Skincare guru says a small bit of daily sun can help bones
We have all been warned to take care in the sun because of the hazards of skin cancer and ageing. But skin care specialist Liz Earle tells Gabrielle Fagan she now realises a small daily dose of sun is essential for bone health
'THOU shalt not go out in the sun unprotected' is a fundamental commandment that skin care and beauty experts have preached for years. So it's shocking to hear none other than Liz Earle - co-founder of the hugely successful skin company bearing her name - advising an essential dose of bare skin in the sunshine. The reason for this turnaround is basic science: sunshine creates Vitamin D, which is absorbed through the skin and then works together with calcium to create strong bones, helping to prevent the bone-weakening condition, osteoporosis. Earle was forced to learn this fact when some friends suffered fractures following falls (which can be a sign of osteoporosis) and when a blood test showed her levels of Vitamin D were only 'borderline', putting her own bones at risk too. She quickly realised she had to follow the consensus of expert health advice, from cancer and bone health charities as well as dermatologists: up to 10 minutes exposure to the sun daily, without sunscreen, to ensure sufficient Vitamin D levels to protect bones. She's now backing this year's Sunlight Campaign run by the National Osteoporosis Society to show people how to safely embrace the sun to protect their health. "Over the last few years a number of my girlfriends in their late 50s had started to fall and have fractures," she says. "One friend who was obsessed about never having an inch of her skin in the sun has just suffered two wrist fractures. "They're all pale-skinned and have religiously kept out of the sun over the years because they've been aware of its ageing effect and also the risks of skin cancer. "Is there a link to that and their problems now - I don't know? "But they are beginning to say 'Well, for the last 20 years we've been told by the beauty world to always apply sun screen to every bit of our skin at every single hour of the day, and maybe this is too extreme a message'. "That's when I started to look into it further." Statistics from the National Osteoporosis Society show that one in two women, and one in five men, over 50, will suffer a fracture mainly because of poor bone health. Earle (50) generally takes sensible precautions and always wears sun cream and covers up in the sun but believes that she was getting sufficient sun exposure to benefit her body. "I must stress that I still believe, and the experts agree, that it's absolutely essential to be safe in the sun, by covering up and using suntan lotion because of the risks of skin cancer and it's effect of ageing skin," she says. "But I think this small adjustment is sensible. "I was very surprised at my Vitamin D reading. "And I was also very shocked by the charity's statistics on the number of people who will suffer osteoporosis. "That means looking around at a group of girlfriends, 10 of us are likely to suffer a fracture. "To help prevent that for myself, each day, between May and September, I now try to get 10 minutes of sunlight on my skin, without sunscreen, to give my bones a boost." Experts advise that we should expose ourselves to the sun when it's at its hottest, between 11am and 3pm, which is when the UVB rays, most effective in producing Vitamin D, are at their height. Earle is clear this exposure must be carefully controlled though. "Of course, we're not talking about burning - at any sign of that you should cover up," she says. "It's also counter-productive because if your skin starts to burn the body will actually start to destroy the excess Vitamin D you have accumulated. "Like most things in life, it's about 'little and often and getting a balance'."