You no doubt know that vitamins are important to your health, and you probably make an effort to get in as many as possible into your diet, either from the foods you eat or through supplementation. Each vitamin plays an important role in how your body functions, and some are more important than others. If you’re aware of the benefits of vitamins, you’ve probably heard quite a bit recently about vitamin D and skin health.
Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D doesn’t quite fit the typical definition of the word “vitamin.” By official definition, a vitamin is an organic compound that is an essential component for normal physiological functions to occur. Because the body cannot naturally synthesize vitamins on its own, you must get ample amounts of them through food or supplementation. Vitamin D is actually different from other vitamins because the body is able to synthesize it on its own, without food or supplements, through the golden rays of sunshine. Your skin has the ability to synthesize up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D through just twenty to thirty minutes of summertime sun exposure. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for both adult males and females is 600 IU. So, you can see that in the best of conditions, there should be no reason why any person should be deficient in vitamin D. However, those perfect conditions rarely exist because of the many limitations that are in the way of optimal absorption and as a result, low vitamin D symptoms in men and women continue to arise.
Vitamin D and Skin: Three main factors that can impede the absorption of vitamin D through the skin’s surface
- It is suggested that people in northern climates have a lesser chance of getting adequate vitamin D from sun exposure because the location of the sun is never at the prime overhead position necessary for important UV-B rays to penetrate the atmosphere. Even on the sunniest of days, getting enough of the necessary rays can be difficult or even impossible. The weather of your location also plays a part in vitamin D levels. Areas with heavy cloud cover or above average amounts of precipitation are less likely to be exposed to adequate amounts of sunlight.
- Melanin is a pigment that is present in all skin at varying degrees. The more melanin you have, the darker your natural skin tone will be. Skin types with lesser amounts of melanin, such as those who are very pale, can absorb enough UV-B rays for a daily dose of vitamin D in as little as fifteen minutes. People with high amounts of melanin, such as those with very dark skin, car require several hours to absorb the same amount of rays. People on both ends of the spectrum have difficulty getting adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sunlight. Those with low melanin levels will burn easily and few people have hours to spend out in the sunlight each day, as would be necessary for those with high levels of melanin. We also know that sunscreen is important to combat the aging and damaging effects of sun exposure. The more we slather on this essential, protective barrier, the less our skin is able to absorb the UV-B rays. It really is a double edged sword.
- Between the ages of twenty and seventy, you will lose the ability to synthesize vitamin D by as much as seventy five percent.
Now that you have been shown all of the reasons why you are probably not getting enough vitamin D, you might want to know why vitamin D is important in the first place. Is it really that big of a deal to be a little deficient in vitamin D? The answer is yes.
What benefits does vitamin D have?
- Vitamin D is a powerful disease fighter. Being deficient can put you at a greater risk of developing heart disease, multiple sclerosis, some cancers and common ailments such as the seasonal flu.
- Vitamin D is good for your emotional health. Research has shown that many people who suffer from depression, anxiety and body encompassing conditions such as fibromyalgia are deficient in vitamin D. Of those looked at, scientists found that most people had an improved emotional state after a period of vitamin D supplementation.
- Vitamin D keeps you standing strong. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and helps to keep serum calcium and phosphate concentrations at optimal levels. For you, this means strong bones and a lesser chance of developing osteoporosis.
- Vitamin D fights inflammation. The effects of chronic inflammation extend far beyond an occasional ache or pain. Inflammation plays a critical part in the development of many serious diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and cancer.
- Vitamin D keeps your skin smooth and young looking. Did you know that your skin, the largest organ of your body, must replace over 30,000 lost skin cells every minute? That is an incredible amount of work. Vitamin D helps your skin cells divide and differentiate so that new, fresh skin cells serve as your body’s first line of natural defense.
If you just read the above paragraph, you might still be astounded by the sheer number of skin cells you are replacing just as you read this article. Your skin, being the amazing organ that it is, is constantly at work rejuvenating itself through an ongoing, vitamin D-dependent process that involves specialized cells known as keratinocytes. You will find keratinocytes in all but about five percent of epidermis cells. Keratinocytes help to build the structural matrix of your skin and work to constantly maintain its integrity. The constant cell activity is what is behind smooth, supple and fresh looking skin. This reaction would not be possible without vitamin D, which controls the actions of keratinocytes. Without adequate vitamin D, your skin will not rejuvenate as quickly and will begin to lose its protective qualities, and eventually you will find that your skin might become thin and delicate, as is seen in older adults who have lost much of their natural ability to synthesize vitamin D. Without vitamin D, your skin can appear aged beyond your years.
We know that vitamin D is essential for skin health, and we also know that the one of the best ways to get vitamin D is through exposure to the sun, which can have negative consequences for skin health, some of which are very serious. What are you to do? Well, there are several options for getting vitamin D into your body, but the first one we will discuss is how to get obtain it through natural sunlight, while still responsibly protecting your skin from potentially damaging rays.
The first thing you need to take into consideration is your skin type, which will determine how much sun exposure you really need in order to take in enough vitamin D. This needs to be done in combination with an awareness of how much direct sunlight you are exposed to. A fair skinned person in the tropics is not going to require as much exposure as someone in the northernmost part of the United States. The first natural question is what to do about sunscreen. Should you wear it or not? If you want to obtain Vitamin D from sun exposure, many experts recommend covering your most delicate and vulnerable skin with a sunscreen and layer of clothing and wearing a hat to protect your face. You might consider going outside with shorts on and exposing your legs, while keeping most of your upper body covered for example. Do this for no longer than twenty to thirty minutes for average complexion individuals. Once you have achieved adequate sun exposure you can either slather on protective sunscreen, or cover yourself up with more clothing and remain in the shade.
Let’s say that you are among the many people who just don’t have the opportunity to get their vitamin D from sun exposure, what is the next best option? You actually have three. You can get your vitamin D from supplementation, you can get some from the foods you eat and you can also get it through topically applied products that contain vitamin D. First, let’s talk about supplementation.
When UV-B rays are absorbed through your skin, they are synthesized into different forms of vitamin D, one of which is cholecalciferol, otherwise known as vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is the form responsible for all of the benefits health and beauty benefits that we have mentioned. It is recommended that most adults take in 600 IU of vitamin D a day, with older adults taking in more to compensate for the lack of natural vitamin D synthesis. Many vitamin D supplements come in potencies much higher than the RDA. Keep in mind that the toxicity threshold for vitamin D is somewhere between 10,000-40,000 IU, depending on the person. Because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it can be stored in the liver. It is always a good idea to discuss the idea of starting any supplementation by your healthcare provider. If possible, ask to be tested for a vitamin D deficiency beforehand so that you know your current levels, which might make a difference in how much you should take in daily through supplementation.
Getting ample amounts of vitamin D through food sources can be difficult for most individuals, even those that make an effort to eat a healthy, varied diet. There are actually foods that are rich in vitamin D; it is simply a matter that it is difficult to eat enough of these foods in a single day to get in the recommend amount of vitamin D. However, if you get a little sunlight and you combine that with a diet that contains vitamin D rich foods, you better chances of keeping up your vitamin D levels. Here are some of the foods that are highest in vitamin D content:
- Cod liver oil: one teaspoon has 500 IU
- Mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight such as portabello mushrooms: One cup, chopped has 977 IU
- Oily Fish such as trout, salmon, mackerel, tuna and smoked white fish: amount of vitamin D varies by fish, with the average being 640 IU per three ounces.
- Vitamin D fortified cereal: contain an average of 100 IU per ¾ cup.
- Tofu: contains 138 IU per 3 ounces.
- Vitamin D fortified dairy products: contain an average of 130 IU per cup.
- Eggs: contain 44 IU per egg.
Finally, there is growing interest in topical application of Vitamin D, or transdermal administration. While not widely used as a method to gain all of the Vitamin D necessary for optimal health, it has been used in the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis.So, there you have it. If you found yourself wondering, “is vitamin D good for skin?” I hope this has shed some light (pun intended!) on why it is so important. Keep your vitamin D levels up for an attitude, appearance and state of health that shines as radiant as the sun that blesses us with this amazing vitamin.