- A vitamin D deficiency can affect more than just your bones; it can affect your skin as well.
- Healthy vitamin D levels might help prevent skin from prematurely ageing but too much sun leads to accelerated skin ageing.
- Some studies have found that vitamin D can help treat skin conditions like dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema.
Getting enough vitamin D can impact your health in many ways, especially when it comes to your skin.
INSIDER spoke with two board-certified dermatologists and a registered nurse, and they explained the link between vitamin D and your skin, revealing why it’s crucial to get the right amount by way of adequate sun exposure, foods rich in vitamin D, or supplements.
Vitamin D is largely linked to bone health but is also crucial for your skin’s health.
“Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is responsible for calcium homeostasis and bone health,” explains Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD. “Vitamin D increases the efficiency of calcium and phosphorus absorption from the small intestine and aids in the maturation of osteoclasts in the bone.”
Dr. Shainhouse added that “healthy levels of vitamin D have been demonstrated to prevent skin ageing, promote healthy bone growth, possibly reduce the risk of certain cancers, and even improve mood.”
It’s easy to check if your levels are sufficient but many Americans are vitamin D deficient.
“According to a 2009 report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 77% of Americans have a deficiency in vitamin D levels, affecting their overall health,” explains New York City-based registered nurse Rebecca Park.
“Vitamin D deficiency results from lack of exposure to sunlight (for example: if you live in the northern hemisphere, [cover up with clothing, or simply avoid the sun and wear sunscreen]), impaired vitamin D absorption [due to a medical condition], medications that impair vitamin D absorption, and low dietary intake,” added Dr. Shainhouse. “Individuals at highest risk are those who are institutionalized, the elderly, or those with more darkly pigmented skin.”
Park added that people over the age of 50 have less ability to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight and are at a greater risk of osteoporosis and arthritis, fractures, muscle weakness, and cancers.
“Testing for Vitamin D deficiency involves a simple blood test,” said Dr. Shainhouse. “The lab should measure the level of bioavailable vitamin D, which is D3 (the type that the skin makes). There is a range of normal, low normal, moderate and severe deficiency.”
Your doctor can test you annually.
There are several ways that being vitamin D deficient might impact your skin.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and the skin is much more closely linked to your overall health than many people even realise. But given the risks of sun exposure and skin cancer, INSIDER asked our experts to explain how we can safely expose our skin to the sun to reap the benefits of natural vitamin Dwithout damaging our skin, and they gave us the scoop.
The sun is an “important source for vitamin D in a person who does not have a diet rich in these foods,” said Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. She added that “the key to remember with sun exposure, however, is that you do not need a sunburn to get a healthy amount of vitamin D.”
Read more: How to get enough vitamin D without the sun
“It is perfectly ok to spend time outdoors safely to improve your vitamin D levels,” she adds. She did say, however, that avoiding a sunburn is key.
Healthy vitamin D levels might help prevent skin from prematurely ageing, but there’s an important caveat.
“Healthy levels of vitamin D have been demonstrated to prevent skin ageing,” said Dr. Shainhouse. “Skin ageing can be demonstrated molecularly, by the shortening of telomeres, the caps of genetic material on the free ends of DNA strands. These telomeres shorten with age, rendering the DNA more and more unstable, until the cell dies. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that telomeres were significantly longer in patients with the highest serum vitamin D levels, compared to those with the lowest … equivalent to five years of ageing.”
Park agreed confirming that vitamin D is crucial for skin protection. Further, calcitriol(the active form of vitamin D) helps in skin cell growth, repair, and metabolism as well as prevents skin ageing.
“But too much sun leads to accelerated skin ageing,” she said, with Dr. Shainhouse agreeing, adding that “ultraviolet light (sun light) does cause direct DNA damage, skin injury and skin cancers. Hence, sunlight is not the best way to get your vitamin D.”
Aside from vitamin D supplements that your doctor can recommend, Dr. Ilyas explains that a diet rich in vitamin D is the best place to start.
Skin cancer and vitamin D exposure are closely linked, but supplements can help.
All three of our experts expressed the importance of proper sunscreen use, no matter the season or weather condition, with Park telling us that “you can still wear sunscreen and produce enough vitamin D from sun exposure.”
But Dr. Shainhouse told us that “women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer who take vitamin D plus calcium supplements have a lower risk for developing melanoma, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer, whose incidence is on the rise.”
“Vitamin D supplementation is thought to have the potential for an anti-cancer benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties and inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells,” added Dr. Ilyas.
Vitamin D supplements may help with many skin conditions, including dry, itchy skin, and psoriasis.
“If you have extremely dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema, you should definitely be taking vitamin D,” said Park. But oral supplements aren’t necessarily the best treatment, depending on the condition.
“Although research may suggest that those with psoriasis may have a higher likelihood of low vitamin D levels, this is not considered a causal link,” said Dr. Ilyas. “However, sunlight and topical vitamin D [treatments] are well established to help manage and treat psoriasis. Oral vitamin D supplementation has not necessarily been shown to have the same benefit.”
Your dermatologist can determine if supplements are part of the best treatment option for your individual skin concerns.
The link between eczema and vitamin D levels is a bit murkier, though.
“The studies on vitamin D and eczema and atopic dermatitis links have shown mixed results,” said Dr. Ilyas.
“Some studies have shown no correlation between the incidence of atopic dermatitis and vitamin D levels, and some have shown that supplementation of vitamin D shows little benefit on improving eczema, with some studies showing that those with higher levels of vitamin D early in life may have a higher incidence of eczema – the results are all over the place.”
According to Park, however, if you don’t notice your eczema get better after two or three months, you should talk to your doctor because eczema might not be the culprit.
Acne sufferers might also want to check their vitamin D levels.
Acne is the most common skin condition, but its link to vitamin D is less concrete.
“Vitamin D deficiency is more common in people with acne,” said Park, adding that “the deficiency is inversely correlated with the severity of the acne. One study shows that people with acne had lower levels of vitamin D. These patients were supplemented with 1,000 IU of vitamin D. After eight weeks, their inflammatory lesions showed improvements.”
But Dr. Ilyas pointed out that these studies are not conclusive and more research is needed. As with any health or skin concerns, checking in with your doctor is the most important way to help ease concerns and determine a treatment plan that works for you and your body.
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