Vitamin D and Sun Exposure: What You Need to Know

When it comes to sunscreen, there seems to be a never-ending debate. On the one hand, you have countless research studies outlining the terrible effects that sun exposure can have on your skin. On the other, there is the argument that your body needs sun exposure to trigger the natural production of essential vitamin D. With so much conflicting evidence out there, what is the answer to the “vitamin D and sun exposure” question? Here’s what you need to know.

What is Vitamin D, and Why Do We Need It?

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that is not commonly found in our food sources. Therefore, we need to obtain enough vitamin D from supplements or via sun exposure. Going without vitamin D isn’t a healthy option, because this nutrient plays numerous roles in the health and function of our bodies, including:

  • Promoting calcium absorption
  • Aiding in bone growth and repair
  • Protecting against osteoporosis
  • Modulating cell growth
  • Promoting healthy immune function
  • Reducing inflammation (National Institutes of Health)

How Much Vitamin D Do We Need?

The NIH reports that nearly all healthy people, including both men and women of all ages, need between 600 and 800 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D per day in order to stay healthy and function properly. Although vitamin D is not found in many of the foods that we eat, there are some good dietary sources of this vitamin, including fish, mushrooms and fortified juices and milks. One serving of salmon, for instance, contains about 450 IUs of vitamin D, while a serving of fortified orange juice contains about 140 IUs. As you can see, it is possible to obtain at least a portion of your daily value of vitamin D from food sources, provided you choose the right ones.

How to Get Vitamin D without Putting Your Skin at Risk

Although sun exposure is one way that we can get the rest of our recommended daily values of vitamin D, we’re all very familiar with the damaging effects that the sun’s UV light can have on our skin. Not only is UV radiation the leading cause of nearly all signs of skin aging, but it can also significantly increase your risk for developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer (Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology). Because of these risks, it’s simply not feasible to stop wearing sunscreen in the name of obtaining the vitamin D your body needs. Instead, try these tips for getting vitamin D without damaging your skin and potentially putting your health at risk:

  • Talk to your doctor about starting a vitamin D supplement. This can be a great way to get enough vitamin D without having to eat salmon every day or harming your skin in the sun.
  • If you feel the need to expose your skin to the sun to get vitamin D, know that you only need to put your bare arms and legs in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes to trigger your body’s biosynthesis of vitamin D. Be sure to still use sunscreen on your face and wear a hat to prevent wrinkles and sun spots.
  • Try using a natural vitamin D UV activation sensor, which lets you know when you’ve gotten enough sun to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. Once the sensor turns red, it’s time to get out of the sun!

The Bottom Line

While sunscreen isn’t perfect, there is too much evidence stacked against prolonged sun exposure to stop using it. Currently, this is the best method we have to keep skin protected from the sun’s UV rays, so it’s important to find a balance between getting just enough sun exposure to create the vitamin D we need and avoiding too much UV light that can cause skin to age and potentially cause cancer. If you’re having trouble finding the right sunscreen for your skin type, talk to your dermatologist or head over to and browse the sunscreens for your specific Baumann Skin Type.


Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumann’s blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through

July 17, 2017 Skincare