Vitamin D & Sun Safety
Vitamin D is needed to help your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, amongst many other crucial minerals and vitamins, from your diet. Calcium and phosphorus are vital for healthy bones and teeth and a deficiency in Vitamin D can cause them to become soft and weak, potentially resulting in long term problems in children and adults.
Vitamin D from sunlight
Vitamin D is not naturally found in your body, but it is created from exposure of your skin to direct sunlight. Your body obviously makes the most Vitamin D during the summer months but it can be stored to last the winter months when there is less sunlight.
How long should we spend in the sun?
Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods, from March to October, with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen. A short period of time in the sun means just a few minutes - less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn.
Sun exposure for longer is unlikely to provide any additional benefits. The longer you stay in the sun, especially for prolonged periods without sun protection, the greater your risk of sunburn and longer term damage.
Dangers of UV rays
The short-term risks of sun exposure are sunburn and sun allergy. Everyone who is exposed to UV light is at risk of getting sunburn, although some people are more vulnerable than others.
Cancer Research UK has a useful tool where you can find out your skin type, to see when you might be at risk of burning. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/am-i-at-risk-of-sunburn
The longer-term risks (over decades) include:
- actinic (solar) keratoses – rough and scaly pre-cancerous spots on the skin
- skin cancer – including both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer
- eye problems – such as photokeratitis (snow blindness) and cataracts
- premature ageing of the skin and wrinkling.
People who spend a lot of time in the sun, whether it’s for work or play, are at increased risk of skin cancer if they don’t take the right precautions. Snow, sand, concrete and water can reflect the sun’s rays onto your skin, and the sun is more intense at high altitudes.
Preventing skin damage from sunlight
You should take extra care when out in the sun if you:
- have pale, white or light brown skin
- have freckles or red or fair hair
- tend to burn rather than tan
- have many moles
- have skin problems relating to a medical condition
- are only exposed to intense sun occasionally – for example, while on holiday
- are in a hot country where the sun is particularly intense
- have a family history of skin cancer
UVA rays are the main cause of long term damage, so look for the symbol on your suncare products that shows they have UVA protection and aim to use products with a minimum of 4 stars.
UVB rays cause sunburn and to minimise the risk of sunburn, suncare products include ingredients with Sun Protection Factors (SPFs). Different products have different SPF levels and the way SPF is calculated is based on the typical length of time that skin would burn without any protection relative to the length of time that skin would burn if coated in a suncare product containing SPF ingredients. So, a product with SPF30 would enable you to stay in the sun 30x longer than if you were unprotected.
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Typical manufacturer’s recommendations are that the amount of sunscreen needed for the body of an average adult to achieve the stated sun protection factor (SPF) is around 35ml or 6 to 8 teaspoons of lotion. If sunscreen is applied too thinly, it provides less protection. If you plan to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice:
- 30 minutes before going out
- just before you go out
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck and ears (and head if you have thinning or no hair).
Water-resistant sunscreen is recommended if doing sport or in contact with water. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally, frequently and according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This includes straight after you've been in water (even if it is "water-resistant") and after towel drying, sweating or when it may have rubbed off.
That said, this is a generalisation as everyone’s skin is different. To help further protect yourself:
- spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- drink plenty of water
- cover up with clothes, a hat and sunglasses
- a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck and ears
- a long-sleeved top
- trousers or long skirts in close-weave fabrics that do not allow sunlight through
- sunglasses with wraparound lenses or wide arms with the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005.
There is also a risk of getting sunburn in other weather conditions – for example:
- light reflecting off snow
- cloudy and cool conditions at high altitude
So the best advice is to always have an appropriate method of protecting your skin
It’s easy to underestimate your exposure to the sun when outside, as the redness doesn’t usually develop for several hours. Breezes and getting wet (such as going in and out of the sea) may cool your skin, so you don’t realise you’re getting burnt. You should always be aware of the risk of sunburn if you’re outside in strong sun, and look out for your skin getting hot.
What to do if you're sunburnt:
If you or your child has sunburn, the skin will normally start to flake and peel after a few days and will usually fully heal within seven days. While sunburn is often short-lived and mild, you should get out of the sun as soon as possible – head indoors or into a shady area. You can usually treat mild sunburn at home. The following advice may help to relieve your symptoms until your skin heals:
- Cool the skin by sponging it with cold water or by having a cold bath or shower – applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel to the affected area may also help.
- Drink plenty of fluids to cool you down and prevent dehydration.
- Apply natural yoghurt or coconut oil.
- Try to avoid all sunlight, including through windows, by covering up the affected areas of skin until your skin has fully healed.
Signs of severe sunburn can include:
- blistering or swelling of the skin (oedema)
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, or 37.5C (99.5F) or above in children under five
- dizziness, headaches and feeling sick
In these circumstances, medical advice is advised.
Other sources of Vitamin D
As well as creating Vitamin D from sunlight, we can consume Vitamin D from some foods, mainly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, as well as meat and eggs. When eating fish remember to stay in the RDA guidelines of 2/3 portions per week. Fish is a wonderfully healthy ingredient but with ocean/sea ever increasing and the demand for intensive farming to increase stocks, there are concerns about the quality of some fish that ends up on our plates. To avoid this try and shop sustainably and organic where ever you can/afford.
Who is at risk of Vitamin D deficiency?
Some groups of the population are at greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency, and the Department of Health advises these people to take daily vitamin D supplements. These groups are:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women
- babies and young children from six months to five years old – unless they are having 500ml or more a day of infant milk formula
- older people aged 65 and over
- people who are not exposed to much sun – for example, those who cover their skin or are confined indoors for long periods
- people who have darker skin – they need more time in the sun than someone with lighter skin to produce the same amount of vitamin D
If you’re wondering which supplements you can take or your child can take, pop in and see us, give us a call (01484 680126), or drop us an email firstname.lastname@example.org and our friendly team will be more than willing to help.
Here’s to a wonderful summer! Hannah