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I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ). I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Follow me on twitter @juliannejtaylor

Summer – it is time to sunbathe at midday without sunblock to get your Vitamin D

Apologies to all our Northern Hemisphere friends. But this is New Zealand, and at last the days are starting to get warm enough to strip down to a t-shirt. The length of our shadows are now shorter than our bodies which means we can now make vitamin D ourselves, simply by letting the sun shine on our skin.

Yes – I am telling you to lie in the sun! Unfortunately we have all become sun scared. We lie out only before 10 am and after 2.00pm. We smother ourselves with block to stop every last bit of sun touching our bare skin.

However in doing so we have let our vitamin D levels become disastrously low. When I have asked clients to get their levels measured they were borderline low or low (below 50nmol/L) This has huge implications for health: poor immunity, bone strength, muscle strength, decreased protection from cancer, diabetes, auto-immune disease and numerous other health conditions.

I’ve written about the importance of vitamin D previously in this post, plus how to get enough through sun or supplements. There is increasing evidence that getting vitamin D naturally through sunlight is extremely important.

I found this slideshare by Dr Gerald Lewis that illustrates the problems with vitamin D deficiency and how to get enough. I’m going to just highlight a few on when to sunbathe and why. Dr Gerald Lewis Vitamin D Presentation

Points from slide: Ultraviolet light comes in 3 different spectrums, UVC, UVA and UVB. UVC is not a concern as it doesn’t get to earth. UVA and B do. Vitamin D is made in our skin when UVB shines on it. UVB is also the spectrum that causes burn – as you can see above, it reaches only the outermost layer of skin. UVA goes much deeper, it can also go through glass and water. However – it does not burn. This makes it more dangerous – as we don’t know when we have had too much. It goes deep inside the skin and can cause deep damage. This is where the melanin cells are. It will also cause you to age faster. (I remember UVA as aging and UVB as burning)

UVA exposure – the one that we can’t feel burning, is the one linked with aging and the worst skin cancer melanoma. What’s worse it that it comes through windows, and is not well blocked by standard sunscreens.

UVB causes more superficial damage and skin changes – but does increase vitamin D. So here is the issue – many of us get excessive amounts of UVA (sunbathing at either end of the day without block, sitting in an office all day with the sun streaming through a window, or in a car, or use a sunscreen which cuts UVB and not UVA) and we do not get enough UVB to build vitamin D levels and therefore protect ourselves from cancer (including skin cancer) and numerous other diseases and infections.

The best time to sunbathe to make maximum vitamin D with maximum UVB exposure is in the middle of the day, when the sun is directly overhead. Exactly what we have been told to avoid! Expose as much skin as possible with no sunblock, just for a few minutes, longer if you are darker skinned. Do not burn though.

If you don’t want to get sun on your skin at all – your best option is to cover up, or use a safe sun cream which blocks UVB and the entire spectrum of UVA. I recommend and use Invisible Zinc.

If you don’t get enough sun on your skin, perhaps because it is winter, and you live too far from the equator, or your level is low despite sunbathing – this can be the case if you are overweight or older – you will need to supplement to get enough Vitamin D3. I have written an entire post on this – so please go back and have a read, it should answer most of your vitamin D questions: Vitamin D – Ideal levels. How much should we take?

[Images taken from:  Dr Gerald Lewis Vitamin D Presentation]

For a number of really great posts on sunlight – see this link to “That Paleo Guy” Jamie Scott Sunlight and Vitamin D posts

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11 Responses to “Summer – it is time to sunbathe at midday without sunblock to get your Vitamin D”

  1. Hi!
    Thanks for this post!
    I am very very low on Vitamin D and Im living in Brisbane (the Sunshine State!)..but am a Kiwi.
    My doctor has me on 10,000 units a day of Vit D at the moment.
    I have been eating Paleo autoimmune for the past two months… such an answer to my prayers for my poor leaky gut, coeliacs and graves disease.
    I would love to go back to study nutrition and work in this area!

    November 20, 2012 at 9:28 pm Reply
  2. Cassiel #

    I’m so happy to have posts relevant to the Southern Hemisphere! Please keep ‘em coming! ;) Not that I mind reading Northern Hemisphere posts about summer in July, because I can always use them when the time is right… but it IS nice to read “summer” posts when it really is summer. (I’m in rural NSW, Australia.)

    We recently moved rural, and now actually have a backyard instead of living in an apartment, and it is really nice to be able to step out into the yard at midday and get a little sun! We often take our (paleo) lunch out there to eat while we get our Vitamin D. It’s only been a little over a month so I can hardly say if it’s actually made any difference yet, but it really helps mentally — being able to soak up that sunlight in the middle of each day helps me feel more vibrant and with-it.

    I come from Irish/English/German stock, so I’m white as fishbelly and can only tolerate a little sun without burning, but it’s nice to get it! Also, I’ve noticed that since I went paleo (about a year and a half ago?) it takes longer for me to burn than it used to. I wonder if there’s any documentation out there about that?

    November 20, 2012 at 11:18 pm Reply
  3. I’ve learned to use sunblock on my hands while driving in summer. I’ll get the invisible zinc.
    Taking higher vitamin D was really something that changed my life; I was falling sick with colds and flu every few weeks, had a brush with pneumonia – I was taking about 3,000iu including cod liver oil (I’m thinking now the fish oil wasn’t helping) when Karen from Glen Eden Good Health said – “You need MORE vitamin D! Try 10,000iu”.
    Lo and behold, she was right, and in the year and more since then I’ve had one short cold.
    I also felt stronger, pain-free, got fitter, my nerves settled, I got more done, like it really is a hormone. I still take 10,000 once or twice a week now, if the sun isn’t shining.

    November 21, 2012 at 7:36 am Reply
    • Honora #

      I took a bottle of the Green Pastures brand “Blue Ice” butter oil/fermented cod liver oil over 2 months (April, May). The result? My vit D level dropped from 35 nmol/L down to an even more appalling 30 nmol/L. Not impressed. I suspect it was the vitamin A in the mix that was the culprit. I’ve pretty much figured I need 5,000i.u. of Vit D3 a day as 1,750i.u. (the standard prescribed dose) gets it up to about 65nmol/L. The vitamin D council say it really needs to be above 75nmol/L to do the trick and I’d like it to be nudging 150nmol/L. I’ve worked out that here in Chch we get no UVB after March 15 until Sept 30 as the sun needs to be 50 degrees above the horizon to allow UVB penetrate to ground level.

      November 21, 2012 at 7:42 pm Reply
      • I think that we get too much vit A with codliver oil, and this can interfere with the Vit D. I prefer to take a little codliver oil and a decent amount of vit D and fish oil omega 3

        November 22, 2012 at 4:05 pm Reply
  4. I have such a problem with the general public out there recommending that “we all need more direct sunshine” it pisses me off incredibly. I have had 2 x melanomas removed, countless BCCs and have just undergone treatment for my whole face and chest for pre-cancerous cells. All of these are the direct result of sun damage. I am loathe to spend any time in the sun due to the existing level of sun damage I have. I’m 42 and of Blitey descent :) I use Invisible Zinc as my daily sunscreen on my face and back of hands. For me the idea of exposing my body between 10am – 2pm just for a short period of time sends shivers of fear up my spine. I think I will consider exposing my least damaged areas, ie my torso and upper thighs whilst keep my face completely out of the sun.
    Sorry if that came across poorly, What I mean is that I like your post because it contains information about UVA and UVB and some safety guidelines. What does piss me of and is making me very tired is every Tom, Dick and Harry telling me that I shouldn’t wear a hat all the time, “don’t we know that Australia’s gripped by a Vit D deficiency” and also that I should allow my children to get some sun on their skin to “toughen their skin up”. There are raw foodies, Paleos, GAPS and other eaters galore out there prosletysing in their blogs that we need more direct sun, but your the first to do it with information and advise ‘safe’ sunning – my dermatologist would argue that there’s no such thing.

    Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy it.

    November 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm Reply
  5. I can understand your reluctance to lie in the sun. If I was in your position I would probably stick to vitamin D supplement. Plus a high antioxidant / plant diet to keep skin more resiliant to sun damage. I would also limit damaged fats and eat oily fish or take only good quality fish oil for the omega 3 – which supresses cancer cells, and limit omega 6 which can promote cancer growth.

    November 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm Reply
  6. Thanks for your feedback on my poorly written comment! I will do some research on dietary improvements.

    November 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm Reply
  7. Great article Julianne!

    This is a real eye-opener. I tend to be one of those people who sun bake before 11 and after 2. ‘Never sunbake when your shadow is shorter than your height’ was the advice I adhered to.

    What you’re saying has really got me thinking.

    I’m currently in Asia and winter looks like it has arrived early – hardly any Sun recently. Time to hit the Vit D supplements.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Kristopher

    November 24, 2012 at 8:20 pm Reply

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