By Bernard I Raskin, M.D.
Recently controversy emerged about whether sun exposure is necessary for creating Vitamin D. Vitamin D is naturally produced in the body by Ultraviolet sun light exposure. Vitamin D is necessary for your health and may prevent prostate, colon, breast, and other cancers. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, immune system functioning, and more.
Just 5-10 minutes of UV (ultraviolet) exposure from the sun two to three times a week over a small area of skin is sufficient for most Caucasians to create vitamin D. Further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing Vitamin D levels. Keep in mind that even when you wear a high SPF sunscreen, some UV reaches the skin, and this may be plenty for fair-skinned individuals.
But sometimes the cure can be worse than the condition. All unprotected UV exposure contributes to cumulative skin damage, accelerating aging and increasing our lifetime risk of skin cancer. UV is an officially recognized environmental carcinogen. There are about 2 million skin cancers diagnosed yearly in the United States mostly caused by sun exposure. Sun exposure also causes wrinkles, brown spots, leathering and sagging.
You can obtain Vitamin D largely from food or supplements while following a skin cancer prevention program. There are effective almost effortless alternatives to sun exposure for achieving adequate Vitamin D. A diet containing Vitamin D fortified orange juice or milk is helpful. Salmon and other fatty fish naturally contain vitamin D. Or simply taking daily multivitamins containing 600 units of Vitamin D.
So 5-10 minutes is sufficient to produce vitamin D. But skin degeneration begins after just 2 minutes of sun!!! That means permanent destruction of collagen under the skin begins in 2 minutes. Collagen is the supporting framework for your skin—good full collagen keeps the skin from wrinkling. And once that collagen support degenerates, it’s impossible to completely rebuild that framework ever again. Even worse is the collagen destruction that began after 2 minutes of sunlight may continue for hours even though you only had a 2 minute exposure!! The reason is that 2 minutes of UV exposure causes skin cells to release a chemical known as proteinase which grinds away at the collagen structure for hours. Fortunately we have effective methods to reduce proteinase activity, and we suggest you contact your dermatologist for more information on preventive techniques. But remember, 2 minutes is the magic number.