When we think about the vitamins that are most beneficial to the skin, Vitamins A, C, and E are the most popular. They are all known for their antioxidant benefits, as well as their importance in cell renewal, collagen production, and strengthening the skin’s lipid barrier. Vitamin D is possibly the least acknowledged vitamin in skincare, and is often overlooked in nutrition. There are many reasons for this, which I will get to; but the fact is that Vitamin D is crucial to the overall health of the skin and the entire body.
What is Vitamin D and where does it come from?
Vitamin D is a fat (or oil/lipid) soluble nutrient known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. The sun is the best source of Vitamin D, because it is directly accepted by and absorbed into the body, but there are several food sources as well such as egg yolk, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines), cod liver oil, some types of cheese, beef liver, and some types of grain. There are various available methods of supplementation such as Vitamin D-fortified milk and cereals; as well as the vitamin in the forms of liquids, sublingual dissolvable tablets, or pills.Why is Vitamin D deficiency so common?
The answer to that is really in the sources of the vitamin: the sun and fatty, typically high cholesterol foods. In our society’s return to health consciousness we are told to avoid both, as many people should. There is so much focus on the adverse effects caused by excessive and unprotected sun exposure, as well as disproportionate intake of these foods, that Vitamin D has been virtually eliminated from our diets and lifestyles.
Getting enough Vitamin D
People who live in regions with less sunshine throughout the year, such as London, England or Seattle, Washington are more prone to Vitamin D deficiency, since they have less sun exposure in their daily lives. People who are overweight are also at risk, since the abundant fat cells absorb the Vitamin D before it can be absorbed into the bones. Additionally, people with dark skin naturally have a reduced ability to produce Vitamin D, due to the higher amount of melanin pigment in the skin. Children and menopausal women also can be at a higher risk of deficiency.
Many doctors believe that very limited daily sun exposure (10 to 15 minutes a day) is a safeway to get your Vitamin D. Sun protection should be worn at all other times of sun exposure.
Relying on food sources alone is not a good way to get adequate Vitamin D, because people would need to consume very large amounts of these foods or fortified beverages. Because of the high fat and cholesterol amounts, this is inadvisable. Therefore, proper supplementation is imperative.
Why do we need Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is wonderful for the immune system, mental health, and is crucial in helping the body absorb calcium. That’s why you see Vitamin D on nearly every milk carton and “added Vitamin D” on calcium supplements (at least you should). Maintaining healthy levels of Vitamin D can help prevent and possibly treat many conditions such as autism, autoimmune illness, cancer, chronic pain, depression, diabetes, heart disease, hyperparathyroidism, hypertension, influenza, myopathy (neuromuscular disorders), and osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency, however, can lead to or worsen these diseases, in addition to chronic fatigue, abnormal weight loss, stroke, rickets, and dental problems.
How Vitamin D benefits the skin
Supplementation with D-3 provides relief from many irritant and inflammatory skin ailments, as well as medical skin conditions. The website DermaHarmony states that conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, dandruff, eczema, rosacea, and severe acne can all be managed and/or treated by Vitamin D supplementation.
Vitamin D is an antioxidant, meaning it fights inflammation-causing free radicals in the skin. Additionally, it aids in skin cell metabolism and growth, strengthens the lipid barrier, and therefore strengthens the skin’s immune system. People who have unbroken skin with intact lipid barriers are much less susceptible to irritant and inflammatory skin conditions, infections and other skin lesions, hyperpigmentation, and untimely degradation of collagen and elastin protein fibers which lead to premature aging.
It can be topically applied as an ingredient in skincare, but as with any performance ingredient (especially antioxidants), it has to be formulated in a way that will penetrate deep into the skin and be recognized and utilized by the body. A product with high quality ingredients is necessary, and if you are using it to treat a specific condition like psoriasis, eczema, or acne, it should be one of the first five ingredients on the label, and should be in an oil-based formula.
What kind of Vitamin D supplement should I take, and how much should I take?
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is preferred over D2 (ergocalciferol) because it more closely matches what is produced within human skin, and is much more efficiently converted and utilized by the body. It also has less risk of toxicity.
It is important to find a supplement that is very high quality (pharmaceutical grade), and that is bioavailable. I prefer the liquid form, or a gelcap. As for how much to take, that depends on a few different factors such as how much daily sunlight you are exposed to, how many Vitamin D food sources do you regularly consume, your overall health, your age, your skin tone, etc. Because of these variables, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) has not yet been established.
A word of precaution:
Before starting a Vitamin D regimen, you should consult with your healthcare provider to discuss the above factors, as well as have your current levels checked. From that point, your provider can recommend a good starting dosage. It is better to start lower, and then add more if necessary. Your provider may also feel the need to periodically monitor your Vitamin D levels, because, as with many supplements, too much can lead to hypersensitivity or toxicity.
*Image 2 by Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia (Sardines Uploaded by tm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons