Self-Care Challenge (Day 22): Wearing Sunscreen

On day 22 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I explored the practice of wearing sunscreen to protect my skin from sun damage.

Eight months after moving from Austin to Seattle, my vitamin D level plummeted from 34 to 20. I wasn’t all that surprised. As you might expect, moving further away from the equator means less sun.

According to the NIH, “Ten to 15 minutes of sunshine three times weekly is enough to produce the body’s requirement for vitamin D. The sun needs to shine on the skin of your face, arms, back, or legs (without sunscreen).” That sounds reasonable enough unless you happen to live in the Pacific Northwest where the dark days of winter make you sometimes forget that the sun exists at all. (That’s also probably why so many people take vacations during this time.)

The NIH goes on to say, “Because exposure to sunlight is a risk for skin cancer, you should use sunscreen after a few minutes in the sun.”

I have to be honest: I’m not a huge fan of sunscreen. I know that probably makes me unpopular in many circles, so let me explain:

While sunscreen may protect us from harmful UV rays, it also inhibits vitamin D synthesis. There’s still some disagreement within the scientific community about how much it interferes, but I think it’s worth a careful look when it comes to choosing how to care for ourselves. It’s not that I disagree with the notion of using sunscreen at all. In fact, the NIH’s recommendation seems very reasonable to me. My concern is that we’ve been PSA’d into believing that we should lather it on any and every time we venture out into the sun — even when it’s just for a short bout of sun. In those scenarios, it makes me wonder if we’re not doing more harm than good.

With this balanced perspective in mind, my self-care practice for the day was to enjoy a little bit of sunscreen-free sunshine, and then I responsibly applied sunscreen to prevent a sunburn.

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