Medically reviewed by Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD on May 15, 2020. Written by Libby Pellegrini. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
To boost your vitamin D levels, your best bet is to go out and get some sunlight – instead of just turning to your diet (since most foods don’t naturally have vitamin D).
That also means that if you’re not regularly getting very much sunlight, you could very well be vitamin D deficient (which you can detect with an at-home vitamin D blood test).
If so, you aren’t alone: researchers estimate that about 40% of adults in the United States are vitamin D deficient, which can lead to symptoms like fatigue, depression, and joint pain.
This “sun vitamin” assists the body and the immune system in a number of different ways. Vitamin D helps regulate the amounts of calcium and phosphate within the body. People with a low vitamin D status may experience issues regarding their muscle, teeth, and bone health if left untreated. Not only that, but low levels of vitamin D can sometimes lead to rickets in children or can cause mood swings in some individuals. Because vitamin D plays such an important role in the body, it’s essential to have the right amount.
Not sure how to get vitamin D from the sun? Below are our top vitamin D and sunlight tips to help you get more of this vital nutrient.
Tip #1: It’s a good idea to check your vitamin D levels in the winter to make sure your levels don’t get too low.
Here’s Why: Less sunlight (and less UVB rays) reaches the surface of the Earth – and your skin – during winter. (That’s due to the fact that the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis.) And with less sunlight comes less vitamin D production in your body. That's why it can be a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter.
Tip #2: To actually take advantage of the sun’s vitamin D-producing effect, spend good time outdoors – instead of only getting sunlight exposure while in a car, office, or in your home. Increasing your exposure to the sun by spending just an extra 10-15 minutes outdoors can be beneficial for your vitamin D level.
Here’s Why: Can you get vitamin D through a window when sunlight streams in? The answer, in general, is “no.” It might seem like glass lets all the sun’s rays get through to you, but that’s just an illusion: glass – as well as plexiglass and plastic – absorbs all UVB radiation. Thus, even if sunlight is streaming through the windows of your car or home, your body won’t produce any vitamin D in response.
Tip #3: Check the amount of air pollution in your city by visiting AirNow.gov.
Here’s Why: Did you know that the amount of pollution in your environment can influence how much of this “sunlight vitamin” your body produces? Air pollution – the byproduct of massive amounts of traffic and more – absorbs UVB rays from the sun, leaving less of it to be absorbed by your own skin. So even though cities like Los Angeles and San Diego – for example – get lots of sunlight year round, there’s nevertheless a relatively high risk of a vitamin D deficiency in these cities because of fairly high levels of air pollution.
Tip #4: If you have a low vitamin D level, your altitude could be a contributing factor.
Here’s Why: Imagine you live at the top of a tall mountain, where the air is crisp and thin. In this scenario, chances are you’re getting a lot more direct sunlight than someone living in a deep valley. The reason why? At higher altitudes, the atmosphere is thinner – so sunlight isn’t blocked out as much. So you face a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency the lower your altitude.
Tip #5: If you tend to wear sun protection (a sunscreen) whenever you step outside, and you’re really good at using it to cover up all areas of your skin that sunlight lands on, then allow yourself 10 minutes of sunlight exposure a few times a week – without any sun protection on.
Here’s Why: Most people don’t apply sunscreen in a way that completely blocks out UV radiation. However, if you’re very effective at using sunscreen to cover up all parts of your body that would be exposed to sunlight, then you’re at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency (assuming you wear sunscreen just about any time you go outdoors).
This is because sunscreen formulas generally block out the sun’s UV rays. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 30 will absorb up to 98% of the UVB rays from the sun.
Tip #6: The darker your skin color is, the greater your risk of having a deficiency of the “sunshine vitamin” – making it especially critical that you monitor your vitamin D levels.
Here’s Why: Skin color is largely determined by melanin, a natural pigment that acts as a sunscreen. In short, melanin absorbs UVB rays before they can reach deeper into your skin and trigger vitamin D production. If you have dark skin, then you have more melanin – which can put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency, particularly if you don’t spend much time outside in the sun.
Don't know if your vitamin D level is high enough? Easily check your vitamin D status from the comfort of home with our convenient at-home vitamin D testing kit.
1. Parva NR, Tadepalli S, Singh P, et al. Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012). Cureus. 2018;10(6):e2741. doi:10.7759/cureus.2741
2. Wacker M, Holick MF. Sunlight and Vitamin D: A global perspective for health. Dermatoendocrinol. 2013;5(1):51-108. doi:10.4161/derm.24494
3. Thacher TD, Clarke BL. Vitamin D insufficiency. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86(1):50-60. doi:10.4065/mcp.2010.0567