The Truth About Vitamin D Deficiency & Sunscreen Might Surprise You

Here's the *real* tea.

Wondering how long does it take to tan? The answer varies depending on your skin tone, but the sun c...

Leo season is officially here, meaning that along with experiencing the fiery spirits of your beloved lion friends, you're also encountering some of the hottest days that summer has to offer. Naturally, with the summer heat comes the sunshine, and it's imperative that everyone wears sunscreen every single day to protect against damaging UVA and UVB rays (both of which can cause everything from premature aging to skin cancer).

Read more: Multivitamins Vs. Individual Vitamins — Which Are Better For You?

With all of the recent talk about the dangers associated with certain sunscreens, however, people might feel inclined to err on the side of caution, going out in the world without an ounce of broad-spectrum protection on their skin. Yet, this isn't the only reason people tend to shy away from sunscreen — there's a rumor going around that sunscreen can actually cause vitamin D deficiency in an individual. Anyone who lives in a big city can attest to feeling impossibly pale, sallow, and lacking in sun and vitamin D by the time the summer rolls around — but is there any truth to it? Check out what the skin care experts had to say about whether you need to forgo sunscreen in favor of upping your vitamin D levels this summer.

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What Does Vitamin D Do In The Body?

Before understanding the relationship between sunscreen and vitamin D, it's important to note why the idea of a vitamin D deficiency frightens some in the first place. "Our bodies need vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones and support a healthy immune system," says Michigan-based board-certified dermatologist and creator of Dermy Doc Box, Dr. Fatima Fahs. "Vitamin D is also helpful for skin health — our hair needs it for sustainable growth, as vitamin D-deficient patients often complain of hair shedding. Vitamin D is also important for cell renewal and repair, including the cells of our skin. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to dry, weak skin and even increased inflammation, worsening skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema."

What Is The Best Source Of Vitamin D?

Suffice it to say, vitamin D is imperative for the health of all individuals. Many people believe that sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, but it turns out that ingesting vitamin D is the way to go. Director of Pigmented Lesions and Skin Cancer at Mount Sinai in New York City, Dr. Orit Markowitz reveals to TZR that "we see that when you have foods in your diet, like fatty fish, that are high in vitamin D, you're going to have a much better level of vitamin D than the people in warmer climates who are always out in the sun." So, if you live in a big city with tall buildings and find that you're vitamin D deficient during the wintertime (which your primary care doctor can test for), the problem is not a lack of sun, per se — it's a lack of vitamin D-rich foods in your diet.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, ingesting "oily fish, fortified dairy products and cereals, and supplements" should help you reach the recommended daily vitamin D dosage of 600 IU a day, without the harmful effects of UV exposure.

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Wait, Does The Sun *Actually* Provide Vitamin D?

Now, the sun is typically called a source of vitamin D, but here's the thing: the sun emits UV radiation — *not* vitamin D. So, where did this myth come about? Founder and CEO of Love Sun Body, Dr. Terry Zickerman explains, "The sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with a protein called 7-DHC in the skin, converting it into vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D." Basically, when a person exposes themselves to sunshine, a chemical reaction occurs in the skin that converts UVB rays to vitamin D.

Of course, you can certainly acknowledge this fact and partake in the famous 15 minutes in the sun act, a an old wive’s tale that claims you should sit out in the sun without sunscreen for 15 minutes every day. But there is a catch: along with prompting vitamin D production in your body, UVB rays also burn the skin, along with a whole host of harmful and potentially fatal health issues. As Dr. Zickerman states, "Those unprotected 10 or 15 minutes are way more than enough time to cause DNA damage, and every bit of this damage adds up throughout your lifetime, producing more and more genetic mutations that keep increasing your lifetime risk of skin cancer."

It's simply better to protect your skin from the health risks borne by UV radiation than it is to rely on the sun for vitamin D.

Can You Still Get Vitamin D From The Sun If You Wear Sunscreen?

Perhaps you've read this far but still want to shout from the rooftops, I won't budge! I need vitamin D from the sun! It turns out, your sunscreen won't actually stop your skin from producing vitamin D. Says Dr. Fahs, "Researchers have never been able to prove that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D deficiency. This is likely because no sunscreen can completely block UV radiation 100%, even if applied perfectly. So even with sunscreen on, you can still produce vitamin D." But this doesn't mean you should stop using sunscreen altogether — 97% protection will always be better than no protection at all.

If you *must* get out and soak up the sun (which, let’s be honest, is a very pleasant mental health break in your day), Global Educator of QMS Medicosmetics, Rowan Hall-Farrise suggests, "If you want to sit out to absorb some vitamin D, do it first thing in the morning or later on in the afternoon while still wearing SPF, so that you're not getting such strong rays in the middle of the day between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m."

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How Should You Stay Safe In The Sun?

The answer here is pretty simple: wear a sunscreen formula that you will want to wear and remember to wear it every single day (even when it’s cloudy). Dr. Markowitz says, "I am a huge fan of physical mineral sunscreens, for the fact that they apply a layer of protection on the skin that is immediate and that is going to reflect the sun's rays. I also love that it is not as harmful to the environment." And don't forget to wear protective clothing like a hat — along with protecting your skin from premature aging, hats will undoubtedly protect your scalp from harmful UV rays. If you plan accordingly, there’s no reason why you can’t spend plenty of time in the sun without causing undue damage.

If you’re on the hunt for a new SPF to add to your beauty routine, check out six industry-favorite formulas below.

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