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The debate around this seems to focus on one thing only: are you getting enough vitamin D?

Where does vitamin D come from and what does it do?

Vitamin D production occurs naturally in the body through contact with UV radiation. Unfortunately – and exacerbated by the hole in our ozone layer – UV radiation also causes skin cancer.

Some small amounts of vitamin D can be found in foods such as fish and eggs. These amounts, however, should be deemed as small contributors only at about 10%.

How does sunscreen work?

Sunscreen provides a physical barrier to the sun’s rays. This barrier sits atop the skin, but can deteriorate through actions like sweating, swimming or friction from other surfaces. In some cases, sunscreen can be even more effective than clothing.

Why is wearing sunscreen beneficial to my skin?

There are two strong arguments to wear sunscreen daily: cosmetic and health.

The sun damages the body and increase the skin’s ageing process through a combination of its various types of UV rays. Prolonged sun exposure leads to less healthy-looking and less resilient skin at a faster rate than is otherwise natural.

More critically, skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in Australia. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation – particularly in the summer months and between the hours of 10am and 4pm – can lead to a significantly higher risk of skin cancer.

Daily use of sunscreen protects against both risks, but also provides a nourishing and moisturising effect on the skin that, over time, helps it to remain supple. Daily use comes with a risk, however, and complete protection from the sun can lead to low vitamin D.

What are the risks of low vitamin D?

Low vitamin D can lead to bone and muscle pain and a weaker and more fragile muscular-skeletal system. It has also been linked to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and mental health conditions.

If you believe you have or are at low risk of low vitamin D, a blood test from your doctor will be able to check up your levels.

If UV radiation is both beneficial and dangerous, what can you do?

Taking a balanced approach to sun exposure – hard as it might sound – is the best approach possible. Current recommendations are:

  • up to 30 minutes of sunlight in the middle of the day during colder months, and
  • 10 minutes during the mid-morning or mid-afternoon in the hotter months.

These recommendations provide a good excuse to go for a walk or do some exercise, but also allow room for applying sunscreen as a part of your daily routine either first thing in the morning or following afternoon sun exposure.