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Keys to Sun Exposure: Avoiding Burn and Producing Vitamin D

Understanding how the sun affects skin and vitamin D production is key to safe exposure. 

Dermatologists around the world sometimes make it sound like the sun is evil. Even Boris Lushniak, MD, who was one of my interns at St. Joseph Hospital when I was a senior resident, and Surgeon General of the United States recently said, “Americans need to do more to reduce their exposure to the harmful rays of the sun and tanning beds.”

I think a better way of saying this would have been to say that Americans need to avoid getting sunburn.

The most important thing is not to avoid sun exposure, but to avoid getting burned. And don’t go to tanning beds unless you are trying to make vitamin D and it’s a safe tanning bed. According to Dr. Joe Mercola at, you should only use a tanning bed that has an “electronic ballast” and not a magnetic one.

If you are adamant to avoid sun exposure, you are also avoiding making vitamin D, getting less outdoor exercise and fresh air, and experiencing less of the joy of God’s creation.

Avoiding the Sun, isn’t the Answer.

Here’s the conundrum, people who avoid the sun or wear sunblock all the time are highly likely to have low or suboptimal levels of vitamin D. And guess what one of the benefits of vitamin D is? Cancer prevention. Plus it can reduce your risk of heart disease, autoimmune disorders, infections, mental health conditions and more.

Here’s what I’d say, DON’T avoid being in the sun. Instead, if you are going to be out in the midday sun for longer than twenty minutes and especially if you are fair-skinned, wear SPF 15 or higher.

The SPF of a sunscreen supposedly tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without getting burned. So if you get a burn after 20 minutes with no lotion, it would take 300 minutes (5 hours) with an SPF15 lotion, providing that you reapply it every 2-3 hours or after swimming or sweating a lot.

If you are going to be outside all day, I would consider a higher SPF like 30. And ladies, if you want to avoid premature face wrinkles and you are outside much, put on some sunscreen as part of your morning make-up routine.

Finally, not all sunscreens are created equal. Read about safer sunscreens at

Forum Health Bloomingdale offers medical-grade skincare to keep you looking and feeling your best. Learn what skincare products are available, here.

Dr. William Epperly, Fellow American Academy of Family Practice
Fellow American Academy of Otolaryngic Allergy
Member of Christian Medical and Dental Society.



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