THE BLOG
08/21/2013 05:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 21, 2013

Sun or Sunscreen? Choose Both for Good Health

The sun is bad for you; it can give you cancer. Sunscreen is good for you; it helps block the sun's damaging rays. At least that's what you've probably been told all your life, but it's not as simple as that. Sunlight can also provide many health benefits.

Yes, there are risks in overexposure to sunlight, and you can mitigate these with sunscreen; however, some scientists believe the health benefits from some sun exposure -- not all day at the beach -- are far larger than the skin cancer risk. Sunlight is one of the few natural ways to obtain vitamin D, which has been shown to protect the body from many illnesses, including cancer. Without vitamin D, your body will not absorb calcium -- an essential mineral for bone health. It's the only vitamin the body can make from sunlight.

Although vitamin D can be obtained from eating fatty fish, milk, orange juice and cereals, many people don't consume enough of these foods to get the vitamin D they need. You only need about 10 minutes of sunshine to absorb large amounts of vitamin D -- 10,000-20,000 IU. That's just a short walk outside with a T-shirt on!

No doubt, you need sunscreen when you're going to be exposed to the sun for a long period of time, but there is controversy over whether some the chemicals used in traditional sunscreen may be dangerous for your long-term health. There are more natural options that are not chemical-based. Look for zinc and titanium as the key ingredients. Instead of penetrating the skin, they sit on top of the skin blocking the sun's rays.

The best way to reap the health benefits without the risks from both the sun and sunscreen is to practice moderation and do your research. Short stints in the sun with your arms or legs exposed are a good thing. Choosing sunscreen after researching the ingredients helps you make more informed decisions. Applying sunscreen when you are going to have longer sun exposure is an excellent habit.

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