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Shedding light on vitamin D and sun exposure

“Put on the sunscreen before you go out into the sun.”

For years, dermatologists and health experts have warned us about the sun’s damaging effects, which include premature aging and the potential for skin cancer. But according to recent news stories, a few scientists feel an about-face is in order.

By limiting your sun exposure and slathering on the sunscreen, they say, you limit the vitamin D you absorb from the sun and put yourself at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, increasing your risk for osteoporosis and even certain cancers.

Bad advice, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Go without sunscreen and you increase your risk of cancer—specifically, skin cancers, some of which can be deadly. You’re also more likely to develop actinic keratoses, scaly patches or lesions on the skin that can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Even the most effective sunscreens let through enough ultraviolet rays to allow for adequate vitamin D formation, the AAD says.

So protect your skin and, if you’re still concerned, get your vitamin D from dietary sources—good sources include salmon and fortified dairy products—and supplements that offer both vitamin D and calcium, which are needed for efficient use of vitamin D.