New sunblock lets vitamin D through

Glorious, sunny days help boost our spirits, and our vitamin D levels but health warnings over skin cancer have us covering up in the sun.

The sunscreens which help protect our skin from the sun's harmful rays, can also block the ones that help our bodies make much needed vitamin D.

Breakthrough sunscreen technology from Australia now has the answer.

Around one in 20 adults in New Zealand are deficient in vitamin D.  Adults that don't get enough can develop bone weakness and increased risk of fracture.

Emma Dow was diagnosed with a deficiency last year.

"It was having a bit of a tumble effect on my health so it was kind of important that I got my vitamin D levels up."

Our bodies produce vitamin D when our bare skin is exposed to the sun, that's where we get 90 percent of our vitamin D from, but because of the risk of melanoma we need to be careful how much sun we get.

It's a conundrum that led Mat Collett to create a new sunscreen.

His Solar D product still helps to prevent sunburn, but allows some of the sun's UVB rays to filter through.

UVB is the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn. It tends to damage the skin's more superficial epidermal layers.

"What we came up with is I guess the best of both worlds, where you still protect yourself from the sun, but you're still letting in some of the light that your body produces vitamin D," Matt Collett says.

The product is already helping people like Emma.

"I had a recent blood test and have seen that my vitamin D levels have already gone up, so I think it's doing the job," she says.

The world first technology is already available in New Zealand and is set to expand into China and the US.

The risk factors

People with naturally very dark skin, or those who do not get regular sunlight exposure, are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Certain medications and liver and kidney disease can also affect vitamin D levels.

Increase your vitamins

You can get more vitamin D through sensible sun exposure.  A daily walk is recommended - around the middle of the day in winter months, but early or later in the day is better in summer months when the sun is stronger.  

It doesn't take long:  Optimal vitamin D can be produced in just a few minutes, even if the UV index is low in winter months, if at least the face, arms and legs are exposed.

Sitting in a sunny window won't work as UVB rays don't pass through glass.  But just how much sun you should get will depend on your skin colour, age and risk of skin cancer.

Vitamin D in food

You can also get a vitamin D boost by eating certain foods, especially dairy, eggs, liver and oily fish, or your doctor may recommend a supplement.

If you're concerned you're not getting enough vitamin D, or want to know more about safe sun exposure, talk to your GP.