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How much sun protection is enough?

A lack of vitamin D has been linked to breast, bowel and prostate cancer, heart disease, weight gain and even depression. With sunlight being the best natural source of vitamin D, yet also a contributing factor to skin cancer, how much protection from the sun is necessary?

Vitamin D vs. sun protection
woman applying sunscreen at the beach

Sun protection is needed when the UV index — a global standard for measuring the quantity of UV radiation emitted from the sun in a certain area, time and day — reaches three or above. Levels peak around midday when the sun reaches its highest point and taper off as the sun sets.

The levels of harmful UV rays differ based on what part of Australia you live in, what time of day it is, or even what time of the year it is. In the most southern parts of Australia, UV levels are low throughout winter. The daily average of UV hovers around three or below, so unless you are continuously working outdoors or carving it up at Falls Creek or Mt Buller, you can get away without not wearing sun protection. Further north, in tropical Queensland, UV levels are constantly above three and have been known to skyrocket to 14 and over during the scorching summer months. It’s essential to take sun protection seriously and make sure you are wearing a suitable sunscreen for your skin type when outdoors.

How much vitamin D do I need?

The amount of UV exposure necessary to keep vitamin D levels at their optimum is contingent on:

  • The season — is it spring, summer, winter or autumn?
  • Where you live — are you in Hobart, Melbourne or in sunny Queensland?
  • What kind of skin you have — do you start to fry after just a few minutes or are you dark-skinned?
  • Your unique circumstance — e.g. have you had skin cancer before?

If you can hitch up your trousers and expose those lily white legs, roll up your sleeves and spend just a few minutes a day in the sunshine — avoiding between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — it should help to boost your vitamin D levels. However, if you are dark-skinned you may find you need at least triple the amount of sunshine.

How do I know when the UV levels are high?

UV levels are at their highest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. during daylight savings) when the sun is at its highest. Make sure if you have to be outdoors during this time you wear a reputable sunscreen. If you want to check just how high the UV levels are, Sun Smart’s vitamin D tracker will tell you how much sunshine you need based on the UV index to get your vitamin D for the day. It’s a quick and easy way to find out whether you can safely head outside or if you need to be more sun smart.

The goal is to find a balance between getting enough sunshine to help boost vitamin D levels without overdoing it and damaging your skin.

More sun smart information

Learn the lingo: What do UVA, UVB and SPF really mean?
What do levels of sunscreen mean?
Tips to teach your kids sun safety

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