Is Vitamin D good for skin?

Vitamin D is essential for our overall body health. Exposing your skin to the sun is one way to get it as UVB radiation from sunlight triggers the skin to make vitamin D, but there’s a catch: unprotected sun exposure damages skin. And then there’s the fact that for most people, sun exposure isn’t an effective way to get vitamin D anyway.

Exposing skin to the sun without SPF causes a host of problems, including sunburn and signs of ageing. There’s also the issue that the intensity of the sun’s UVB rays varies with the season, time of day and geographic location so the standard recommended exposure times aren’t really helpful. Surprisingly, parts of the northern hemisphere don’t receive strong enough UVB light to spur vitamin D production for a big portion of the year.

There’s also the issue of how much skin must be exposed to the sun for your body to make sufficient vitamin D. Is it enough to just expose your face and hands or should you expose your face, arms and chest? No one knows for sure and a simple guess or avoiding sun cream in certain exposed areas while protecting others doesn’t make sense.

The solution is twofold: ask your doctor for a blood test to find out if you’re vitamin D deficient. If you are, your doctor can advise you about which vitamin D supplement to take and which vitamin D-enriched foods to consumer more. The supplement discussion is important; be sure your doctor talks to you about the dose and frequency of use to ensure you don’t get too much vitamin D, as this can cause its own set of problems.

What does vitamin D do?

Vitamin D is one of the fat-soluble vitamins, meaning the body stores what it doesn’t need rather than excreting it (which it does with water-soluble vitamins). Vitamin D is essential for adequate calcium absorption and also has a role throughout the body to optimise health. So does vitamin D help skin? Yes because it has antioxidant and skin-soothing benefits among other traits, but food or supplements are the preferred methods compared to exposing your skin to sunlight.

There are two primary forms of vitamin D: D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). The D3 form is considered by many nutrition experts as superior because it more closely resembles the vitamin D your body naturally produces when skin is exposed to sunlight.

Along with supplements, you can get vitamin D from fortified foods, like milk and orange juice as well as from eating fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Beef, shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks and fortified cereals are also good sources.

What causes vitamin D deficiency?

Bad timing and/or exposure to sun that is just not strong enough are big factors in vitamin D deficiency, but some researchers feel that using sun cream is also partly to blame. Though daily SPF application does keep skin from making vitamin D in the presence of sunlight, SPF alone doesn’t explain why so many people are vitamin D deficient.

We know that most people don’t apply as much sun cream as they should; in fact, many don’t apply it at all or they only use it if they’re at the beach. Even in countries where very few people wear sun cream and the sun is intense year-round, there are still those with deficient levels of vitamin D. This shows that SPF application is barely a blip on the blame radar.

Age is a factor, as our skin has a harder time making vitamin D as the years go by. And, of course, not eating enough vitamin D-enriched foods plays a role. Eating a highly processed, dairy-free diet would be one potential culprit or following a vegan diet without taking vitamin D vitamins.

Above all, it doesn’t make sense to expose your skin to sunlight in an effort to get more vitamin D. Why risk it when you can increase your levels in ways that are easy (often tasty) and also don’t damage the health and appearance of your skin?

References for this information:

1. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, January 2016, pages 65–72
2. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, volume 810, 2014, pages 1–16 and 464–484
3. Annals of Dermatology and Venereology, March 2013, pages 176–182
4. Dermatologic Therapy, January-February 2010, pages 48–60
5. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, January 2010, pages E1–E9
6. British Journal of Dermatology, October 2009, pages 732–736
7. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2008, pages 1080S–1086S

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