Your Sunscreen May Cause Vitamin D Deficiency

People use sunscreen to protect their skin from the harmful effects of the sun. The product promises to prevent sunburn and premature aging but it may come with an unexpected side effect. 

The sun can either harm or help you stay healthy. Enough exposure to sunlight can give good amounts of vitamin D but too much may cause skin problems. 

Sunscreen could help prevent any damage by covering the skin. However, dermatologists warned the product may also block the entry of vitamin D, which could lead to its deficiency. 

Applying a thick layer of sunscreen "can effectively block sunlight and cause a lack of vitamin D synthesis in skin," according to Henry Lim, chair emeritus of the department of dermatology at the Henry Ford Health System and former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. The potentially harmful amount is nearly 1 ounce or the size of one golf ball. 

Lim also said the people who apply sunscreen also use hats and SPF-protected clothing to fully cover their body. The combination of sunscreen and clothes increases their risk of vitamin D deficiency

"For the vast majority of the public, there should be no concern with vitamin D levels, but for those who practice rigorous protection, namely, wearing photoprotective clothing, hats, staying in the shade when outdoors, and applying sunscreen -- they do have a higher risk," Lim said.

But he noted vitamin D deficiency may not always be directly linked to sunscreen use. People commonly apply less than the harmful amount, just enough to protect their skin and let a little sunlight to enter, CNN reported Wednesday.

One study in Australia found that both people who used a broad spectrum sunscreen or a placebo cream had adequate levels of vitamin D during the summer. Lim explained that exposing at least 15 percent to 20 percent of the body to sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes for two to three times a week could give good amounts of the nutrient. 

However, it may come with consequences. Unprotected exposure for the same period of time could eventually lead to skin problems. 

"When the skin tans, there is DNA damage, and so with repeated low-dose exposure, the DNA damage could accumulate and potentially increase the risk of skin cancer and photoaging," Lim said. 

He suggested that people continue using sunscreen to avoid harmful effects of the sun and take a daily multivitamin and eat healthy diets, including fish and yogurt, to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

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