Sunscreen has always been an essential part of summer, especially over the past 10 years as we have learned more about its benefits. It protects us from UV rays, painful sunburns, and helps prevent skin cancer. But debates have risen Suntanning on the beachover whether or not sunscreen is actually detrimental to our health. While we have been taught that the sun emits powerful and dangerous UV rays, some physicians and scientists are arguing that UV rays provide vitamin D, which can assist in preventing certain cancers and bone diseases. So does this mean we should stop wearing sunscreen?

You may want to hold off on throwing away your summer supply. According to vitamin D advocates, vitamin D is the new miracle worker, helping with everything from cancer to weight control to high blood pressure. One of the best ways to obtain this essential nutrient is to go outside and bask in the sun to catch some UV rays, all while leaving the skin protection behind. Some claim that Americans have been scared away from sun exposure, resulting in a greater number of people suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Other health issues that can contribute to low vitamin D include darker skin, obesity or gastrointestinal issues which can all reduce the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D.

Vitamin D deficiency in itself can be extremely painful, as it causes weak muscles, fatigue, skeletal deformities and soft bones. Although there is evidence that vitamin D is essential for bone health, it’s ability to prevent certain cancers and high blood pressure has yet to be proven. Still, some physicians are recommending that people decrease or even abandon their use of sunscreen.

The majority of scientists and physicians still believe that sunscreen is a crucial element during the summer months since skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions. The United States sees a shocking 1.3 million people diagnosed with skin cancer annually, most cases stemming from sun exposure. Many cancer groups, physicians and dermatologists still argue that any type of sun exposure leads to some form of skin damage, including skin cancer, rapid aging, brown spots, leathering or sagging. And, as helpful as vitamin D is said to be, the tradeoff between unproven studies and a definitive link between sun exposure and skin cancer is just not worth the risk.

So how should we get our vitamin D? Since it is vital to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, many foods have been enriched with vitamin D and supplements are easily accessible at the grocery store or pharmacy. However, the most natural way to get your daily dose of vitamin D can be found in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and herring.

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that the average person get 600 IU (international units) of vitamin D a day and 800 IU for people 70 and older. Also, even the strongest of sunscreens are unable to stop all UV rays from reaching our skin. Fortunately, the amounts sun that reaches your skin may be enough to provide all the vitamin D that a body needs in a day.  If you’re not sure whether you are getting enough a simple Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy test will let you know if you need to up your outdoor time, adjust your diet or add vitamin D supplements to your daily regimen.

So while the sunshine feels lovely, be sure to wear sunscreen. There are too many easy alternatives for obtaining vitamin D to excuse yourself from doing so, especially when you balance it with such a high skin cancer risk!

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