The sun is both loved and feared, and many people either worship its life-giving warmth or shun it altogether. As fear of skin cancer related to UV exposure became widespread, individuals around the globe began shying away from natural sunlight. Many skin cancer campaigns urged listeners to avoid sun exposure whenever possible and slather skin with extra-strength sun block in preparation for even the most brief encounter with the sun. While this advice might’ve had good intentions, the results have had other consequences.
Effects of Vitamin D Deficiency
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, researchers are afraid that past recommendations for avoiding the sun may be increasing the rates of hypertension and heart disease.  Prolonged exposure to sunlight may increase disease risk as well as speed up the visible signs of aging. Moderate, daily exposure on the other hand can actually prevent these effects. It sounds paradoxical, but most things related to health usually are. Sunlight is also important for maintaining a healthy mood, regulating your sleep cycles, and supporting your immune system. Extreme measures to avoiding sunlight exposure may deprive you of Vitamin D, which is believed to offer a number of essential health benefits. Some of the effects related to vitamin D deficiency include:
1. Increased Blood Pressure
Research has consistently shown that there is a direct correlation between vitamin D deficiency and high blood pressure.  According to a recent study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, 30 minutes of UV exposure may lower blood pressure by triggering natural stores of nitric oxide in the skin, which causes small blood vessels to dilate.  Other studies have found that people tend to have lower blood pressure during the summer, and the further you live from the equator, the higher the odds are that you will suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease.
2. Heart Disease and Stroke
If sun exposure reduces blood pressure, it may also be able to prevent heart disease and stroke.  High blood pressure is a huge risk factor for these types of health conditions, both of which account for 30 percent of annual deaths across the globe. People at risk for heart disease should probably look into checking their vitamin D levels (ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test) and possibly supplement with a vegan form of vitamin D3.
3. Immune System Suppression
A deficiency of vitamin D can actually contribute to the suppression of the immune system.  This may be why colds and flu often occur during the winter months when people are indoors for the majority of the day.
Vitamin D Guidelines
While it is important to be mindful of UV rays’ potential for skin damage, responsible sun exposure is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Sunlight is ideal for producing natural vitamin D, but a vitamin D3 supplement may be necessary, especially during the winter months. Experts suggest that if the UV index is less than three, it may be fine for most individuals to go out in the sun without protection. When the UV index is three or above, however, protective measures for your skin are encouraged, including sunscreen application and wearing proper clothing. Experts note that the early morning and late afternoon are the safest times to go out in the sun, while the middle of the day is when UV rays are most intense and have the highest potential for harm.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Skin
Vitamin D is essential, and we need some form of sunlight exposure every day to keep our health and wellbeing running smoothly. At the same time, overexposure can age the skin quickly and contribute to disease risk. Since the skin on your face is thinner than other areas of your body, it is best to apply an organic sunscreen to your face and neck, exposing your arms and legs to the sun for vitamin D production. After about 15 to 20 minutes of mid-day exposure, it may be best to find some type of protection from the direct rays of the sun. This is dependent on your skin type, but most people should avoid being in direct sunlight beyond 30 minutes.
- Julia Medew. Skin cancer fears blinding people to health benefits of sunlight, say scientists. The Sydney Morning Herald. November 18, 2014.
- Tamez H, Thadhani RI. Vitamin D and hypertension: an update and review. Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2012 Sep;21(5):492-9. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0b013e3283557bf0.
- Vimaleswaran KS, Cavadino A, Berry DJ, et al. Association of vitamin D status with arterial blood pressure and hypertension risk: a mendelian randomisation study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014 Sep;2(9):719-29. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587 (14)70113-5.
- Gouni-Berthold I, Krone W, Berthold HK. Vitamin D and cardiovascular disease. Curr Vasc Pharmacol. 2009 Jul;7(3):414-22.
- Cynthia Aranow, MD. Vitamin D and the Immune System. J Investig Med. Aug 2011; 59(6): 881-886. doi: 10.231/JIM.0b013e31821b8755.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.