Shining Light on Vitamin D: How Sun Exposure Boosts Your Wellness

Written by Krista Bugden
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, RD

August 25, 2023

Egypt, Peru, Greece, Japan, Mexico—almost every ancient civilization worshiped the sun in some shape or form. Even before advanced science and technology, humans recognized the sun’s significance.

The significance lies in a crucial pattern known as the sleep-wake cycle (also known as the circadian rhythm). This cycle—which relies heavily on the sun—goes something like this: The sun’s morning light suppresses melatonin and wakes us up. In contrast, darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, making us sleepy (1).

But the sun doesn’t just play a role in getting a good night’s rest. 

It also contributes to the body’s production of vitamin D, popularly dubbed the “sunshine vitamin.” So, how does this process work? And how much sun exposure should you be getting each day? Let’s shine a light on the sun’s incredible power to boost vitamin D.

The Sun & Vitamin D: Can the Sun Give Us Vitamins?

While vitamin D can be obtained through food and supplementation, the sun provides a significant source of vitamin D. 

Now technically there aren’t vitamins in the sun, but exposure to sunlight helps our bodies produce vitamin D. When a compound in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol absorbs UV rays, it creates vitamin D3 (2). Vitamin D3 is then converted into a circulable and usable form of vitamin D in the liver, contributing to various health benefits.

What Are the Benefits of Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is associated with an array of functions and processes in the body, including:

In fact, vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increase in autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and even some cancers (2). Vitamin D deficiency is further correlated with depression (5).

A bottle of NativePath Vitamin D3+K2 tincture with a dropper

Harness the Power of the Sun

Our Vitamin D supplement takes vitamins D3 & K2 with organic MCT oil to support bone, cardiovascular, & immune health while balancing mood & elevating energy.

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How Can I Get Vitamin D Naturally?

Since it’s free and can be obtained by almost anyone, the sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D. That said, the season, time of day, location, climate, pollution, and sunscreen use can all impact whether your body is able to make vitamin D from the sun.

If your location or its current season doesn’t muster up much in terms of sun exposure, vitamin D can also be obtained through foods like eggs, salmon, beef liver, or foods fortified with vitamin D.

Because excessive exposure to the sun may result in skin damage and even skin cancer, many individuals also opt to supplement vitamin D to ensure deficiencies don’t occur. This is very common in parts of the world where sunlight becomes limited during the winter months, such as Canada, the United States, and Iceland.

When purchasing a vitamin D supplement, you’ll find either vitamin D2 or vitamin D3. Since vitamin D3 is a more natural form of this vitamin, for many, it’s best to start here. At the same time, if your doctor has recommended a certain type, it’s best to listen to their advice first.

How Long Does It Take to Make Vitamin D From the Sun?

The amount of time may vary from person to person, depending on their genetics, skin tone, and other factors. Most health experts tend to recommend between 15 and 30 minutes of sun exposure per day for optimal benefits. It’s further recommended to expose at least one-third of your skin to make adequate vitamin D (6).

Going for walks in the morning or evening is a great way to get your daily sun exposure, while the harsher mid-day sun which may increase your risk of a sunburn.

Can Sunscreen Impact Vitamin D Production?

In short, yes. 

Most sunscreens effectively block UV rays, which will prevent your skin from making vitamin D. However, this may depend on how you apply the sunscreen and how often.

If you want to gain this precious vitamin from the sun, one option is to forego sunscreen for the first 15 minutes of being in the sun. However, studies consistently show that people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels (especially with moderate SPF of 15-20). So, if you prefer to apply sunscreen before going out into the sun you will likely still reap the benefits (unless you have an absorption issue) (7, 8).

A bottle of NativePath Vitamin D3+K2 tincture with a dropper

Harness the Power of the Sun

Our Vitamin D supplement takes vitamins D3 & K2 with organic MCT oil to support bone, cardiovascular, & immune health while balancing mood & elevating energy.

Add to Cart

How Much Vitamin D Do I Need?

The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age (9). Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in micrograms (mcg) and International Units (IU):

Age
Recommended Amount
Birth-12 months
10 mcg (400 IU)
1-13 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
14-18 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
19-70 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
71 years and older
20 mcg (800 IU)
Pregnant & breastfeeding women
15 mcg (600 IU)

Who Should Supplement With Vitamin D?

A surprising estimated one billion people worldwide are deficient in vitamin D (10, 11). From 20-80 years of age, our body’s concentration of the compound 7-dehydrocholesterol (which produces vitamin D from the sun) decreases by 50%. On top of this, aging skin generally produces 40% less vitamin D (12). This means the older we get, the more important vitamin D supplementation becomes. 

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bone pain
  • Muscle weakness, muscle aches, or muscle cramps
  • And mood changes, like depression (10).

If you’re deficient in vitamin D or live in an area that doesn’t get much sunlight, your doctor may recommend vitamin D supplementation. This will be the most effective way to increase your vitamin D levels and avoid any adverse health effects.

Can I Take Too Much Vitamin D?

Yes, it’s entirely possible to overdose on vitamin D. While rare, it may be beneficial to discuss an appropriate dosage with your doctor—especially before beginning any new supplementation routine.

A bottle of NativePath Vitamin D3+K2 tincture with a dropper

Harness the Power of the Sun

Our Vitamin D supplement takes vitamins D3 & K2 with organic MCT oil to support bone, cardiovascular, & immune health while balancing mood & elevating energy.

Add to Cart
Krista Bugden
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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a freelance writer with a BS in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She spent 5 years working as a kinesiologist, giving her the first-hand experience she needed to write well-researched, scientific, and informative blogs.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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