The key is the way in which you apply it. In the shower, rub about a little olive oil onto your body, head to toe. Rinse and then towel dry. Your skin won’t feel oily if done this way. And olive oil does not block pores.
Clothe your skin with natural materials. Wear cotton, wool, hemp, or linen (most rayon is okay). Stay away from clothes made from petroleum like polyester which constantly gives off toxic gas. Rid your closet of acrylics, acetates, and nylons (except for your disco onesie and Halloween costume, of course). And use natural detergents. The idea is to remove pollutants from our everyday lifestyle. All of these factors add up over time. The skin gets replaced every twenty-eight days so, like many lifestyle changes, you’ll notice a difference after just a month of taking better care of your skin.
Other Sources of Vitamin D
Depending on where you are, in the winter months, it’s often not as easy to get the vitamin D you need from the sun. Even on a sunny day, the sun is going to be lower in the sky, comparable to where it is in the mornings and evenings during the summer. Don’t despair. Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that it can be stored for months in your fat cells. Plus, there are other ways to get vitamin D. Eggs and salmon are decent sources of vitamin D. But note that farm-raised salmon has only about a fourth of the vitamin D that wild-caught has. Wild-picked mushrooms have a respectable amount of vitamin D too. Interestingly, vitamin D forms on the surface of the mushroom from UVB radiation. Store-bought mushrooms don’t have vitamin D since they are grown indoors. However, if you set your newly purchased mushrooms out in the sun, they will, in fact, produce vitamin D. Adequate data as to how much vitamin D this really provides is lacking, but any amount of vitamin D is valuable.
To compensate for whatever UVB radiation you may not be getting in the winter, I don’t recommend resorting to vitamin D supplements. As I mentioned, vitamin D supplements are made from a waxy substance called lanolin that’s scraped from lambskin. Doesn’t sound like anything I’m very keen on ingesting; how about you? There are now vegetarian vitamin D supplements not made from lambskin. I wouldn't suggest using these on a long-term basis though since they are made in a laboratory. And as with other supplements, it’s actually easy to take too much vitamin D. An excess of manufactured vitamin D in the bloodstream has proven to be harmful for the kidneys. You don’t have to worry about vitamin D toxicity if you’re getting your vitamin D naturally—from the sun or from foods. Just another reason to stick with the superior options Mother Nature has already provided.
Back to Nature
Winter reveals another important attribute of the sun’s rays. When the eyes interact with sunshine, the body produces serotonin, improving mood. Yup, the “winter blues” is a real thing. But you can get the winter blues at any time of year if you’re indoors all the time and your eyes are not exposed to sunshine. The rays of the sun, necessary to produce serotonin, don’t travel through glass. So even sitting next to a sunny window won’t help. Plastic, however, like in most sunglasses, is conducive for the rays necessary for the production of serotonin.
So take that brief midday walk in the sun. Interact with nature. It’s a nice break in the day, helping you manage your stress levels. And that’s a good thing where vitamin D is concerned because cortisol, the “stress hormone,” actually blocks the absorption of vitamin D. A nice little nature walk has multiple benefits. It reduces your stress, and it ups the intake of a very valuable vitamin.
If you discover yourself to be vitamin D deficient, then why not take some serious action by dedicating some time in your day to sunshine? Make it a solid and defined part of your lifestyle. Vitamin D levels can be determined with a blood test. These levels can change dramatically over the course of just one to two months. Why not get tested before and after and see if you don’t get some definitive results showing the benefits of sunshine?
Of course you don’t want to get sunburned, but remember this: when you consider the way we’re blocking the health forming powers of vitamin D with the overuse of sunscreen, together with the way we’re compensating for our vitamin D deficiencies with man-made potentially toxic supplements, it’s a safe bet that life force and longevity are compromised by lack of sunlight. The key to getting it right is understanding how it all works and striking a balance.
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