Vitamin D is vital to the health, beauty and longevity of the largest organ in your body: your skin. An adequate level of vitamin D benefits skin by helping to promote healthy epidermal cell growth, decrease the risk of infection, prevent skin aging and reduce the incidence of chronic disease, including skin cancer.
Why You Need Vitamin D
Vitamin D provides a wide range of functions essential for a healthy body and skin. Your skin relies on vitamin D for its anti-inflammatory properties needed to help eliminate bacteria or pathogens that permeate your epidermis.
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In addition to being vital for your bones, vitamin D positively influences the health of your skin by its role in the regulation of hormones, synthesis of connective tissue and support of your immune system to neutralize free radicals that contribute to harmful skin conditions.
How Much You Need
Nearly, 30 to 50 percent of all age groups are vitamin D deficient worldwide. It's crucial to get the right amount of vitamin D by way of adequate sun exposure, foods rich in vitamin D, fortified foods or supplements.
The recommended daily intakes for vitamin D vary among some organizations in the U.S.:
- The Food and Nutrition Board recommends 600 IU for children and adults and 800 IU for seniors.
- The Endocrine Society recommends 600 to 1,000 IU for children and 1,500 to 2,000 IU for adults.
- The Vitamin D Council recommends 1,000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight for children and 5,000 IU for adults.
Read more: Maximum Vitamin D Daily Dosage
Sunshine Is the Best Source
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin because your body can produce it when exposed to sun. The sun is the most abundant source of vitamin D for most people.
The effect of sun exposure on vitamin D synthesis depends on many factors, such as your skin pigmentation, body size, age and environmental factors, such as geographic latitude, season, time of day, weather conditions, amount of air pollution and surface reflection, which can all interfere with the amount of UVB radiation reaching the skin
To avoid vitamin D deficiency skin symptoms, you can get adequate amounts from the sun in as little as 15 minutes if you are very fair skinned or several hours or more for a dark skinned person. The Vitamin D Council says your body can produce 10,000 to 25,000 IU of vitamin D in about half the time it takes for your skin to begin to burn.
Food Sources of Vitamin D
Although some natural foods contain vitamin D in small amounts, many countries fortify foods with vitamin D to make it easier to get sufficient amounts needed for good health. Some foods and fortified foods that contain vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Fortified milk, yogurt and orange juice
- Fortified cereal and health bars
- Infant formula
Vitamin D is also available in supplement form, and included in many multivitamins. When choosing a supplement, consider vitamin D3 as it is metabolized better than other forms of vitamin D, according to the National Institutes of Health. With a severe deficiency, you may need vitamin D by injection from your doctor.
When You Need a Supplement
Many conditions or situations can make it difficult to get enough vitamin D and put you at risk of a deficiency. Some of these include:
- Having a limited exposure to the sun from living in the northern hemisphere; wearing clothing that extensively covers your body due to cultural reasons; or spending your day indoors
- Being elderly with decreased ability to absorb nutrients
- Being pregnant and breastfeeding
- Some gastrointestinal diseases or conditions that impair the body's ability to absorb vitamin D foods such as gastric bypass surgery, Crohn's or celiac
- Kidney or liver disease that inhibits the organ's ability to metabolize vitamin D in your body
- Low dietary intake of foods rich in vitamin D or living without access to fortified foods
- Obesity or a fat malabsorption issue
- Taking medications that impair vitamin D and calcium absorption
- Having dark-pigmented skin, which decreases the ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun
If you think you may have vitamin D deficiency, you should consult your doctor or have a blood test done to check your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D and Skin Rash
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory skin rash with symptoms of red, dry, rough and itchy skin. Eczema affects about 10 to 30 percent of all Americans, most commonly infants and young children, but it also develops in adults.
One of the best ways vitamin D benefits skin is with its ability to treat eczema. Treatment for a deficiency in vitamin D has proven to be effective for this type of skin irritation. The dose is usually between 5,000 and 15,000 IU, since people differ in their blood level after supplementation. It often takes two to three months to respond, according to the Vitamin D Council.
Vitamin D and Atopic Dermatitis
A meta-analysis in 2016, published in Nutrition, analysed evidence to support the effectiveness of vitamin D in treating atopic dermatitis. The study concluded, with a 95 percent confidence interval, that vitamin D supplementation has a significant role in decreasing the severity of dermatitis and can be considered a safe and tolerable therapy.
Children respond well to vitamin D, sometimes quicker than adults. With 25 micrograms given daily (1,000 IU) to children, atopic dermatitis improved within a month, as shown in a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2014.
Vitamin D and Acne
Low vitamin D skin symptoms may include a breakout of acne. Acne is an inflammatory condition that may lead to blocked or clogged pores that cause red bumps or blackheads to form on your skin. Changes in hormone levels and bacteria can contribute to acne.
A study evaluated vitamin D levels in patients with acne and identified the role of vitamin D deficiency in acne development. Findings published in PLoS One in 2016 noted that 48.8 percent of patients with acne had vitamin D deficiencies. After supplementing these patients with 1,000 IU of vitamin D, their inflammatory lesions showed improvements after eight weeks.
Another study published in Dermato Endocrinology in 2014 also found a connection between vitamin D deficiency and acne. Results indicated that vitamin D regulates the immune system and the production of keratin and sebum from the sebaceous glands. Furthermore, research suggests that vitamin D benefits the skin with its antioxidant properties that may inhibit the blocking of pores in the skin.
Vitamin D and Wound Healing
If you are deficient, you may experience low vitamin D skin symptoms, including slow healing of cuts, bruises or wounds.
A study by the International Society for Burn Injuries in 2016 found that the sunshine vitamin D might increase production of antimicrobial protein necessary for the process of forming new skin. The rate of cell renewal is dependent on the amount of vitamin D present in the body. Findings support the potential of vitamin D to control inflammation and fight infection in the skin.
From the conclusion of the study, it was noted that a severe deficiency in vitamin D might deter recovery from surgery and surgical wounds.
Dry, Itchy Skin Conditions
Ichthyosis is a form of severe dry skin. An inherited disorder, it's sometimes called fish scale disease due to accumulation of thick dry scaly skin. Ichthyosis is due to mutations in genes involved in the skin barrier function. Vitamin D is important because it activates receptors responsible for inducing formation of the skin barrier that is crucial for defending the skin.
From the findings of a study published by Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases in 2014, researchers warned against the risk of vitamin D deficiency in the management of patients with ichthyosis, especially in winter and spring, when there is less sun exposure, and in the cases of dark skin or severe disease.
The study also reported that abnormal or low vitamin D was observed with other skin diseases characterized by abnormal dry, itchy skin and scaling, including psoriasis.
Premature Skin Aging
Healthy levels of vitamin D have been shown to prevent skin aging, A 2017 study hypothesized that vitamin D may control the process of aging through its role in regulating autophagy, inflammation, oxidative stress, genetic changes, DNA disorders and alterations in calcium.
The Physiological Society explains that skin aging results from the shortening of telomeres, the caps of genetic material on the free ends of DNA strands. As the telomeres shorten with age, the DNA becomes increasingly unstable until the cell dies.
As you get older, your skin's ability to produce vitamin D declines resulting in the acceleration of ageing and age-related diseases, according to the study in the Journal of Physiology.
Read more: How Does Aging Affect the Skin?
Vitamin D and Rosacea
Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that typically affects the face, with redness, pimples, swelling and small dilated blood vessels. Sun exposure is often the trigger of a flare-up of the condition.
A study published in the journal Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology in 2013 assessed the association between rosacea and vitamin D. They found the blood of 44 patients with rosacea had an average vitamin D level 25 percent higher than the 32 patients without the disorder.
Although researchers reported that larger studies are needed to confirm the effect, they felt the results suggested that increasing vitamin D levels may lead to the development of rosacea.
Vitamin D and Photoprotection
It's crucial to get adequate amounts of vitamin D for healthy skin, and sunlight is a primary source. But over time, too many ultraviolet rays can lead to photodamage to your skin, causing wrinkles and fine lines, sun spots and increased risk of skin cancer.
UV radiation is a carcinogen responsible for the annual 1.5 million cases of skin cancer and the 8,000 deaths due to metastatic melanoma in the U.S. Exposure to both UVA and UVB radiation can produce mutations in the DNA of your skin cells. The anti-inflammatory properties in vitamin D has been shown to offer some protection.
A study published in the Journal of Advanced Research suggested a topical application of vitamin D3 to skin before or immediately following sun exposure exhibits photoprotective effects. Documented effects of vitamin D on skin cells include reduced DNA damage, increased cell renewal and division as well as decreased skin irritations.
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: Effects of Iron on Vitamin D Metabolism: A Systematic Review
- Vitamin D Council: How Do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs?
- Journal of Advanced Research: Vitamin D and the Skin: Focus on a Complex Relationship: A Review
- MedicineNet: Does Vitamin D Deficiency Cause Symptoms?
- Vitamin D Council: Eczema
- Nutrition: Vitamin D and Atopic Dermatitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: Randomized Trial of Vitamin D Supplementation for Winter-Related Atopic Dermatitis in Children
- PLoS One: Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients With and Without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined With a Randomized Controlled Trial
- Dermato Endocrinology: Preliminary Evidence for Vitamin D Deficiency in Nodulocystic Acne
- Burns: Synergistic Effect of Vitamin D and Low Concentration of Transforming Growth Factor Beta 1, a Potential Role in Dermal Wound Healing
- Mayo Clinic: Ichthyosis Vulgaris
- Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases: Prevalence and Risk Factors of Vitamin D Deficiency in Inherited Ichthyosis: A French Prospective Observational Study Performed in a Reference Center
- Journal of Physiology: Vitamin D Deficiency Accelerates Ageing and Age‐Related Diseases: A Novel Hypothesis
- Learn Genetics: Are Telomeres the Key to Aging and Cancer
- Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology: Vitamin D Status in Patients With Rosacea
- MedicineNet: Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels in Patients With Skin Diseases Including Psoriasis, Infections, and Atopic Dermatitis
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.