The sunscreen hazard no one is talking about

Many people will be celebrating Independence Day tomorrow with outdoor barbeques or trips to the pool or beach. And with that in mind, I wanted to bring you some important news about sunscreen. But it may not be the news you’re expecting…

According a new review of scientific evidence by the American Osteopathic Association, about one billion people worldwide may have a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency that relates directly to sunscreen use and inadequate sun exposure.

The link between sunscreen use and a vitamin D deficiency should come as no surprise, if you regularly read my Daily Dispatches. You know that your skin naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. It’s a kind of healthy human photosynthesis. And you can increase and maintain healthy vitamin D levels by spending just 15 to 30 minutes in the sun during mid-day, twice a week.

The solar rays that create vitamin D must filter through the Earth’s atmosphere. And when the sun is higher in the sky — like it is midday during the summer months), there is less atmosphere to pass through. So — the right rays to create vitamin D can more easily reach the surface of your skin.

When the sun is lower in the sky — during the early morning and late afternoon, and from November to March at latitudes north of Atlanta in the east and Los Angeles in the west — the right rays to create vitamin D must pass through more layers of atmosphere. And these additional layers block the rays required for vitamin D production in your skin.

Also, light skin synthesizes more vitamin D than dark skin, since the pigmentation absorbs and neutralizes solar radiation. That fact helps explain why 85 percent of African-American adults may have a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.

But a simple walk outside in the sunshine with arms and legs exposed — without sunscreen — is enough for most people to start producing vitamin D during the summer months. Plus, you get the other benefits of being outside in Nature and get moderate physical activity.

Unfortunately, current mainstream “expert” advice recommends applying sunscreen before you even step foot outdoors. And sunscreen blocks vitamin D production. In fact, sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher blocks 99 percent of solar radiation…and 99 percent of vitamin D production. That’s also why sunscreens with SPF higher than 15 make no sense.)

In my view, you should only use sunscreen to avoid burning when you spend extended hours in the intense, mid-day sun. If you must wear it, there are some tips you should follow that I’ll tell you about in tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch.

I know some people still worry about sun exposure and skin cancer. But studies fail to show that using sunscreen prevents skin cancer. In fact, as I often report, the real science shows sun exposure and vitamin D actually lower skin cancer risk.

And we need all the vitamin D we can get for many other reasons, too…

Vitamin D critical for overall health

As I learned 10 years ago when I gave the keynote address at the Johns Hopkins Medical School continuing education course on complementary/alternative medicine, vitamin D actually functions as a hormone in every cell throughout the body. Its structure is based on cholesterol like all other hormones in the body.

Plus, increasing evidence shows vitamin D plays an important role in preventing autoimmune disorders, cancers, diabetes, heart disease, infections, and multiple sclerosis, as well as bone fractures. More doctors now measure vitamin D levels and are prescribing vitamin D dietary supplements.

Currently, blood levels below 20 nanograms per ml are considered “deficient.” And blood levels between 21 and 30 nanograms per ml are considered “insufficient.”

Some doctors now prescribe daily doses of vitamin D up to 2,000 IU per day. Those knowledgeable about diet and nutrition will recommend up to 10,000 IU per day, especially during late fall/winter/early spring — and summer, if you can’t or don’t get adequate sun). Or if you live in an area that doesn’t get enough sunshine year-round, like the Pacific Northwest.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so you should take it with healthy fats or oils. But you can’t get the right dose or form in those useless little once-a-day pills. So — I recommend taking vitamin D in liquid form added to any beverage.

And remember, regardless of the recent scare-tactic headlines, real vitamin D overdose is relatively rare. So — go ahead and take a daily vitamin D supplement, even on the days you spend time in the sun. For many reasons, you should let the sun shine in, and on your skin, this summer.


“Vitamin D deficiency, its role in health and disease, and current supplementation recommendations,” Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, May 2017; 117: 301-305