Benefits of Sunbathing

health benefits of sunbathing- benefits far outweigh cancer risk!

Sunbathing and tanning often get a bad rap in our society, but mounting evidence is revealing that moderate sun exposure at healthy levels is not only safe, but necessary. While burning and extreme sun exposure can lead to a slightly increased cancer risk, Vitamin D (obtained from sun exposure) has been linked to a lower risk of many other cancers.

Vitamin D Important for Disease Prevention

In many cases we are (sometimes literally) cut off our noses to spite our face when it comes to the sun. One study at the Oslo University Hospital in Norway found that the benefits of sun exposure far surpassed any risk:

It can be estimated that increased sun exposure to the Norwegian population might at worst result in 200-300 more CMM deaths per year, but it would elevate the vitamin D status by about 25 nmol/l (nanomoles per liter) and might result in 4,000 fewer internal cancers and about 3,000 fewer cancer deaths overall.

Other studies have found links between low-vitamin D levels and Parkinson’s Disease, bone disease, blood clots, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. A recent study even found that regular sun exposure helped women to live longer. Yet another study found that regular sun exposure could cut breast cancer risk in half!

Vitamin D during Pregnancy and Nursing

Vitamin D is essential during pregnancy and nursing as adequate blood levels fo Vitamin D have been linked to lower premature labor and overall complication risk. Low Vitamin D levels can put a mom at higher risk for gestational diabetes and can lead to bone or other problems for the baby. Another recent study found that pregnant women should get more sun to increase several health markers for themselves and their babies.

This article from the Vitamin D council details the many ways that Vitamin D supports a healthy pregnancy, including:

Dr. Joyce Lee and her colleagues at the University of Michigan studied 40 pregnant women, the majority taking prenatal vitamins. Only two had blood levels >50 ng/mL and only three had levels >40 ng/mL. That is, 37 of 40 pregnant women had levels below 40 ng/mL, and the majority had levels below 20 ng/mL. More than 25% had levels below 10 ng/mL.

Dr. Lisa Bodnar, a prolific Vitamin D researcher, and her colleagues at the University of Pittsburg studied 400 pregnant Pennsylvania women; 63% had levels below 30 ng/mL and 44% of the black women in the study had levels below 15 ng/mL. Prenatal vitamins had little effect on the incidence of deficiency.

Dr. Dijkstra and colleagues studied 70 pregnant women in the Netherlands, none had levels above 40 ng/mL and 50% had levels below 10 ng/mL. Again, prenatal vitamins appeared to have little effect on 25(OH)D levels, as you might expect since prenatal vitamins only contain 400 IU of Vitamin D.

Thus, more than 95% of pregnant women have 25(OH)D levels below 50 ng/mL, the level that may indicate chronic substrate starvation. That is, they are using up any Vitamin D they have very quickly and do not have enough to store for future use. Pretty scary.

These chronic low Vitamin D levels during pregnancy can lead to increased risk of cesarean, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and vaginal infection in the mother and a higher risk of autism, mental disorders, infection, low birth weight and heart/lung/brain problems among others.

As a rule, in the absence of significant sun exposure, we believe that most healthy children need about 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily per 11 kg (25 lb) of body weight to obtain levels greater than 50 ng/mL. Some will need more, and others less. In our opinion, children with chronic illnesses such as autism, diabetes, and/or frequent infections should be supplemented with higher doses of sunshine or vitamin D3, doses adequate to maintain their 25(OH)D levels in the mid-normal of the reference range (65 ng/mL) — and should be so supplemented year-round (p. 868).”

Many kids aren’t even getting 1/4 of that on a good day, and often when they do, it comes from the less useable Vitamin D2. To this note, I would highly recommend testing your vitamin D levels, especially if pregnant!

Vitamin D and Oral Health

I’ve talked about this in depth before but I am convinced that the combination of low-vitamin D levels, low intake of other fat soluble vitamins/beneficial fats and high levels of phytic acid in the diet are partially to blame for the rampant oral health problems we see today. Since Vitamin D has been found so important during pregnancy, it is logical that if a mother has low amounts of blood Vitamin D, her baby could have trouble forming healthy bones and teeth.

In my own experience, optimizing my vitamin D levels, taking fermented cod liver oil, and removing phytic acid from my diet made a tremendous difference in my oral health.

Sunscreen?

Personally, I very rarely wear sunscreen, and only if I am going to be out for an extended period before I build up tolerance for the year. When I do, I only use homemade sunscreen bars or other natural options. Isn’t this dangerous? Not in my opinion and even with a risk of skin cancer in my family I don’t worry at all about regular daily sun exposure without sunscreen… here’s why:

From my research and own experience, I’ve found that the foods I consume have a direct effect on how my skin reacts to the sun. Some foods (like grains and vegetable oils) easily lead to burning, while others (like FCLO and coconut oil) let me stay out for hours. Statistically, skin cancer rates continue to rise, despite the fact that we are (as a whole) spending less time in the sun and wearing more sunscreen. Diet can play a key role here, but it is also important to consider that most sunscreen contain a host of chemicals including a toxic form of Vitamin A that has been linked to skin cancer.

Protect from the Inside Out

All that being said, I am comfortable getting plentiful sun exposure because I also take steps to protect my skin from the inside out. I eat an anti-inflammatory, high antioxidant and beneficial fat diet and take certain supplements that increase my sun tolerance and help my body benefit from sun exposure. My basic routine included a grain free, sugar free, high vegetable and healthy fat diet and:

  • Vitamin D3 (I take about 5,000 IU/day)- Emerging evidence shows that optimizing blood levels of Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer
  • Vitamin C (I take about 2,000 mg/day)- A potent anti-inflammatory, and it is good for the immune system too.
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil melted in a cup of herbal tea per day- the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning
  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend  (also great for remineralizing teeth)-Probably the most important supplement for sun protection. I take double doses during the summer and the kids take it too. Since adding this and the coconut oil daily, none of us have burned. It’s also great for digestive and oral health. (Amazon finally has the capsules back in stock)
  • Astaxanthin– A highly potent antioxidant which research shows acts as an internal sunscreen. It’s also supposedly an anti-aging supplement. I don’t give this one to the kids though.

From the research I’ve seen, Vitamin D deficiency could be one of the most dangerous silent epidemics of our time, yet much of the anti-sun propaganda continues. Personally, I’m off to sunbathe and boost my vitamin D levels….

Note: I am not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet. This information is not  a substitute for medical advice and does not in any way replace medical care.

What is your take on it all? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Totally agree that the Vit D deficiencies in this country could be a silent killer.  I live in Arizona and have been leading this lifestyle for only a few months, but already I can tell a difference in the way my skin reacts when outside.  Diet is the key and especially Coconut oil.  Thanks for a great article!!

  2. I’ve also read that low levels in moms are probably why it’s suggested to give breastfed babies a vitamin D supplement.  If mom’s level is adequate, that probably shouldn’t be needed, but with so few moms getting enough, they have nothing to pass to their babies.  I found out after having our first four children that I was very low.  I took large doses (per Dr.’s suggestion) while pregnant and have needed to since to maintain a level in the 40’s so far (hoping to get it higher).   While still nursing my fifth, I was diagnosed with cancer so am continuing large amounts (along with a good diet) and have added the butter oil/FCLO.

    • Cathy, I am sorry to hear about the cancer.  It sounds like you have a great grasp of the importance of your health.  This should be soooo helpful with your recovery!  You sound like a wonderful mom!  Prayers and love are sent your way!  God Bless!

  3. I very rarely use sunscreen.  The only time that I do use sunscreen is when I go to the swimming pool and I only apply it on my shoulders and back, because that is where I usually get sunburn. I have noticed since I have been making my own coconut oil lotion that I have been getting tanner this summer and I don’t itch all the time too. 

  4. would you mind telling me how much fermented cod liver oil/butter blend you take per day (and what your double dose is that you take in the summer?) i take the capsules and i take 2 – 6 per day but i’m not sure if that is similar to what you take or less.

    • I take a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half a day or more when I’m pregnant. I’m not sure on the exact conversion with the capsules, but I would thing what you are taking is pretty close…

  5. I’m going to throw a controversial ‘breast cancer risk reduction’ item into the pool as well. Bras. I know that they keep ‘debunking’ the ‘myth’ that bras cause breast cancer (although I have a sneaking suspicion the bra industry might be behind those articles). That the study in ‘Dressed to Kill’ was flawed and that invalidates the findings. All I really know is what I have observed in my own body. I have had breast cancer (it wasn’t fun and I have no interest in repeating the experience). I have always had what they refer to as ‘lumpy breasts’. I stopped wearing bras a couple months ago. Within two weeks, no more lumpy breasts. No more pain, even around my scars. That’s good enough for me. It seems to me that whenever something that is widely accepted is suggested as having negative health impacts there is always a rush of articles saying, oh no, it isn’t true, keep buying our product it won’t hurt you (we promise). Like sunscreen, grains, detergents, chemical cleaning products, air fresheners. Just saying, maybe bras are really one more of those things that really aren’t good for you even though someone is making a lot of money off of them. Added benefit of wearing clothing I would never have worn before because the bra that would have been needed was too uncomfortable to make it worthwhile. Freeing yourself from convention is a good thing! Have I had to accept the fact that my breasts are going to be a little lower on my chest than they would be with a bra? Yep. At 50, that is just the way it is. I found a simple foam product that actually hides the fact that I’m braless extremely well, so it isn’t obvious when I’m out and about (at home I don’t bother with it). Anyway, I just wanted to share in a place where a healthy skepticism of ‘conventional wisdom’ is encouraged.

    • I agree with you! A post on that is coming soon actually with some natural and safer alternatives…

    •  Please share about the simple foam product. I have been wanting to get rid of my bra without it being obvious to the general public!

      •  The one I use is called “BustFree” http://www.bustfreeusa.com. If your top is close fitting, you don’t need anything else, but for t-shirts and dresses that are looser, I wear a camisole to keep them from shifting/sticking to the inside of the clothing.

      •  Bustfree. I put a link in my prior post, that has held it up with the moderator. May show eventually.

        •  Thanks for the link!

  6. Do you recommend pregnant/trying to get pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin? Is there a more natural one that you recommend?

    • Personally, I focus on a high nutrient diet and take mainly fermented cod liver oil/butter oil blend (which is better than any DHA supplement out there for baby’s brain) and also probiotics to colonize good bacteria since baby inherits that at birth, and magnesium to make labor easier. I also drink red raspberry leaf tea throughout and try to get some sun daily. A lot of prenatals don’t have enough of the important vitamins (a,D,K) and can actually cause an imbalance. The brands I use of all of those are in my “store” tab or you might be able to find them locally.

  7. I would like to have my children take these supplements, but how do I get them to take the coconut oil? Would coconut milk work? 

    • Coconut milk doesn’t have the same properties. We use coconut oil in cooking to help disguise the taste and I make them “lattes” with caffeine free chai tea and the coconut oil blended in to hide the texture…

  8. What’s the difference between fermented CLO and regular CLO? Also, is it best to get your vitamin D levels tested before taking 5000IU daily?

    • The fermented has more absorbable forms and higher amounts of Vitamin D. I’ve read that most adults can safely take up to 10,000 IU daily but I also always suggest getting tested to have a benchmark…

  9. Two summers ago I ditched the sunblock that I had been using for about 15 years. I grew up in Southern California and by 18 I had had so many health classes in High School and then college that warned of the dangers of the sun. I have always been interested in health and nutrition. Two years ago I made the decision, based on much reading of research findings, that I would start sunning myself for the vitamin D. I lay out on my deck a few times a week, 12 minutes per side and yes, I time it. I firmly believe that those 15 years of slathering sunscreen on every exposed portion of skin resulted in the osteopenia I was diagnosed with last year (at 35) when I slipped and fell in the snow/ice (though I was doing something stupid when I fell). I love how it feels to lay out especially when I am menstrual because then I imagine the healing rays going through my abdomen. Love it!

  10. I have had a few bad sunburns and one truly terrible one.  So now I worry about skin cancer alot.  Is there anything known to reverse or heal that damage?

    • I’ve heard of people doing that internally by incorporating a high antioxidant and high good-fat diet.

  11. Are there any less expensive forms of FCLO? If I even thought of spending $62 + S&H on that vitamin my husband would divorce me.

    • Unfortunately, that is the only brand I’ve found that is actually fermented. you can get a discount if you buy in bulk, but that is more up front…

  12. I thought a tan was your skin fixing damage by the sun. Is it best to limit your exposure to avoid a tan?
    My baby (14mo) has a slight farmers/golfers tan, is he too little?

    • A tan is naturally produced when you are getting moderate amounts of sun as your body regulates how much Vitamin D you need. I let my kids (under a year even) out in the sun.

  13. Would it be cheaper to just take the Fermented Cod Liver Oil in an oil form? I’m also mostly vegan, so how can I get all the benefits from it without doing the Royal Butter Oil combo. I am of Scandinavian decent (very fair skinned) and have been trained to wear lots of sunscreen or stay out of the sun. Because I have such a passion for health and finding my healthiest balance in a natural form, I would really love to focus on what I can do to protect myself from the inside out. I know how important getting healthy amounts of sun are and how crucial it is to have the appropriate levels of vitamin d.

  14. With a baby on the way (due, appropriately enough, on Labor Day) I have been very conscientious with my supplementation. I take about 5g FCL0/butter blend daily, plus, I was taking 8k IU D3 throughout the winter. As Spring and Summer are underway, I stopped the D3 supplementation and relied on sun exposure from my daily walks. Plus, I had added in freeze-dried liver pills. I did notice that a week where there was rainy weather, I had less energy. I took some D3 and my productivity went way up. So a question, should I add back in the D3 + the sun exposure and freeze dried liver+ FCLO?

    question 2) I want my kids to have sun expsosure, but I am not sure what is safe for an infant. What do you recommend? Do you have some source literature?

  15. Hi Katie – I love your site so much. Thank you for all the great information and insight.

    We decided to give it a go and try out Vitamin D supplementation instead of sunscreen this summer, and it’s going great. I have always burned, but this summer, I haven’t at all. We don’t spend a ton of time in the sun – maybe an hour each day. My 1 and a half year-old son has a tan now from being outside, but has never burned, even though he is very fair-skinned. We are still nursing, I think he is benefiting from my extra vitamin D, and I have also been putting CLO with extra vitamin D in his applesauce.

    One question: I have always been told that having a tan is bad because any tan is sun damage to your skin. I understand that a tan is the skin’s way of protecting itself from the sun, but is it really always bad? I see all these moms slathering sunscreen on their very pale kids at the playground and putting them in giant hats, while my kid has a tan and a couple of freckles, and I worry a bit. Do you have any insight into this idea that any tan is bad?

    Thanks so much again for your website.

    • I am yet to see any actual scientific evidence that a tan is bad. It is evidence of sun exposure, but not necessarily of damage. I’ve also seen skin darken naturally with a better diet even with no or minimal sun exposure, and of course some people have naturally tan/dark skin unrelated to sun exposure. I definitely agree that burning is harmful, but from my research, it seems that the “any tan is bad” comes from more of a marketing tactic to sell sunscreen than any actual sound advice… just my two cents though 🙂

      • That totally makes sense. I just don’t understand how our ancestors, who were exposed to the elements so much, could have survived if sun exposure was so terrible for us, you know? Thanks for your reply!

        • Because our ancestors usually died from other diseases or accidents before cancer gets the chance to kill them.

  16. I’ve recently returned from a 2-week holiday in Greece (lucky me)! I usually wear SPF30 and get through 600ml of SPF30 plus 200ml aftersun in 2 weeks.
    I read this article a few months ago and was very interested in the idea of sunbathing either with a natural sunscreen or none at all, for short periods. I started to sit outside when it was sunny (usually at lunchtime) for up to 30 mins with no sunscreen, exposing my legs and arms. A little colour starting to build up but more importantly I felt better for it and looked healthier.
    For holiday I bought a mineral-based SPF15 but didn’t like the feel of it or the chalky look on my skin so bought a chemical sunscreen SPF15. I built up to 90 mins in the sun without sunscreen before cooling off and putting on SPF15. There were a couple of days when I didn’t wear any at all (weather had cooled and I was in and out of shade). I used less than 200ml in 2 weeks with approx 50ml aftersun (Aloe Vera based), didn’t burn once and it’s the most tanned I’ve been in years!

  17. The Sun is healthy and is our friend. I feel so sad how the Sun, and the natural elements in general, have been demonized in our world. It is far more likely that the various products we are using and ingesting, that contain chemicals and toxins, have systematically weakened our bodies and skin over time…..thus making us weaker and less efficient at handling the natural world…of which we are part. We have EVOLVED in response to the sun and the sun’s light. If the sun were to die out tomorrow, so would we. Instantly.
    The TRUTH is, we are actually genetically wired to handle exposure to the sun. Not in a lay-out-all-day-and-bake-in-it manner, but in a manner that allows us to move and function and be active without issues or concerns, alternating light exposure and seeking shade accordingly.
    A genetic modifying program that exists in our make-up is triggered when we are exposed to sunlight. The program both protects us and simultaneously utilizes the healing power in the light. It is not that “vitamin D” is given to us by the sun….rather it is that the light touching our skin and entering our body sets off a biochemical process that affects our hormonal and physiological internal processes. The production of Vitamin D being one of them.
    The others process that are triggered? Still being explored by “science”.
    Would it be any surprise to me that balanced sun light exposure actually fights sickness and disease and imbalance light exposure actually creates it? It would not. Imbalance means “too much” as well as “too little” and the research is now revealing the those completely blocking sunlight from touching their skin are fully suffering as well.
    And here I pause, for I am ever mystified that the majority of humans cease to grasp the value of balance, consistency and moderation. Life is not an either/or. The Sun is not all bad or all good. It is an element that we need and have evolved in relationship to….and it is our relationship to it in every moment that determines our health and well-being and how it will effect us.
    I encourage everyone to release this dated doom-and-gloom, fear-based living and live in the presence and the truth of love and natural light. Thank you for reading.

    • I love this comment and absolutely agree! And you are right, there is so much emerging research about both the light from the sun and the Vitamin D it generates being important for health and avoiding disease.