Does sunscreen block vitamin D? A dermatologist weighs in

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, SPF is a total non-negotiable. But are the rumours that it blocks vitamin D true? And is it something we need to worry about? Stylist asks the experts.

There are so many misconceptions and myths around sunscreen. Think you don’t need to wear it indoors? Think again. Think the SPF in your foundation or moisturiser is enough to keep you protected? Sorry to break it to you, but it probably isn’t. And one of the questions causing the biggest confusion is this: does sunscreen block vitamin D?

Now, a sturdy SPF is meant to create a shield, protecting skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. And when applied (and reapplied) correctly, it is pretty incredible at doing just that. But given it puts up a strong defence against sun damage, it makes sense why some people are worried that it also blocks out much-needed vitamin D.

According to Dr Marko Lens, surgeon and founder and creator of Zelens skincare, our concerns are misplaced. 

“There is no evidence that sunscreen blocks vitamin D or that it decreases vitamin D concentration in real life,” he reveals. “The suggestion that sunscreen blocks vitamin D comes from some experimental studies that used artificially generated ultraviolet radiation with a spectral output unlike that seen in terrestrial sunlight.” 

In other words, he can understand why this rumour exists, but asserts that there’s little to no data that truly backs up such a claim.

That clears that up, but then there’s also the circulating idea that we could benefit from a little SPF-free time everyday. Is that fact or fiction? 

“Recently many dermatologists were recommending 10 -20 minutes of exposure to the sun without SPF,” Dr Lens continues. “I do not see the point in this if we know that in vivo sunscreens do not block the production of vitamin D.”

Put it this way, you can continue to apply your SPF generously every two hours without affecting your vitamin D levels. 

However, if you’re still concerned your body isn’t getting quite enough vitamin D, or you want to school yourself on why this vitamin is so important, we asked Jenny Carson, MRes, BSc (Hons), Nutritional Practitioner at Viridian Nutrition, for her insight.

Why is vitamin D important?

“Vitamin D is intricately involved in immunity, necessary in every immune cell,” Carson explains. “It has been shown to work with lactic acid producing beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to drive down inflammation and contribute to improved gastrointestinal health.” In fact vitamin D is thought to be important for the majority of the inner workings of our bodies. “Vitamin D receptors are found within all human organs including the heart, kidney, bone and skin, which means that adequate vitamin D is necessary for those organs to function normally,” she continues.

Vitamin D is also believed to have an affect on our mood. “Research shows that supplemental vitamin D can improve mood in those who suffer with seasonal affective disorder, colloquially referred to as the winter blues,” Carson adds.

How can you tell if you’re low on vitamin D?

“Symptoms of vitamin D inadequacy can be subtle, hard to identify, or even symptomless,” Carson warns. “However, an increased frequency of infections, ongoing fatigue, unexplained back or lower body pain, poor wound healing and low mood can be general indications.” 

What’s the best way to boost vitamin D?

Our supply of vitamin D comes, for the most part, from sun exposure. That’s why we might notice the effects of low vitamin D are more pronounced in the winter months as this is when “the sun is too low in the sky for vitamin D metabolism to occur in the skin,” Carson explains.

As we’re stuck inside more than usual, Carson recommends upping your intake of vitamin D-rich foods instead. She lists “oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines besides dairy, eggs and mushrooms” as good sources. After that, you can start to consider a vitamin D3 supplement, such as Viridian Nutrition D3 capsules, £34.45 for 150 or Solgar’s Vitamin D3 tablets, £9.25 for 90.

Images: Getty.

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