Sunscreens are very effective at protecting the skin from ultraviolet radiation (UV), one of the most harmful radiations in the light spectrum. Used as lotion or gel, sunscreens can form a protective layer over the skin than can reflect a portion of the light emitted by the sun and absorb another portion. Several research studies, spanning several decades, have shown that sunscreens significantly reduce the risks of developing certain types of skin cancers.
Regular use of sunscreens may, however, interfere with the absorption of vitamin D by preventing the beneficial ultraviolet light from reaching the skin. As a result, regular use of sunscreens can possibly lead to vitamin D deficiency, which is also believed to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and certain forms of cancer. Application of sunscreens with an SPF of 15 on a steady and regular daily basis has been shown to decrease the production of vitamin D by the skin by 95%.
In a recent research study conducted at Boston University medical center, scientists were able to demonstrate that it is possible to selectively design a sunscreen that can effectively protect the skin from UV while still permitting the synthesis of vitamin D1. Researchers offer a method for sunscreen makers to optimize the formulation of their sunscreen for both vitamin D production and skin protection. By using different molecules that absorb different portion of the sunlight spectrum, researchers introduced Solar D (which is already sold in sunny Australia). This new smart sunscreen provides an SPF 15 skin protection while increasing vitamin D production by 50% compared to standard SPF 15 sunscreens. Although more studies are pending, and the verdict is still out, this idea could be the start of a new generation of “smart” sunscreens that give us the protection we need and still let us get the Vitamin D our bodies need.
1: Kockott, Dieter, Bernd Herzog, Jörg Reichrath, Kevin Keane, and Michael F. Holick (2016). New Approach to Develop Optimized Sunscreens That Enable Cutaneous Vitamin D Formation with Minimal Erythema Risk. PLoS ONE, 11.1 (2016). Web.