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Vitamin D, Sunshine and the Skin

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Hurrah for the sunnier, warmer weather! The winter season of 20/21 felt like an epic one, didn’t it? Not only have we had to contend with the usual cold, dark days and long winter nights. We’ve had the Covid induced lockdown to deal with where we all lived under strict restrictions over where we could go and who we could see.

In this article

What is Vitamin D?
Sunlight: Risks vs Benefits
How Much is Enough Vitamin D and Sunlight Exposure?
How Do I Know if I’m Deficient in Vitamin D?
How Do I Know if I Have UV Skin Damage?
Looking After Your Skin with Sönd

Oh, and on top of all of that, April 2021 was the frostiest April in 60 years. Which will be no surprise to the early risers and keen gardeners among us, who’ve seen first hand the unwelcome morning frosts. 

Plus, it was getting quite annoying, sitting in pub gardens shivering under blankets, wasn’t it? Eating without getting my coat sleeves in my food is a pleasure I never knew I’d ever knowingly appreciate. 

So now that Spring has properly sprung, summer is officially just three weeks away, and the Covid restrictions have eased further (hug, anyone?!) things feel more positive. 

The fact that it’s now sunnier got us thinking about vitamin D. We know it comes from the sun, but how much sun should we have on our skin before it becomes dangerous? Let’s take a look at the benefits (vitamin D) and risks (sun damage) of that glorious feeling of sunlight on our skin. 

What is Vitamin D?

Over the past Covid controlled year, we’ve all heard a lot about vitamin D. As well as being crucial for strong, healthy teeth and bones, vitamin D is also important for a strong, healthy immune system. 

A deficiency in vitamin D is “associated with an increased susceptibility to infection”. So it was little wonder that there’s been so much talk about taking vitamin D supplements to help support the immune system as part of our defence against coronavirus. (Along with face masks and coverings, social distancing, hand gels and socialising outside.) 

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is mainly synthesised in the skin when we expose our skin to sunlight. Unlike most other nutrients, we don’t get much of our vitamin D from the food we eat. Only fortified dairy products, fish with edible bones and egg yolks are sources of vitamin D, and not really great ones at that. 

It’s for this reason that the NHS recommends that all UK adults take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement each day during the months where there’s little sunshine - from October to March. 

During the height of the pandemic, the NHS changed this advice to taking a 10mcg vitamin D supplement all year round, since we were forced to spend more time indoors. 

Now, the advice has reverted back to October to May. But if you’re self isolating, shielding or not ready to enter the big bad world again, then you’d probably benefit in many ways by still taking a daily vitamin D supplement. 

Vitamin D is also linked with our mental health and a deficiency in vitamin D, particularly prevalent during the colder months, is linked with SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, which is also more prevalent in the colder months. Meaning that the feel good factor from basking in sunlight actually has some scientific backing. 

Sunlight: Risks vs Benefits

So, it's clear to see that in terms of our teeth, bones, immune system and mental health, we need vitamin D. If not by supplement, then by exposing our skin to the sun (which is much more fun). 

But what about the risks of sun damage? We get a lot of questions about wearing sun protection, or SPFs at this time of year. Should we wear an SPF? Should we expose our skin to the sun? Could it make our skin worse if we have contrary or stressed out skin? Do the benefits of vitamin D from the sun outweigh the risks of sun damage, and even skin cancer? 

We chose to leave SPFs out of our products, because we believe you should have the choice of whether you wear them or not. By leaving them out, if you want to add one as a separate step in your skincare regime, then you can. And if you don’t, then it’s all good. 

The chemicals in certain SPFs are linked with developmental issues and fertility problems. Even the more natural mineral sunscreens are thick and greasy and can block the pores, leading to spots and breakouts. 

And in fact, wearing a high factor sunscreen can actually lead to a false sense of security, vitamin D wise, since it affects the ability of the sun and skin to synthesise the vitamin. 

What is clear, is that the UV rays from the sun can be damaging. So we should take care to cover our skin with wide brimmed hats, sunglasses and loose clothing if we plan to be in the sun for long periods of time. Especially if we’re not wearing an SPF. 

If your skin is particularly sensitive or reactive, spending time in the sun can lead to redness and even rosacea, with or without an SPF. So make sure you take care of your skin and you don’t cause it to react due to your vitamin D quest. 

So, balance is key - we need sunlight exposure to synthesise vitamin D to avoid becoming deficient. But if we spend too long in the sun, we risk burning, skin damage and causing our sensitive skin to react.

How Much is Enough Vitamin D and Sunlight Exposure? 

There is no definitive time that it’s safe to be sitting in the sun for. It all depends on many factors, including the time of year, the time of day, how close you are to the equator (the closer, the stronger the sun), how much cloud there is, how much pollution there is (poor air quality can actually block some of the UV rays) and your own unique skin type.

But there is a general rule of thumb. If you have pale skin that burns easily, don’t allow your skin to burn. It’s advised that you don’t sit in direct, strong (11am to 3pm) sunlight without protection for any longer than 20 minutesper day.

You can also take steps to cover your face, and only expose the tougher areas of skin to the sun in order to synthesise vitamin D, such as your forearms and lower legs

The darker your skin, the higher your levels of melanin, that’s responsible for skin colour. The higher the levels of melanin, the less vitamin D is synthesised by the skin. Also, the longer the time it will take for your skin to burn so you may be able to spend longer in the sun without burning. 

You’ll know your skin and what it can handle. If you feel your skin burning or going red, then move out of the sun. 

How Do I Know if I’m Deficient in Vitamin D?

Good question? How about a great question! It’s important to know the signs of a vitamin D deficiency, and these include:

  • Feeling tired all the time despite getting plenty of sleep
  • Aches and pains without any obvious reason
  • Generally feeling under the weather 

These symptoms are all fairly vague and can be hard to spot, which is why it’s thought that so many UK adults have a vitamin D deficiency. So if in doubt, it’s winter time or you spend a lot of time inside or covered up, then consider taking a vitamin D supplement. 

How Do I Know if I Have UV Skin Damage? 

Another great question! Signs of skin damage that have been caused by UV light from the sun include…

Over the short term:

  • Red, sore, peeling, hot skin, otherwise known as sunburn
  • Blistering, suggesting severe sunburn
  • Technically, a tan, even a light one, is sun damage, but we’re not one to tell you to avoid getting any colour - just make sure it’s done safely and not on a sunbed!

Longer term signs of sun damage:

  • Flushed, red cheeks with possible visible blood vessels - this is a type of sun induced rosacea
  • Fine lines and wrinkles - these are a consequence of normal ageing but can be brought on by excessive sun exposure
  • Flat, pale large freckles that may or may not get darker - these are called age spots (sometimes they’re called liver spots)
  • Rough, scaly patches of skin that may itch and can be the same colour as your skin or lighter or darker - these are called actinic keratoses and should be checked by a doctor as they can be a precursor to skin cancer
  • Changes in the size, texture and colour or anything else of freckles and moles - get these checked by a doctor as soon as possible as they can be a sign of skin cancer 

Looking After Your Skin with Sönd

Getting the balance right between vitamin D production and damaging sun exposure might be a tricky balance to work out. But luckily, looking after your skin with the right skincare is easy with the Sönd range of alkalising skincare products.

Suitable for all skin types, including the most sensitive and acne prone, our range is hydrating, nourishing and stimulates skin cell renewal deep down in the lower layers. We’ve also recently relaunched our fabulous products in eco friendly packaging. 

So go on, give us a go, you won’t regret it! 

References

https://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2021/04/27/frostiest-april-for-at-least-60-years-in-uk/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-coronavirus

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2988540/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908269/

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190722-sunscreen-safe-or-toxic

https://www.healthline.com/health/sunbathing#safe-duration

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-get-vitamin-d-from-sunlight/

https://patient.info/bones-joints-muscles/osteoporosis-leaflet/vitamin-d-deficiency#nav-0

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/warning-signs


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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