Debunking the myth of the benefits of "sunshine vitamin D"

Many people believe that summer is the perfect time to stay outdoors and sunbathe, during which they receive the required amount of vitamin D. This vitamin is necessary for us, as it helps our body to absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are so important to us for good health.

It is true that in the summer you should be more outdoors, and not sit within four walls, but the myth is the belief that you should get as much vitamin D as possible from the sun. Experts at the American Academy of Dermatology believe that the risk of DNA damage from sun exposure far outweighs the benefits of getting vitamin D - especially when we can easily and harmlessly get these nutrients from food and supplements.

It is true that sunlight triggers a chain reaction that helps our body produce vitamin D. In addition to visible light, the sun emits ultraviolet rays that are invisible to our eyes. These rays act on our skin, resulting in the production of a chemical that is carried by the blood to the liver, where it is converted into vitamin D.

The problem is that UVB rays damage the DNA in our skin cells. Sunburn is actually the body's immune response when trying to repair DNA. The pink, swollen flesh is the result of a surge of immune cells coming from the dilated blood vessels underneath the burned skin. If the sun's rays have really damaged your DNA, your body will reject the damaged skin and simply shed it - the skin will peel off. DNA damage from overexposure to UV rays over time can also lead to skin cancer.

Henry Lim, a dermatologist and president of the American Academy of Dermatology, says the findings on vitamin D and sunlight are due in part to a 2014 study in which scientists looked at blood levels of vitamin D and DNA damage in people vacationing in the mountains or on the beach. Although 71 vacationers had higher vitamin D levels after 6 days of sun exposure, they also had higher levels of the chemical, indicating that the body was trying to repair genetic damage. The study authors conclude that it is much healthier to get your vitamin D from foods such as egg yolks and fish (as well as fortified milk or orange juice).

“There is no major research to prove that getting vitamin D from the sun through the skin is better than with food or supplements, ” says Lim.

This does not mean that you have to stay indoors all year round. “Doctors should encourage people to spend time outdoors, ” says Lim. Hiking, running, swimming, and even just walking are great ways to exercise and socialize.

But it's best to do this by protecting yourself from UV rays with a thick coat of broad-spectrum sunscreen. While UVA rays do not damage DNA like UVB rays, they contribute to the appearance of wrinkles, Lim says.