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Does Sunscreen Really Block Vitamin D Production?

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You know—we all know—about the importance of sunscreen. It's gotten to the point where going outdoors without the stuff feels about as subversive as going outdoors fully naked. And if you actually still hit up tanning beds? People admit that with the same self-conscious, guilty giggle they use when they cop to smoking the occasional cigarette. (Bad!)

Most of the justifications people use to explain why they shun sunscreen are no longer valid—looking better with a tan (fake tan technology has come so far), the sun helping dry up acne (not true; avoiding sun is a better bet); sunscreen feels so gross (you just haven't found the right SPF for you—check out these 20 options). But there's one that still seems legit: that sunscreen blocks your skin's ability to absorb the rays that help your body create a usable form of vitamin D. And we've been bombarded for years now with news about how great vitamin D is. Research has indicated that it helps with weight loss, athletic performance, and more. But are the perks so good that it's worth risking forgoing SPF?

Darrell Rigel, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, says no. "It always pays to protect yourself from the sun. We know there's a risk of getting skin cancer if you get too much sun," he explains. "And yes, sunscreen reduces the amount of UVB rays that reach your skin, which in turn keeps your skin from converting vitamin D into its usable form. But there are a bunch of other ways to get enough vitamin D without putting yourself at risk of skin cancer."

The easiest way: Just take a vitamin D supplement so you can slather on SPF without even thinking about what dose of direct D you're getting. (Here's how to pick the best one.) Or eat vitamin D-rich foods (like these eight).

The truth is, though, you may not even need to up your intake. "No one wears sunscreen perfectly," says Rigel. People wear too little, or reapply infrequently, so chances are, you're getting exposed to at least some UVB rays no matter what. "Even if you're wearing a high SPF and reapplying it regularly, you are getting some UVB rays during day-to-day activities like walking from your car from the supermarket, and therefore converting some vitamin D," he adds.

The bottom line: You can no longer bake on the beach under the pretext of "soaking up some vitamin D." Or rather, you can—just rub on some SPF first.

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