Courtesy of Buffalo Medical Group

During summer, the great outdoor beckons more strongly than during fall and winter. Temperate climates and abundant sunshine encourage people to bask in the warm rays of the sun.

Spending time outdoors is good for mental health and is a natural way for people to get adequate vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin. The National Institutes of Health says exposure to sunshine for five to 30 minutes a day, most days a week, is optimal to make vitamin D. A large percentage of the population is deficient in vitamin D. The NIH says many studies correlate vitamin D insufficiency with increased risk of numerous chronic conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, myocardial infarctions, and brittle bones.

However, Paul J. Wirth, MD is a dermatologist and Mohs micrographic surgeon with Buffalo Medical Group, says that while sun exposure to make vitamin D needs to occur without sunscreen for maximum impact, protection is vital to be safe. So, how safe is it to spend time outdoors without sun protection, and what are the risks of doing so? Also, do the risks of vitamin D deficiency outrank those involving sun exposure and cancer causation?

“The good news is that most people can safely enjoy the sun and obtain vitamin D,” says Dr. Wirth, who offers some tips and safety precautions to help guide you.

  • Keep in mind that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Therefore, if you must spend time in the sun, do so outside of this time period.
  • Promptly apply sunscreen. After a short period of unprotected sunshine of no more than 30 minutes, put on sunblock right away. Also, reapply as indicated on the packaging depending on activity. Dr. Wirth says that sunscreen cannot block all UV rays, and even usage of sunblock will not prevent all vitamin D production. Dr. Wirth suggests using an SPF of at least 30.
  • Ultraviolet radiation is the number one cause of skin cancer. Wear wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen, and protective clothing to prevent cumulative sun exposure, which can lead to basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.
  • Keep in mind that episodes of severe sunburns, usually before age 18, can raise the risk of developing melanoma. Children should be just as careful of sun exposure as adults.
  • It is challenging to define what “too much sun” actually is. Strength of the sun (UV index), skin type, and the strength of sunscreen are all important considerations. A person with very fair skin exposed to an ultraviolet index of 6, which is easily reached at noon in summer, can suffer sunburn in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.

“It’s a fine line to balance healthy sun exposure to obtain vitamin D and avoid sun damage to the skin. But it’s best that people walk that tightrope with sun safety in mind,” says Dr. Wirth. Learn more about Dr. Wirth and other medical experts at Buffalo Medical Group at and Learn more about sun exposure at Visit to learn about Mohs micrographic surgery.