The balancing act: sun exposure, sun block, and vitamin D

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The sun, a powerful source of energy, provides numerous benefits, yet excessive sun exposure can lead to various health risks. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of sun exposure, the importance of Vitamin D, and the role of sun protection in maintaining a delicate balance between health and potential harm.

Recent years have seen an emphasis from health care providers on sun avoidance, with recommendations to use high-SPF sun protection products. Simultaneously with the campaign for less UV exposure, there is a growing crisis of Vitamin D deficiency, with far higher health risks when compared to sunburn.

The incidence of vitamin D deficiency, mostly from a lack of sun exposure or the overuse of SPF products in adults is 30 to 32 percent, making this a serious health risk factor in a significant number of people.

Lack of sun exposure

UV over-exposure leads to a raised incidence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma.

On the other hand, a lack of UV exposure and/or the excessive use of sun protection leads to a vitamin D deficiency, which carries a higher health risk than UV over-exposure. Cancer (melanoma, colorectal and bladder cancer), cardiovascular disease (hypertension), Alzheimer’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, myopia, liver disease and reduced tolerance to statins are all at a higher incidence in the presence of vitamin D deficiency. A lack of sun exposure is also regarded as a cause of obesity with the development of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition that includes a cluster of risk factors specific to cardiovascular disease. This cluster of metabolic factors includes abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, impaired fasting glucose, high triglyceride levels, and low HDL cholesterol levels.

Other dangers from a lack of sun exposure include lower levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone in the brain. Deficiencies in serotonin production have also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and migraine headaches.

Lack of sun exposure therefore leads to a myriad of serious health problems. To complicate matters further, vitamin D supplementation is NOT an adequate replacement for the lack of sun exposure. Sun exposure allows the skin to produce a natural form of vitamin D from cholesterol. Natural vitamin D from sun exposure serves a vital role in preventing deficiencies, which vitamin D supplementation does not seem to be able to manage as well.

The risks of sunburn vs. sun exposure

Sunburn from too much UV is linked to a raised risk of skin cancer. The most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma.


While non-burning UV exposure is associated with a reduced risk of melanoma, excessive exposure and sunburn are associated with a doubled risk of melanoma.

Office workers are at higher risk of melanoma than farmers or those working outdoors like construction workers. This is due to a higher incidence of sunburn in those not acclimatised to the sun. Natural protection against melanoma in chronic sun exposure is associated with having tanned (darker) skin and having higher vitamin D levels (vitamin D repairs damaged DNA). There is no consistent evidence that the use of chemical sun protection reduces the risk of melanoma. In fact, sunscreens reduce acclimatisation to UV and reduce the production of vitamin D in the skin, resulting in less protection against the development of malignancies.

The Role of sunblock

SPF refers to sun protection factor. It only refers to protection against UVB (burning UV) and not against UVC (cancer-forming UV). For example, SPF 15 means that you can stay 15 times longer in the sun without burning, than you would if you had no SPF on your skin.

The world seems obsessed with using ultra-high SPF sun protection chemicals. When we look at the below graph, we can see that adequate UV protection is already achieved when using SPF 15 and that very little extra protection is achieved by using higher SPF products (containing exponentially more chemicals).

SPF vs UVB protection Trifectiv

Some facts to consider when using SPF products.

  1. The chronic use of SPF is associated with a vitamin D deficiency. There is a growing awareness that this hidden danger needs to be added to the labelling requirements of SPF products.
  2. Sunscreens have not been shown to reduce the risk of melanoma or BCC. However, their use has been shown to reduce the risk of SCC.
  3. Studies have shown that the chemicals in sunblock appear in the blood in concentrations of up to 360 times more than what is considered safe by the FDA, after a single application. High circulating levels of sunblock chemicals can appear in the blood for up to 2 weeks after use and have been implicated in cases of kidney and liver failure.
  4. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 tonnes of sunblock ends up in the oceans every year! This chemical pollution has a devastating impact on the entire ecosystem, from algae and corals to fish and aquatic mammals.
  5. Physical or mineral sunscreens contain minerals that physically block harmful rays from the sun. The ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are found in mineral-based sunscreens. These are better choices for the ocean, but zinc oxide becomes toxic after two hours in the sun.
  6. Avoid spray-on sunscreen as they often contain chemicals that may damage the lungs.
  7. High-SPF sunscreens may give you a false sense of security and lead to more sunburn.

It therefore appears, in the face of recent research, that it is necessary to reconsider the current marketing strategy behind the multi-million-dollar industry of sun protection products. At the hottest time of the day, it is best to stay out of the sun in the shade or wear UV-protective clothing and a hat.

Recent advances in treating sunburn

The pathology associated with sunburn is UV-induced inflammation in the skin, which leads to structure and function breakdown, namely DNA-abnormalities in skin cells and accelerated ageing of the skin. Hypochlorous acid, a crucial component of our immune system and normally made by our white blood cells, is a powerful anti-inflammatory and also corrects the chromosomal abnormalities that occur with sunburn. Medical grade non-toxic hypochlorous acid, available as Trifectiv Plus Wound & Burn Care not only quickly calms and reverses sunburn, but also repairs the DNA damage associated with overexposure to UV radiation.

Closing thoughts

Achieving a balance between sun exposure and sun protection is essential for maintaining overall health. While excess sun exposure can lead to harmful consequences, avoiding the sun entirely may result in vitamin D deficiency and serious health risks. In the case of sun exposure, like being outside all day during a beach holiday, it is advisable to limit your exposure to the sun rather than using high-SPF products. Do not demonise the sun. Enjoy living in the outdoors but do this in moderation. If you are accidentally sunburnt then regularly apply Trifectiv Wound & Burn Care to reverse the associated inflammation. This will not only rapidly soothe the skin and ease any pain, but also assist the skin cells to heal any damaged DNA before it becomes a problem.


  1. Hoel DG, Berwick M, de Gruijl FR, Holick MF. The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermatoendocrinol. 2016 Oct 19;8(1): e1248325. doi: 10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325. PMID: 27942349; PMCID: PMC5129901.
  2. Thomas H. Leung et al. Topical hypochlorite ameliorates NF-kB–mediated skin diseases in mice. J Clin Invest. 2013;123 (12):5361-5370 Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
  3. Sunscreens leach up to 360 times more toxic chemicals into the blood than the FDA allows, raising the risk of kidney and liver failure.
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