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We have been led to believe that enjoying the outdoors–or even walking to your car–without being slathered in sunscreen means skin cancer is imminent. While excessive sun, and especially sustaining severe sunburns at a young age, certainly can lead to melanoma, the sun has been unfairly demonized. The fact is, moderate sun exposure can actually prevent cancer.

I’m not talking about frying in the sun. The key here is not to burn! Begin with up to 10 minutes daily if possible in the sun with no sunscreen. That’s right, no sunscreen. Sunscreen is toxic and contains chemicals absorbed by your skin that can cause great toxicity! You can build up to more exposure over time, but don’t stay out longer than 20 minutes.

Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production in the body. Vitamin D has created quite a buzz lately, as deficiency is becoming more and more widespread, especially in higher latitudes, and is being linked with lowered immunity and higher cancer rates. I advise everyone to get vitamin D levels checked. If you live in the upper half of the US or don’t get regular sun exposure, you may be surprised to find that you have low levels.

It’s hard to get vitamin D from foods, so if you do not get regular sun, you must supplement. Cod liver oil is a great source, or a practitioner-recommended supplement taken for a limited period of time will do the trick. Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that is is stored in fat cells and can build up to unhealthy levels over time if you over-supplement, which is why it is important to test your levels and work with a practitioner.

So, don’t be afraid to get out in the sun this summer! Remember: do NOT allow yourself to burn. Sunscreen is toxic and interferes with the production of vitamin D. Of course, if you have to be out in the sun for hours, there are certain not-so-toxic sunscreen brands out there. Acceptable brands include Badger, Soleo, and California Baby. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s database to check how toxic your sunscreen products are (www.ewg.org). Increase antioxidant levels (eat more colorful fruits and veggies), which prevent sunburn too.

Now, get out there and bask!