Sunscreen use is important for protecting against skin damage. However, a new study shows that there may be a significant downside to using sunscreen: it could lead to vitamin D deficiency.
The research suggests that sunscreen use affects the body’s ability to produce vitamin D, contributing to about 1 million cases of vitamin D deficiency worldwide.
Study co-author Dr. Kim Pfotenhauer, from the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Touro University California, and colleagues recently published their findings in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.
Usually, low amounts of vitamin D are contained in some foods like fatty fish, beef liver and fortified cereals. But exposure to sunlight is considered one of the best ways of getting vitamin D.
However, with the attendant risks of sunburn and skin cancer, the research team suggests that individuals should limit exposure to midday sun for up to 30 minutes twice weekly, in order to increase and maintain normal vitamin D levels.
According to the team, using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher can reduce the body’s vitamin D-3 production by 99 percent.
To ensure optimal vitamin D levels, the team recommends spending about 5 to 30 minutes in midday sun twice each week, without the protection of sunscreen.
“People are spending less time outside and, when they do go out, they’re typically wearing sunscreen, which essentially nullifies the body’s ability to produce vitamin D.
While we want people to protect themselves against skin cancer, there are healthy, moderate levels of unprotected sun exposure that can be very helpful in boosting vitamin D.”
Dr. Kim Pfotenhauer
Vitamin D supplementation is also a good way to increase vitamin D levels without the associated risks following sunlight exposure. However, one should always tell a doctor before taking supplements.