It may seem counterintuitive at first but sun shirts, sun hats, and other sun protective clothing can help you get adequate amount of vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin." Please note that "vitamin D" actually works more like a hormone in the body than a vitamin. Further, it's as powerful a hormone as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol.
It has been determined over the last decade that vitamin D is not only important for bone health but it also plays a key role in fighting off cancer and keeping your immune system healthy. In this article, we will explain how to use a sun shirt and other sun protective clothing to get just the right amount of sun to get the vitamin D you need without suffering from the harmful effects of the sun.
There is a worldwide vitamin D deficiency and the United States is no exception. According to Dr. Michal Melamed, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, 70 percent of all American children don't get enough vitamin D. Dr. Michael Holick, a professor at Boston University School of Medicine, has been on a crusade to warn people about the dangers of low vitamin D levels. He reports that the vast majority of all Americans are vitamin D deficient and this extends to the entire developed world.
To understand why there is such an alarming vitamin D deficiency, you must know that humans were designed to get most of their vitamin D from the sun. When UV-B radiation strikes bare human skin, it interacts with 7-dehydrocholesterol, a cholesterol type substance, to produce vitamin D. Once produced, it can be stored in the body to use as needed.
Unlike our ancestors, modern day people spend a lot of time indoors. Furthermore, when people do go outside, they tend to apply sunscreen which blocks UV-B from interacting with 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin. While this may protect them from skin cancer and sun damaged skin, it also blocks crucial vitamin D production.
So, if you want to get adequate vitamin D, you'll need to get outside a few times a week, as weather permits, and let the sunshine hit your bare skin. However, there are a couple of important caveats to this.
- First, you should only expose your bare skin for 5-30 minutes, depending on how sensitive you are to the sun. If you are fair skinned, you'll want to expose your skin less time than if you are dark skinned. You should expose your skin about half as much time as it takes for your skin to turn one shade of pink, or just start to tan/darken.
- Second, for this to work, you need to expose your skin when the sun is at least thirty degrees above the horizon. So, try to be outside within two hours of solar noon. If the sun is low in the sky, the UV-B rays are blocked and you will not be able to produce vitamin D. It is the UV-B rays, not the UV-A rays, that interact with your skin to produce vitamin D. However, UV-A rays can stil burn your skin and cause lifelong damage at all hours of daylight because they reach the Earth even when the sun is low in the sky.
Sun shirts and sun protective clothing can help block the dangerous sun rays but allow you to get just enough sun that you can store some vitamin D! When you go outside with the sun high in the sky, take along your sun shirt, sun hat, etc. Depending on your skin type, allow the sunshine to strike your bare skin 5-30 minutes (about 10-20 minutes for most people). This is enough time to generate adequate vitamin D. Then, put on your sun shirt, sun hat, and other sun protective clothing on to prevent any additional skin exposure to the sun! Further, you should always wear your sun shirt and other sun protective clothing when the UV-B is blocked by a low sun angle. There is no health benefit to UV-A radiation.
A sun shirt and sun hat also allow you to get a few minutes sun on your lunch break and then block it the rest of the time, without having to apply sunscreen! Even on a weekend outdoor adventure, it's much easier to take a sun shirt along than try to apply sun screen after you get your dose of sun for vitamin D. Sun protective clothing is far better at blocking the sun than is sunscreen.
For specific information on the critical role vitamin D plays in your health, please see our article, "Balancing the Need For Vitamin D With Getting Too Much UV Radiation." This article also lists the foods you can use to supplement your vitamin D levels, beyond what you synthesize from the sun.
Please note that it is near impossible for anyone to get enough vitamin D from their diet alone. Humans are designed to get the majority of vitamin D from the sun interacting with their skin. You just have to be very careful not to get too much sun or you could develop cancer and premature aging. It's a balancing act that is made much easier with a sun shirt, a sun hat, and other sun protective clothing.
For more articles, please be sure to sign up for our newsletter.