Sunlight is the best source of natural vitamin D, but sun exposure can cause sunburn and skin damage that can lead to cancer. Sunscreen protects against sunburn, but high-SPF varieties are designed to filter out most UVB radiation that causes damage. We just can’t win, can we?

So what are we supposed to do? Put our skin at risk in favour of vitamin D, or avoid as much sun exposure as possible while turning to other sources of vitamin D like food and supplements?

While the latter may be the most recommended alternative because it’s less risky, we can still minimize our risk of sunburn and skin damage by simply staying conscious of our outdoor environment, our activities, and how much time we spend outside. The truth is that some sun is good for us — it’s just that it’s often difficult to gouge how much is enough before it’s too late.

Get Out During Off-Peak Hours

The American Skin Association recommends avoiding the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when UV exposure is the strongest. UV rays can be just as strong on cloudy days as they are on sunny days, so don’t be fooled by cloud cover. If you’re going to go out without sunscreen, do it in the early morning or early evening when the sun’s rays are weaker.

Avoid Staying Out for Long Periods

It doesn’t take a lot of time in the sun at all to start reaping the benefits of vitamin D. According to, most experts recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure to the arms, legs, abdomen, and back just 2 to 3 times a week followed by full sun protection for any additional time spent in the sun thereafter.

Load Up on Skin-Healthy Superfoods

Sun exposure increases free radicals, which are molecules with unpaired electrons that steal the electrons from other cells. This causes damage to the skin. Foods rich in antioxidants help fight free radical damage without blocking UV rays, so it doesn’t hurt to stock up on healthy fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds during the summer months. Here are 10 superfood ideas to get you started.

Never Assume That Shade Is Enough

After 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, you might head to the nearest shady spot thinking that shade will be as good as sunscreen. But sunlight still reflects off of your surrounding area, meaning that it can still cause skin damage or even sunburn while under the shade of a big tree or a patio umbrella. After 10 to 15 minutes, it’s best to apply sunscreen even if you spend the rest of the day outside in a heavily shaded area.

Be Prepared to Protect Your Skin

The key to getting the right amount of unprotected sun exposure is doing it in a controlled and limited way. Cloudiness, a strong breeze, and swimming make it easy to become distracted by the dangers of excess unprotected sun exposure because you can’t feel the warmth of the sun as much — so make sure you bring along lots of extra SPF (ideally water resistant), a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing to use after you get your 10 to 15 minutes.

Sun is good, but it can turn into a danger pretty quickly. Be sure to speak to your doctor about limited unprotected sun exposure if you have a health condition, fair skin, skin allergies, or if you’re currently taking medication. Have fun but remember to stay safe!