Skin pigmentation comes from the presence of melanin, a black-brown protein also found in your hair, and in specific cells in your intestines and brain. The greater the level of melanin if your skin, the darker it appears. Your skin tone and pigmentation levels are determined by a number of factors: Genetics typically determine your general skin color, while environmental factors such as level of sunlight exposure can contribute to your skin pigmentation. A number of vitamin deficiencies can also affect your skin tone, leading to a loss of skin pigmentation and a pale complexion.
One vitamin that can affect your skin pigmentation is vitamin C, or ascorbic acid. Vitamin C in your body helps to produce collagen, a protein essential for healthy skin, nails, blood vessels, hair, connective tissue, bones and a number of other tissues. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, a condition that leads to abnormally pale skin. In addition, scurvy can cause bone damage, tooth loss and blood vessel and skin damage. You can prevent scurvy by eating a range of fruits and vegetables, since many types of produce provide a source of ascorbic acid. Citrus fruits, strawberries and broccoli are all good food sources. The recommended daily intake for vitamin C is 75 milligrams for women and 90 milligrams for men, as set by the Institute of Medicine.
A deficiency in vitamin B-9, or folic acid, can also lead to a loss of pigmentation in your skin. Folic acid levels in your body help to maintain your metabolism and contribute to energy production, and also prove important for the development of red blood cells. Chronic under-consumption of folic acid can lead to folate-deficiency anemia, a condition that can cause pale skin and decrease the appearance of skin pigmentation. The condition also leads to fatigue and headaches, since your body cannot access the oxygen it requires to function properly. Folic acid is found in leafy greens, beans and fortified juices. The RDI of folic acid for adults is 400 micrograms.
Failure to consume enough vitamin B-12, or cobalamin, can also lead to a lack of skin pigmentation. Cobalamin aids in the production of hemoglobin, as well as the breakdown of nutrients for energy within your tissues. A vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to pernicious anemia, a form of anemia that causes fatigue, fever, numbness and unexplained weight, as well as pale skin. Individuals following a plant-based diet, like a vegan or raw food diet, may face an increased risk of vitamin B-12 deficiency, and should consume vitamin B-12 supplements to avoid anemia and a loss of skin pigmentation. Vitamin B-12 is only found in animal foods, such as eggs and meats, and the RDI of B-12 is 2.4 micrograms.
Skin Pigmentation and Vitamin D
While not associated with a vitamin D deficiency, the level of pigmentation in your skin can affect vitamin D levels in your body. Melanocytes, the cells that produce your skin pigment, serve as the site of vitamin D production in your body. When exposed to sunlight, the melanocytes begin to synthesize vitamin D, and adequate sunlight helps to fight vitamin D deficiency. Your level of skin pigmentation helps determine how much sunlight you need to make enough vitamin D: Lighter-skinned individuals typically require less sunlight than darker-skinned individuals. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate amount of sun exposure for your skin tone to generate enough vitamin D, without damaging your skin with excessive sun exposure. Vitamin D is also available in fortified foods such as milk and cereal. The RDI of vitamin D is 600 international units.