It's called the "sunshine vitamin" for a reason: Vitamin D has the power to protect against a whole host of diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease and some cancers (breast, prostate and colon). What's more, sunlight has other hidden benefits—like protecting against depression, insomnia and an overactive immune system.
But, with all the chatter about sun protection, are we losing out on the superpowers of vitamin D? Yes and no.
While we may have gone a little overboard with completely covering up, it's still true that any sun exposure to UVB rays can interact with our DNA to cause damage that builds up over our lifetimes.
So how do we get the broad-spectrum benefits of vitamin D without all that damage to our silky skin? Let's start with some hard truth: If you live north of Atlanta, Georgia, you can't get the vitamin D you need between mid-September and mid-March. The angle at which the sun hits the atmosphere doesn't allow the right type of rays to get to your skin. And that means that you should definitely consider supplementing with some diet and lifestyle changes.
3 Ways to Get a Healthy Dose of Vitamin D
The U.S. government recommends that everyone under age 50 gets 200 IUs of vitamin D a day (once you hit 50, then the recommended dose is 400 IUs; if you're over 70, then 600 IUs is the magic number). But a lot of experts believe those recs are way too low to maintain healthful vitamin D levels—something closer to 2,000 IUs per day in the winter is what they advocate. You can increase your dose in three ways.
- Get outside. In the summer, 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on arms, legs, hands and face each day can help promote optimal vitamin D levels. Going for a walk or exercising outside is the easiest way to get your fill (but if you'll be outside for longer, you NEED a good SPF). Consider an antioxidant-rich body oil or serum after your time in the sun as a way to help skin stay healthy too.
- Eat your vitamins. Adjusting your diet, especially in the winter, to include vitamin-D-rich foods is a pretty simple way to increase your levels of the sunshine vitamin. Try salmon, mackerel or herring (especially wild-caught), oysters, sardines, beef liver or eggs. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, try mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight.
- Supplement—literally. It can be tricky to get enough of the sunshine vitamin in your food, so consider a high-quality supplement. Cod liver oil is incredibly high in vitamin D, and the D3 supplements (the kind our skin synthesizes when exposed to sunlight) you can buy at a co-op or health food store make getting enough complex vitamin D as easy as pouring your morning cup of coffee (or tea).
Preserving your skin and getting your adequate dose of vitamin D don't have to be mutually exclusive. Be smart, and you'll reap the incredible benefits of the sunshine vitamin, one day at a time.