So you’ve been getting out in the sun a little more lately to increase your vitamin D levels? Great! Maybe you’ve been choosing to walk a little more often instead of traveling by car. Maybe you’re spending your weekends doing outdoor activities rather than staying inside watching TV all weekend. Maybe you’ve started taking advantage of the pool at your apartment complex a little more. Or the decent public beach nearby. Maybe you’re sunbathing while doing your reading, rather than reading indoors. Maybe you’re doing your workouts outside in the sunshine rather than under the fluorescent lights of an indoor gym. Maybe you’ve really gone above and beyond and started working outdoors for a living.
Whatever the case may be, consciously choosing to get outside more is a great decision for your health for a multitude of reasons. In this post I’m going to go over how you can maximize the vitamin D benefit of spending time in the sun.
If you haven’t seen, in a previous article I went in-depth on the process of how your body produces it’s own vitamin D from sun exposure. Here’s the super short version: you go outside around midday, direct sunlight (UVB rays) hits your skin, your skin creates vitamin D, and that vitamin D does a ton of great things for your body.
But here’s an important detail that a lot of people miss:
Your skin has to be unprotected by clothing and sunscreen in order for you to make vitamin D from midday sun exposure.
I used to miss this detail myself. You have to be at least somewhat naked in order to make vitamin D. Whatever skin is covered by sunscreen or clothing is extremely unlikely to synthesize any vitamin D. Whether it’s just your hands and face that are exposed or every inch of your entire body, if you want to get some vitamin D from your time spent outdoors then you need to allow sunlight to hit as much of your unprotected skin as possible. Less clothing, more vitamin D.
I remember talking to my father about this a couple years ago and he was convinced that you can still get vitamin D if you’re wearing a normal amount of clothing and that any skin covered up by clothing can “probably” still create vitamin D. I wasn’t convinced, so I looked into it.
In 1992, an experiment involving world-renowned vitamin D expert and dermatologist Dr. Michael Holick was done (see here) where the team of researchers tested the ability of UVB sunlight to penetrate wool, cotton, and polyester clothing. They also tested to see if there’s any difference between white or black-colored fabric. They had people wear jogging outfits made of these different fabrics, then they blasted them with UVB radiation for various amounts of time, and then checked their vitamin D levels. The results? NONE of the fabrics allowed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis. They repeated the experiment using traditional “street clothes” and the results were the same: clothing prevents cutaneous vitamin D synthesis. (By the way, “cutaneous” means “in the skin.”)
I also suspected that this was the case due to an observation of my brother, who has been an outdoor worker for about three years in Florida. His neck, face, arms, and legs are usually extremely tanned, but his torso, due to being covered up with a shirt, is significantly less tanned. This observation of my brother’s torso told me that clothing prevents a melanin response to sunlight, which led to the question: how else does clothing affect our bodies’ responses to sunlight?
So of course the implication of the 1992 study is that wearing more clothing means you’re going to make less vitamin D from sun exposure and wearing less clothing means you will make more vitamin D. Less clothing, more vitamin D.
BUT! There’s one more factor involved here and that factor is sunscreen. The same team of scientists who did the 1992 study on clothing did a couple other similar studies testing sunscreen (see here and here) and what they found is that even a relatively weak SPF 8 sunscreen prevents vitamin D synthesis.
That’s significant because you might be spending most of a day at the beach or by a pool, wearing only a swimsuit, and thinking that you’ll be getting tons of vitamin D, but that may not be the case if you’re constantly slathering on a strong sunscreen. Of course, it’s not good to get sunburned and you should actively try to prevent sunburning, but you also have to be careful not to go overboard or else you won’t get any vitamin D. Ideally, you should only wear sunscreen if you have a tendency to burn easily or if you plan on being out in the sun for a relatively long period of time. If you’re only going outside for a little bit or you typically don’t burn easily, then hold off on the sunscreen. Bring it along with you just in case, but you don’t have to put it on right away necessarily. I like to put a little bit of sunscreen on my ears, nose, shoulders, genitals, and butt – but only after I’ve gone unprotected for an hour or so.
Really it’s just best to get out in the sun unprotected until you get the slightest bit pink and then get out of the sun for the day. Over time your sun tolerance will increase. You’re melanin responses will eventually give you a darker tan that will act as a natural sunscreen. Vitamin D has also been found to have a protective effect against sunburn, so as your vitamin D levels increase that will provide additional protection from sunburn. Nature knows! Here in Florida I can be outside for several hours before I start to turn pink because, as a native Floridian, I’ve developed a pretty good sun tolerance.
So just remember, if you want vitamin D when you go outside you need wear the least amount of clothing comfortably/legally possible and hold off on the sunscreen unless you’re confident you’ll burn.
On page 188 of Dr. Holick’s seminal book The Vitamin D Solution (Amazon Link) he states:
“In a perfect world, all of us would have the time and opportunity to strip off our clothes and step outside for several minutes a day for the amount of sun we need to make enough vitamin D to be healthy, especially between spring and fall, when we can stock up for the winter. Regrettably, that’s not the case, and real life (not to mention office dress codes) tends to interfere with this goal.”
Now the whole point of NudeSpots.com is to help you find the places near you where you can strip off all your clothes and get lots of vitamin D. If you happen to live in a region with lots of nude spots (geographic locations where it is legal and socially acceptable to be naked outside) then you actually do have the ability to create for yourself the perfect world Dr. Hollick speaks of. But if you don’t, you can still make due.
If you can’t get totally naked, then get half-naked. Is it possible to do nude sunbathing in your backyard? Do you live near a clothed beach? Can you wear sleeveless shirts instead of t-shirts? Can you wear shorts instead of pants?
Here’s me walking from the train station in Miami:
As you can see, I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt that exposes more of my arms, shoulders, and chest to sunlight and I’m wearing relatively short shorts (for an American man) that expose more of my legs to sunlight. Obviously, being completely naked is ideal from a vitamin D perspective, but that just isn’t legally possible in the residential areas of Miami. Compared to a more traditional American male outfit of a t-shirt and longer shorts or pants, my tank top and short shorts provide me with more vitamin D. I roughly estimate 10-20% more.
Here’s a more traditional outfit for an American man:
His entire legs are covered (as opposed to my legs which are mostly uncovered), his shoulders are covered, more of his arms are covered, and more of his chest is covered. This cartoon man might argue that his outfit is more stylish, but he’s going to get less vitamin D and less vitamin D means: lower testosterone, weaker muscles, weaker bones, impaired cognitive function, weaker immune system, increased risk for autoimmune disorders, increased risk for cancer, lower mood, lower sex drive, lower sleep quality, shorter lifespan – it’s not good. From a health perspective there’s no reason to wear more clothing than is necessary to prevent arrest or sunburn.
At least he’s not wearing a sweater and hat too…
Less clothing, more vitamin D.
Now, in the above photo of myself, it’s actually common for me to take my shirt off in public when I’m out and about. I really don’t care what other people think. I know too much about vitamin D to let other people’s potential opinions and judgments stop me from improving my health. Whenever someone makes a comment like “put a shirt on!”, I either reply or think “Hey, I’d be completely naked if it were legal.” And I would 😉
Here’s a picture of me at South Miami Beach:
Now at South Miami Beach this is actually a pretty acceptable outfit. There’s a lot of Europeans here and those guys often wear speedos, but by American standards this is a skimpy bathing suit. I find most Americans outside of Miami beach actually think I’m intentionally trying to be ridiculous and comedic by wearing this. Not so. I just like vitamin D and and I don’t believe in wearing burkinis. Women like it, gay guys like it, secure heterosexual men don’t care. The only people who have an issue with a man wearing a skimpy bathing suit are men who are worried they might be gay. Other than those guys, you’ll also be more popular overall the more skin you show.
By the way, don’t think that I covered up once I left the beach area. Oh no. I walked all around town like that. Vitamin D doesn’t stop at the beach.
An even better strategy than wearing minimal clothing, though, is pulling out your mobile device, going to www.nudespots.com/spots, and using the NudeSpots geo-located nude spot database to find the areas closest to you where you can get fully naked. If I’m in Miami, that spot is….
Haulover Beach is at the northern tip of Miami Beach and it is a legally recognized nude beach that will allow you to get the maximum amount of vitamin D biologically possibly (which is a lot!). You can read more about Haulover Beach here, it’s great, but you might have a spot that’s closer to you, so take a look here.
Yes, if you’re a man in America and you wear tank tops and short shorts you will look a little gay. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is with that, but if that’s a concern you have then I recommend you get yourself a beautiful girlfriend. Or if you’re actually gay, then it may prove to be to your benefit to look more gay.
If you’re a woman in America, then wearing skimpy outfits may have you looking more “slutty,” as some people say. I don’t see what the big deal with that is either, but you can remedy that by conditioning yourself to just not care about the silent thoughts of other people.
We need to change this perception in America that someone who wears skimpy outfits must automatically be gay, sexually promiscuous, or is seeking attention. Hard science is, in fact, on the side of those who wear less clothing. Excessive, unnecessary clothing prevents cutaneous synthesis of vitamin D, which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency (if you’re not supplementing), and a vitamin D deficiency causes and contributes to many serious health problems.
The question of whether or not covering up more skin is a morally superior way to live is another question for another day (and another website!), but from a scientific and health perspective, excessive wearing of excessive amounts of clothing, we can reasonably postulate, is on par with excessive drinking, excessive smoking, and excessive sugar consumption as a habit destructive to our health due to the tendency of this habit to contribute to vitamin D deficiency, which has devastating world-wide health and economic consequences (see here, here, and here). Not only can it be concluded that less clothing = more vitamin D, but also less clothing means better health and more prosperity. Our excessive wearing of clothes, along with excessive use of sunscreen, is making us sicker, weaker, and poorer.
Some may raise an objection to this conclusion, as sunscreen and clothing prevent non-melanoma skin cancer. I urge those who hold this view to read my recent article on skin cancer here.
You may also be thinking “But Austin! What if it’s cold outside?” To that I reply that you should push yourself to also get naked cold exposure as well. The health benefits of cold exposure will have to be addressed another day in another article, but the Iceman Wim Hof has climbed Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts and shoes, he takes big groups of people with him doing the same thing, and they all seem to be doing quite well.
Cultures, such as Islamic cultures, where the complete covering of skin is legally and culturally enforced tend to have bad population vitamin D levels and high rates of vitamin D-deficiency-related disease. A study of female, veil-wearing Arab immigrants in Denmark found that the women were suffering from muscle weakness due to vitamin D deficiency and that their muscular strength improved significantly following three months of vitamin D therapy. Here’s another study that found 83% of 360 medical patients assessed in Saudi Arabia had “an abnormally low level of vitamin D.” You can read about the consequences of short-term and long-term vitamin D deficiency here.
According to Wikipedia’s List of countries by life expectancy page, France and Spain have longer-living populations than America. I find this to be interesting because France and Spain also have vastly more nude spots than America. Virtually all beaches in Spain allow nudity. Of course, there are other factors involved, such as the diets of these countries, but might the socially and legally-accepted cultural practice of frequent nude sunbathing also be a significant factor in the longer life spans of the French and Spanish?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments!
Until next time,
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