How Much Vitamin D Do You Really Get From the Sun?

vitamin d sun

Quick Health Scoop

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, aids in supporting healthy teeth and bones, and plays an important role in immune and muscle health
  • 40% of the U.S. population have a blood level indicating Vitamin D deficiency
  • You can get Vitamin D from three main sources: the sun, food, and supplements
  • To avoid the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, many health experts recommend the best way to take Vitamin D is through food and supplements

Not many vitamins get a nickname, but Vitamin D does. Known as the sunshine vitamin, this key nutrient can be obtained by the body through sunlight exposure. But the obvious dilemma is, how do you balance getting enough Vitamin D through the sun with practicing sun-safe habits to protect the skin? How much Vitamin D do you get from the sun? And how long do you need to be in the sun to get Vitamin D?

First, understand why you need this key nutrient. Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin,  provides a variety of health benefits. It helps your body absorb calcium—one of the main building blocks of bone—and plays an important role in  immune and muscle health. †,1 

Learn More: Vitamin D Immune System Benefits

Unfortunately, 95% of Americans do not consume enough Vitamin D from their diet alone,10 and research suggests that 40% of U.S. adults have a blood level indicating Vitamin D deficiency.2 This can lead to a loss of bone density (which can contribute to fractures and osteoporosis) and rickets.3 In addition, people who live in certain geographic locations (latitudes above 37 degrees north or below 37 degrees south of the equator) don't get enough UVB light from the sun most of the year to make enough Vitamin D.4 Ditto for people who spend most of their time indoors.

With all this in mind, you might be wondering what is the best way to get Vitamin D—and how can you do so safely?

What Is Our Main Source of Vitamin D?

You can get Vitamin D from three main sources: the sun, food, and supplements.

Vitamin D Source: The Sun

It’s pretty simple figuring out how to get Vitamin D from sun exposure. You simply spend time outside, whether that’s gardening, walking the dog, or going for a jog. The science behind it is that, when the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with a protein called 7-DHC in the skin, it converts it into vitamin D3 (the active form of Vitamin D).5 So, that’s a simplified answer of how you get Vitamin D from sunlight.

How much sunlight do you need a day? And can you get enough Vitamin D from the sun alone? The old rule-of-thumb used to be 10-15 minutes per day would give you an adequate amount of sun exposure. However, with concerns about skin cancer, unprotected sun exposure puts you at risk for several conditions that can permanently damage or disfigure your skin.5 And unfortunately, wearing SPF limits your body’s ability to convert the sun’s rays into Vitamin D in the skin.

Vitamin D Source: Food

Considering the above skin cancer concerns, what is the best way to absorb Vitamin D? Most people can get adequate amounts of Vitamin D from food and nutritional supplements.6 

The bad news: only a few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, including the following:7

  • Fatty fish (think mackerel, salmon, trout, and tuna) and fish liver oils 
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolks 
  • Mushrooms 

The good news: eating Vitamin D-fortified foods (such as cereal, milk and orange juice) can increase your intake of this nutrient. 

Vitamin D Source: Supplements

Besides eating Vitamin D-rich foods, taking a Vitamin D supplement could help you get the recommended amount in a sun-safe manner. Nature Made supplements come in a variety of forms, including tablets, softgels, and gummies. Doctors typically recommend supplements for people with darker skin tones or those with fat absorption issues, lactose intolerance, and milk allergies.6 

Can You Get Vitamin D In The Shade?

As much as you try to play it safe, you might wonder if you can still get Vitamin D in the shade, through your clothes, or with sunscreen. To get vitamin D from the sun, exposure of your face, legs and arms (like sunbathing) is recommended for at least 15 minutes without sunscreen. Any clothing covering these areas will prevent vitamin D conversion in the skin.

The Bottom Line

You need Vitamin D for healthy teeth and bones. You can get Vitamin D from three sources—sun, food, and supplements. With concerns about protecting the skin, health experts recommend wearing sunscreen. This will limit the amount of Vitamin D you get from sun exposure, so it’s important to make sure you eat foods that contain Vitamin D (either naturally or fortified) and/or take a Vitamin D supplement.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

Learn More About Vitamins & Supplements:

  • What is Magnesium & What is it Good For?
  • The Best Vitamins for Energy
  • Vitamins Vegans and Vegetarians Need

  • This information is only for educational purposes and is not medical advice or intended as a recommendation of any specific products. Consult your health care provider for more information.

    †These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

    References 

    1. Medline. “Vitamin D Deficiency.” June 12, 2020. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/vitaminddeficiency.html
    2. Nutrition Research. “Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.” January 2011. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21310306/
    3. Cleveland Clinic. “Vitamin D Deficiency.” October 16, 2019. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15050-vitamin-d--vitamin-d-deficiency
    4. Harvard Health Publishing. “Vitamin D and your health: Breaking old rules, raising new hopes.” May 17, 2019. Accessed on: June 1, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/vitamin-d-and-your-health-breaking-old-rules-raising-new-hopes
    5. Skin Cancer Foundation. “Sun Protection and Vitamin D.” May 14, 2018. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://www.skincancer.org/blog/sun-protection-and-vitamin-d/
    6. Yale Medicine. “Vitamin D Myths 'D'-bunked.” March 15, 2018. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/vitamin-d-myths-debunked
    7. National Institutes of Health. “Vitamin D.” March 26, 2021. Accessed on: May 28, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-health%20Professional/
    8. Skin Cancer Foundation. “Healthy Skin: Made in the Shade?” January 18, 2019. Accessed on: June 1, 2021. https://www.skincancer.org/blog/healthy-skin-made-in-the-shade/
    9. Skin Cancer Foundation. “All About Sunscreen.” January 2021. Accessed on: June 1, 2021. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/
    10. Reider CA, Chung RY, Devarshi PP, Grant RW, Hazels Mitmesser S. Inadequacy of Immune Health Nutrients: Intakes in US Adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1735.