Linda Edison

If you listen to the media, you might think that going out into the summer sun—or even the spring or autumn sun—with any bare skin showing is a sure path to skin cancer. From the sun-worshiping 1980s with all its products intended to get a deeper, darker tan, the pendulum has swung the other direction. Today it almost feels like we need full-body protective gear complete with face shield in order to comply with “sun safety” guidelines. The result? Millions of people who are deficient in vitamin D. And that’s a very bad thing for our health.

While the idea has been scoffed at by mainstream medicine in the past, the evidence that low vitamin D levels play a role in many diseases is mounting. The most recent research points to low vitamin D levels as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. And in spite of the hysteria surrounding sun exposure, the experts tell us that it’s sun burns that really put us at risk for skin cancer. That’s a far cry from the message we routinely receive—to stay out of the sun at all costs.

The truth is, your body needs regular exposure to sunlight in order to make vitamin D. It’s impossible to get the vitamin D you need from your diet, and though supplements are available they’re a different form than the vitamin naturally produced by your body, and don’t provide nearly the dosage that your body makes naturally when your skin is exposed to sunlight.

So how much sun exposure do you need in order to maintain healthy vitamin D levels? That depends on several factors: your skin tone, the time of day, your geographical location, and the season. Darker skin needs more time in the sun than fair skin, and the farther north you are the more time you need. A good general rule of thumb is that you need about half the amount of time it takes for your skin to turn pink and start to sunburn. Midday, when the sun’s rays are most direct, is the best time of day to get your sunshine—from about 11 am to 3 pm—and you need to uncover a large area of skin like both your arms and legs or your back. Simply leaving your face and arms uncovered is not enough.

The sun is not your enemy, regardless of what the sunblock makers would have you think. In fact, it’s vital to your health and wellbeing. Twenty years of anti-sun hysteria have taken their toll, and we’re beginning to see the effects of widespread vitamin D deficiency. The good news is, all it takes is a few minutes outdoors each day to correct the problem.