Angela asks…My husband recently read an article (from Australia, but I can’t remember the source now) claiming that we shouldn’t be using sunscreens. I think the basis of the article was that many people are vitamin D deficient, and that applying sunscreen prevents the production of vitamin D. It suggested that the risk of skin cancer was low compared to the vast benefits of vitamin D. In all your experience/ readings, is there any truth to that or can I continue preaching the virtues of sunscreen to my outdoor loving hubbie? And if I were to stop using all sunscreen, wouldn’t I look like an old leather shoe as I age?
The Beauty Brains respond:
Hi Angela. Please tell your husband that you should NOT stop using sunscreens. The idea that sunscreens cause vitamin D deficiency is a myth.
What’s the deal with vitamin D?
There are several “D” vitamins. The two most important are vitamin D2 (cholecalciferol) and Vitamin D3 (ergocalciferol). These control absorption of important minerals (such as iron, magnesium and zinc) in our intestines. Without sufficient Vitamin D our bodies don’t process these minerals properly which decreases the hardness of our bones (a condition called rickets or osteomalacia.) Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to a compromised immune system. Some cancers, such as prostate, colon and breast, have even been linked to a lack of vitamin D.
Vitamin D can be obtained through diet or it can be produced by our bodies, with exposure to adequate sunlight. Since sunscreens prevent sunlight from interacting with our skin, it’s not surprising that this notion that they can impair our ability to product Vitamin D has been raised. Let’s review the key points of this controversy.
Myth: People who live in sunny climates experience fewer deaths from prostate, colon and breast cancers.
Fact: Two doctors from the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine have analyzed the studies which claim to link these cancers with sun exposure. Their analysis shows these studies to be of “variable quality” because they may be confounded by other factors including additional climatic factors variations in population genetics, diet and lifestyle. They concluded that these studies “cannot establish that solar exposure decreases incidence or mortality from these cancers.” Here’s a link if you’d like to read all the details: http://www.skincancer.org/healthy-lifestyle/vitamin-d/the-d-dilemma
Myth: The risk of vitamin D deficiency is greater than the risk of skin cancer
Fact: Over-exposure to UV radiation is strongly linked to skin cancer through a combination of animal and human population studies (as well as DNA research). There are than 1.3 million new annual cases diagnosed in the U.S., most of which can be attributed to sun exposure. In addition, UV radiation is a major cause of photo-aging and contributes to wrinkles, saggy skin, brown spots, and the “old leather shoe” look that Angela is rightfully worried about. The dangers of sun exposure outweigh the concerns about vitamin D deficiency.
Myth: The best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is to get 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure
Fact: The authors of the above mentioned study point out alternative ways to boost vitamin D levels that do not require sun exposure. For example, you can eat more foods that are naturally rich in vitamin D (like salmon); you can drink beverages that are fortified with vitamin D (like milk or orange juice); or you can take multivitamins which contain 600 units of vitamin D. These alternatives are easy and much safer for your skin.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
The scientific consensus is that it’s important to wear sunscreen to reduce your risk of skin cancer. It’s also important to eat a healthy diet to ensure an adequate supply of vitamin D. Those two health goals are NOT mutually exclusive. So tell your outdoor-loving hubby to suit up (with sunscreen) before he goes outside.