It’s summertime, and while the days of intentionally baking in the sun are long gone for most, it’s still time to get outside and enjoy the longer days on the beach, patio, or in your own backyard. If you’re familiar with vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin” you might know that your body produces it on its own with exposure to sunshine, providing a ton of health benefits including helping to lift your mood. So it’s not just a coincidence that you might feel brighter and more energetic in the summer months when the sun is shining!
We’re all familiar with the mantra of Sun Safety: You grab your favourite hat, apply some sunscreen and then you’re ready to go out into the sun, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, the reality is that exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun are the leading cause of skin cancer, and protective measures need to be taken seriously, so a hat and sunscreen may not be enough. That’s why it’s important to follow the 4 S’ of Sun Safety:
Whether it’s under a tree or an umbrella, it’s important to seek shade during the sun’s peak hours of 11am-3pm. This is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. If you work or plan on spending much of this time outdoors, make sure you have a shady area to take regular breaks. The Canadian Cancer Society advises that if your shadow is shorter than you, it’s time to look for some shade.
Use the sun as an excuse to get fashionable this summer. It’s easy to forget the top of your head as a common place to burn, so a hat is crucial during peak hours of the day. In addition to a hat, sunglasses, particularly with UV protection, are also an important factor to preventing sun damage, as the sun’s UV rays can negatively impact the eyes. For extra protection or if you’re spending prolonged periods out in the sun, you can find UV-Protective clothing that has the ability to block UV rays from passing through the fabric and reaching your skin.
When used correctly, sunscreen is a very effective way to prevent sunburns. It works by absorbing the sun’s rays before they penetrate into the skin. It’s important that you make sure that the sunscreen is applied to any part of your body that is exposed to the sun; this includes often overlooked areas such as the ears and nose. Make sure to also apply sunscreen liberally, and ensure that you follow the directions on the label as they will advise you when to reapply. Sunscreens are graded based on their SPF (Sun Protection Factor), the higher the SPF, the more UV rays it blocks. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and make sure to use sunscreen in combination with shade AND style.
While it’s vital that you wear sunscreen and seek shade to protect yourself from skin cancer, by blocking the sun’s UV rays you are blocking your body’s ability to produce vitamin D. Your body can make all of the vitamin D it needs with less than an hour of sun exposure two to three times a week. The catch is, natural production of vitamin D requires a lot of skin surface – which means your full arms and legs would need to be exposed to the sun, without sunscreen on. This is not a safe option when it comes to putting yourself at risk for skin cancer.
As a safe alternative to the sun as a source of vitamin D, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends that all adults in Canada talk to their health care professional about supplementing with 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily. Always look for supplements that contain vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which is the same form that is naturally produced in the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It is more easily absorbed and used by your body than the vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) form. You can also eat foods such as fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel, and drink milk (which is fortified with approximately 100 IU of vitamin D per cup).
Why is vitamin D so important?
Vitamin D has long been known for its role in supporting strong and healthy bones. It also helps maintain a healthy immune system. More recently however, studies have shown that vitamin D may offer a significant degree of protection against the development of certain cancers, particularly colorectal and breast cancers*. It is widely regarded to be an essential nutrient for people of all ages. That’s why it’s important to speak to your health care practitioner about supplementing with vitamin D, to ensure that you get the full benefits of the sunshine vitamin year-round.
Can I still enjoy the short-lived warm weather despite the dangers of the sun?
Absolutely! By no means should you avoid being outside. The summer is a great time to get out and be active. You just need to be sun smart. With proper sun protection you can make the most of our summer months – but realize that you need to look to other sources to get the vitamin D your body needs.
*The American Journal of Public Health, 2006
* The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology