Health Watch

Safe sun and vitamin D

Do you avoid going out into the sun because you burn easily? Or, do you slather yourself with sunscreen whenever the sun comes out (or even when it doesn’t)?  If so, you may be one of the many people in Ireland who are deficient in Vitamin D. This can happen VERY easily here! If you are not sure why you should care, read on…

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin
Although we call it Vitamin D, it really is the most powerful steroid hormone in your body! It talks to your genes, instructing them to make hundreds of enzymes and proteins crucial to maintaining health.  So, if you don’t get enough it can be serious.
Many people know that vitamin D is essential for healthy bones but lack of Vitamin D has also been connected with higher incidence of:

  •   Alzheimer’s disease
  •   Autism
  •   Certain cancers
  •   Depression
  •   Diabetes
  •   Gum disease
  •   Heart disease
  •   High blood pressure
  •   Inflammatory bowel diseases
  •   Multiple sclerosis
  •   Obesity
  •   Parkinson’s disease
  •   Rheumatoid arthritis
  •   Tuberculosis

Sunlight is essential for the health of your immune system, which may be one reason we tend to get more colds in the winter. It also stimulates the production of MSH, an important hormone in weight loss and energy production, in addition to giving you a suntan.

Are you getting enough?
Vitamin D is so important to our health that checking vitamin D levels should be  routine. We can provide you with a highly reliable home Vitamin D test kit.

But if you burn very easily, how can you get your vitamin D?  Naturally, one way is to take a supplement. Interestingly, people who sunburned easily in the past and then supplemented with Vitamin D to optimum levels have noticed LESS of a tendency to burning.

In Ireland the sun is not in a good position for making Vitamin D between the middle of August and the end of April, so supplementing during this time is prudent if you don’t manage to get in a sunshine holiday.  For dark-skinned people living in Ireland, supplementation is essential at all times of the year.

Practicing “safe sun”
Practicing “safe sun” includes getting ENOUGH without getting burnt. Before humans started living in buildings, wearing clothes and using sunscreens, we got A LOT of sun and A LOT of vitamin D. Now some of us go for days, weeks, or even months without getting any to speak of.

In Ireland, the best time for making vitamin D is in the middle of the day.  A rule of thumb:  If you can see your shadow and it is shorter than you are, then throw off every scrap of clothing you possibly can for 20 minutes or so (the skin on your torso is better at making vitamin D than your face, arms and legs). However, don’t do this in sunshine holiday locations!  Sun-hungry Irish people are prone to getting too much sun exposure too quickly, resulting in sunburn and possibly long term skin damage.

The back of the neck is particularly sensitive to the sun, and overexposure could result in sunstroke.  Be particularly careful to keep it covered, for example, when cycling.

Sun protection products often contain skin- and body-unfriendly ingredients like mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum and parabens, so look for  more natural products.  And don’t underestimate the power of seeking shade, covering up and wearing a hat once you have gotten your quota.

Protective nutrients
Two nutrients that can reduce your chances of getting sunburned are essential fatty acids (EFA’s) and astaxanthin. Is your skin smooth, soft and velvety? No?  Then you need more EFA’s from oily fish, seeds and supplements such as Eskimo Oil and Udo’s Oil. Astaxanthin is a natural sunscreen produced by marine algae as its own protection from sunburn, and it works a treat for people too! Start taking it a couple of weeks before going to the sun and during your holiday as well.

Don’t be mean to your skin
Two other tips for keeping your skin in good condition: First, choose a cream body wash such as those made by Weleda and Dr. Hauschka instead of foaming shower products that can dry out your skin. Second, moisturise your skin to prevent it from drying out with a body moisturiser made from safe ingredients.

Safe sun—not what you might think
Most of us don’t need to be paranoid about getting sun on our bare skin in Ireland.  At the right times, in the right amounts, sunlight is essential to good health. You know your skin better than anybody else, so use your experience and common sense.

On the other hand, getting sunburnt is asking for trouble.  It is not difficult to enjoy the many benefits of sunshine while protecting ourselves from unnecessary hazards.