Vitamin D and Sunscreen

In CategoryHealth News, Pharmacy

Swimming pools, barbeques, baseball games, golf… summer is in full swing and for many of us that means spending more time outside in the sun.  At this point, most of us are aware of the benefits of using sunscreen. In addition to preventing painful sunburns, sunscreen also appears to decrease the risk of certain skin cancers and helps prevent sun-related aging.  Unbeknownst to many sunscreen users is that these products also prevent the body from making adequate amounts of the hormone vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in a variety of plant and animal food sources, as well as vitamin supplements and fortified dairy products.  The fact is, the body most efficiently creates the majority of its vitamin D requirements through exposure to ultraviolet rays (sunlight).  Cholesterol in the skin is exposed to UV light, and it is transformed through a metabolic pathway to the hormone, vitamin D.  A mountain of research has shown the importance of vitamin D in supporting a variety of healthy processes in the body. These include maintaining healthy bones, optimizing brain function, supporting healthy pregnancies, and more.

Our modern lifestyles have moved us indoors and stressed the use of sunscreen, removing us from the most natural source of vitamin D. The resulting epidemic of low levels of vitamin D has been associated with increased risks of cancer, mental illness, and poor bone health, among other things.  One set of epidemiologists estimated that maintaining healthy vitamin D levels in Europeans would save their health care system billions at the rate of $1346 per person every year!1

Vitamin D may also aid in cancer prevention. One study found healthy vitamin D levels reduced the risk of developing breast cancer.  Women who were exposed to the highest vitamin D levels were 50% less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those in the study who were not receiving adequate vitamin D.2  It also appeared that women who had high vitamin D exposure during the adolescent years were 25-45% less likely to develop breast cancer.3

With this in mind, it is extremely important to ensure that you are receiving enough vitamin D, especially if you are not exposed to sunlight on a regular basis.  According to the Vitamin D Council, if adults and adolescents are not exposed to sunlight regularly, research indicates supplementation with 2-5,000 units (IU) of vitamin D daily. 4  To obtain this amount, one would need to consume at least 20 glasses of milk per day or take 10 standard multivitamin tablets.

The skin is capable of producing approximately 10,000 IU of vitamin D in response to 20–30 minutes of full summer sun exposure (no sunscreen) — 50 times more than the US government’s recommendation of 200 IU per day!  Why the big difference?  It turns out the recommended daily allowance is what is required to prevent a disease called rickets (softening of the bones), not what is required to keep other body processes functioning properly.

Come in for a consultation with one of our pharmacists to determine if you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.  We can help you increase your intake of vitamin D through quality, bioidentical vitamin D supplements to ensure that you are getting all that you need for optimal health. 

For more extensive information on Vitamin D, visit

Yours in Health,

Jon Lehan, PharmD

 1. William B Grant, William B. Grant, Heide S. Cross, Cedric F. Garland, Edward D. Gorham, Johan Moan, Meinrad Peterlik, Alina C. Porojnicu, Jorg Reichrathe, Armin Zittermann, Estimated benefit of increased vitamin D status in reducing the economic burden of disease in western Europe, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 4 (2009) 1–10.

2. Garland CF, et al. The role of vitamin D in cancer prevention. American Journal of Public Health 2006;96:252-258.

3. Knight JA, et al.  Potential reduction in breast cancer risk associated with vitamin D.  Proceedings for the American Association for Cancer Research, Volume 47: 2006.  Abstract #4009.


There have been recent recommendations by the Environmental Working Group on sunscreens.  To read the full report and help select a sunscreen, visit