Can you absorb vitamin D while wearing sunscreen?

Vitamin D is an amazing nutrient in the body that’s a key part of nurturing bone, teeth and muscle health. It’s estimated that 23% of Australian adults and 32% of US adults are vitamin D deficient.

Sunlight is our main source of vitamin D, but UV rays also cause skin cancer.

So does sunscreen affect our ability to produce this magical vitamin we receive from the sun?

According to a 2019 study published in the New British Journal of Dermatology, wearing sunscreen has little effect on the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D.

"Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D. Sunscreens can prevent sunburn and skin cancer, but there has been a lot of uncertainty about the effects of sunscreens on vitamin D," said lead author Prof. Antony Young, of King's College London.

"Our study, during a week of perfect weather in Tenerife, showed that sunscreens, even when used optimally to prevent sunburn, allowed excellent vitamin D synthesis."

The reason seems to be that most people don’t apply sunscreen properly and the spots missed — like the scalp, or between fingers — absorb enough UV for vitamin D production.

Another Australian study found that sufficient sunlight is received over an Australian summer, even when wearing sunscreen.

So how do we get the right amount of sunlight?

It doesn’t actually take much sun exposure for the body to produce Vitamin D

Research indicates that 10-15 minutes of sun exposure to arms, legs, abdomen and back two the three times a week, produces all the vitamin D our body’s need.

After that point, the body dispels excess Vitamin D to avoid overload, at which point additional sun exposure is really just providing nothing but sun damage. Our body also stores vitamin D in our tissues, which lasts 1-2 months — so exposure to the sun all year round may not be necessary.

A set of guidelines was issued by the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral society, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, the Cancer Council Australia, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia in January 2016 which outlines:

Sun protection is recommended when outdoors for more than a few minutes when the UV index is 3 or above in the middle of the day (most of the year). Most Australians will have enough incidental exposure for sufficient vitamin D levels