It was not until recent history when scientists discovered that sun exposure was a major factor in the aging process as well as dermatologic health. Once studies revealed that a high percentage of skin cancers were caused by sun exposure and tanning, we began hearing the message that we should stay out of the sun. This message has remained loud and clear for the past few decades. If we go outdoors, we should spend as little time in the sun as possible during peak hours. Whenever we go outdoors, even during the winter, we should slather on the necessary amount of sunscreen. By doing this, we can save our skin.
While new habits may be diminishing worldwide cases of skin cancer, they have created a new problem: vitamin D deficiency. This is an important matter because vitamin D provides necessary physiological support that we need for long-term health. The body needs an adequate level of vitamin D (a level of 20 nanograms/milliliter to 50 ng/mL is considered adequate for healthy people) to properly:
Vitamin D deficiency may lead to:
We cannot argue that sunlight is entirely bad when science clearly indicates it is necessary for vitamin D production. Since very few foods are rich in vitamin D, it is necessary to find the balance between too little and too much sun exposure. For people who have light skin, 20 minutes of sunlight is sufficient to stimulate vitamin D production (the body converts cholesterol to vitamin D during that time). For people who have darker skin, exposure can increase to as much as 2 hours (very dark skin).
There are proven ways to protect the skin from unnecessary sun damage. One is to get only the amount of sunlight needed to support adequate vitamin D (early morning sun is best). If sun exposure turns the skin red, you’ve had more than enough. Another is to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen after necessary sunlight exposure. Finally, routine skin examinations should be scheduled with your dermatologist to obtain a clear idea of your skin cancer risk.