A recent report found that more than a third of Singaporeans suffer from a deficiency in Vitamin D. A surprising fact here in sunny Singapore when you consider that our skin easily produces Vitamin D from cholesterol when it is exposed to UVB rays.
Vitamin D is a nutrient needed by our body for good bone health, protects against certain cancers and critical to the proper functioning of our immune system that can make us more resistant to infections such as Covid-19. Long term Vitamin D deficiency can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, pain and depression while getting the right amounts have many benefits.
Here’s a short list:
1. Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant
They are anti-inflammatory and can help soothe skin prone to redness. It is also an antioxidant that offers protection against environmental damages, which prevents premature skin ageing.
2. Boosts the skin’s immune system
Vitamin D in beauty products has benefits for our skin too! It boosts the skin's immune system and reinforces its barrier to help prevent moisture loss and dryness while preventing dead cells' build-up on the skin's surface, leading to psoriasis plaques.
3. It helps to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy
Particularly in ladies, Vitamin D is more important for us! Did you know that women are more prone to Osteoporosis? Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.
4. Reduces risks of health issues
Vitamin D reduces the risks of a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, diabetes or high blood pressure later in life too! Pregnant women with low vitamin D levels are also linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
A fat-soluble vitamin that can be produced endogenously - within the body - when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin, we can also get Vitamin D from some types of foods such as eggs, liver, milk, yougurt and orange juice. We can also get Vitamin D from health supplements commonly found in many health stores.
Oily fish such as salmon and sardines are considered some of the best sources of Vitamin D, but even then, you will need to consume about 100g of salmon daily just to get the recommended dose. So this leaves sun exposure as still the primary way of getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D.
AH GIRL AH! DON’T STAND UNDER THE SUN, VERY HOT!
"Ah girl ah, come inside, donch play out there in the sun oredi. Later you kenna chao tah!" This common refrain - or perhaps, a less singlish variation of it - is something that most young girls growing up in Singapore would probably have heard from our mothers and aunties. A curious warning as we head to join our friends at the beach or at the playground.
I recall as a young teenager, a social group of Japanese and Taiwanese aunties living in my estate would regularly play tennis in the late afternoons decked out in tights and long sleeves. Having slathered copious amounts of sunscreen on every exposed bit of skin, the ensemble was completed with a dark visor that covered their faces like a welder’s mask.
This contrasts deeply with the many western expatriates here in Singapore who would spend hours by the pool soaking up those gorgeous golden rays. For us Singaporeans though, sun tanning is not something we generally enjoy. At the beaches or parks, we generally make a beeline to the shadiest spots under the trees.
Most of us are already familiar with the East Asian beauty standards of fair, translucent skin that looks like snow. This particular aesthetic obsession coupled with lifestyles that find most of us cooped up in offices indoors may actually be contributing to widespread Vitamin deficiency here in Singapore.
SAFELY GETTING YOUR DAILY DOSE OF SUN
So to sun or not to sun? That is the question we find ourselves asking. While we do want to get our daily dose of Vitamin D, frequent prolonged exposure to UV light especially in regions near the equator can lead to unintended consequences for our skin.
For instance, UV light encourages melanin production, a defensive response that can cause skin to darken and cause issues like hyperpgimentation. UV rays can also penetrate the outer layers of your skin damaging and killing skin cells that could cause dry skin and wrinkles bringing an early onset of signs of ageing. In extreme cases, sun exposure has also been found to be one of the leading causes of skin cancer!
Thankfully, you don’t actually need to sun yourself for hours to get a healthy dose of Vitamin D. According to Singhealth, here in sun-kissed Singapore, between 10 to 30 mins of direct sunlight, twice a week is enough for you to get a healthy dose of Vitamin D with the best times being from 10am to 3pm.
Those with paler skin tones require less exposure as the melanin pigments that cause darker skin tones act as a natural protection against the absorption of UV rays thus requiring longer exposure times in order to synthesise the same amounts of Vitmain D.
SHOULD I STILL APPLY SUNSCREEN DAILY?
In short, yes! Since it is impractical to sit in our caves the whole week coming out only twice a week for our regular 30 mins of sun, it is still important to continue to use your sunscreen. While using a good sunscreen can filter out a significant amount of UVB rays - essential to Vitamin D synthesis - from reaching your skin, it will never be able to filter out 100% of it and that is if you have applied it evenly on every square inch of exposed skin.
Depending on your individual needs and activities planned, you can also select a sunscreen that has more or less protection based on how long you intend to be out under the sun. For instance, if you plan to be indoors most of the day, then the Sun Project Shimmer Sun Essence SPF 30 might be the right sunscreen but if you are heading wakeboarding in the afternoon, then a sunscreen with a stronger SPF might be called for.
It is also important to use regular sun protection as you might be unwittingly exposing yourself to more harmful UV rays than you think. If you regularly sit or work by the window, you should know that glass filters out UVB rays, needed for synthesising Vitamin D, while allowing UVA rays (which penetrate deeper and are more harmful to your skin) through. So you could actually be exposing yourself to all the harmful effects without the benefits of increased Vitamin D production.
Another reason to use a good sunscreen regularly is that modern sunscreens deliver more skin benefits than just sun protection. Modern sunscreens such as Lagom’s Cellus Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA+++, deliver complementary skin benefits such as moisturising, soothing and anti-wrinkle treatments for a more holistic approach to sun protection. Some products even have cosmetic benefits such as brightening and concealing.
Regular exposure without protection can put your skin at risk of premature ageing and hyperpigmentation. In extreme cases, it can also increase your risk of skin cancer. In trying to get the optimal levels of Vitamin D while protecting your skin against sun damage, it is a lot more practical to use sun protection all the time and regulate how often you go out under the direct sun.
So always wear sunscreen and the next time you’re tempted to take that shortcut through the air conditioned mall or that underpass, consider walking a little bit in the sun. It’ll do you some good!