All about Vitamin D for skin

You probably have heard that your body naturally produces vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It’s like the process of photosynthesis in plants. Imagine for a second how cool it would be if we could get all our nutritional needs by hanging out in the sun!

You have also been told you should limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen to avoid premature aging and skin cancer due to Ultraviolet radiation damage, right? So, what in the world are you supposed to do really?

Well, today I will tell you everything you need to know to make the right choices.

As you know, I am a pharmacist who struggled to find skincare products that worked for me, you know? products that have black and brown skin in mind. I searched around the world (literally) and got a lot of experience through the process and now I am sharing those lessons with you. I’m also cooking wonderful products that have our issues in mind. Trust me you will feel seen and understood! Stay tuned!

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So, Vitamin D which is also known as the sunshine vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin. It’s very important in the development and maintenance of bone density through its effects on parathyroid hormone, calcium and phosphorous homeostasis.

Vitamin D occurs in two main forms: ergocalciferol (commonly known as vitamin D2) produced by plants and cholecalciferol (commonly known as vitamin D3) derived from animal-based foods.

I want you to remember here we are also in the animal kingdom and produce our own Vitamin D3. So, you can supplement your Vitamin D needs by using Vitamin D2 from plans and Vitamin D3 from animal products. Foods that contain Vitamin D include (Salmon, Sardines and Herring, Cod liver oil, Canned tuna, egg yolks, wild mushrooms, and every fortified food you can think of-milk, OJ, cereals, oatmeal and more). Both of these forms end up the same active form in the body. Some do argue the quality of D3 is superior but that’s looking things under a microscope and debatable. Fortified foods we buy oftentimes have D3 added to them as opposed to D2. So, you really don’t have to obsess about the difference.

We get more than 90 % of our vitamin D need from the precursor 7-dehydrocholestereol through cutaneous production which is promoted by sunlight. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. When a photon of Ultraviolet light type B (UVB) radiation hits the skin, a series of events happen to form Cholecalciferol which eventually converts to the active form, calcitriol, with the help of our kidneys. From there on, it is used by the body or stored if it’s in excess because it’s a non-polar molecule. 

A similar process takes place in plants, where UVB light leads to the formation of vitamin D2 from ergosterol, a compound found in plant oils. 

Vitamin D can also be obtained through over-the-counter multivitamins or vitamin D supplements or prescription supplementation.

According to NIH (National Institute of Health), the average adult should aim for 600 International Units (IU) per day in their diet. 4000IU or 100micrograms is the safe upper limit.

Now, let’s zoom in and have a closer look at topical formulations that contain Vitamin D. Topical vitamin D3 was first approved for the treatment of psoriasis.

In psoriatic lesions, keratinocytes proliferate and mature at an extremely fast rate leading to incomplete terminal differentiation. Studies have found that vitamin D analogs contribute to the normalization of keratinocyte hyperproliferation. 

You find 0.005% ointment that contains calcipotriene-a synthetic form of Vitamin D under brand name Dovonex and  Calcitriol 3ug/g under the brand name Vectical.

Vitamin D is known for

  • its anti-inflammatory and anti-aging activities
  • its protection against environmental aggressors
  • its Help in epidermal barrier renewal
  • it regulates keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation
  • it controls angiogenesis, immune regulation and apoptosis.
  • It also plays a crucial role in defense against opportunistic infections
  • And recent researchers are establishing a firmer link between vitamin D levels and acne and other inflammation skin conditions such as eczema 

If you have well balanced diet or take supplements that have Vitamin D orally, should you bother using topicall Vitamin D? 

Well: A team of researchers in Saudi Arabia conducted a research on 550 patients with Vitamin D deficiency otherwise healthy individuals.

The patients were randomized into two groups of 350 in study arm and 200 in control arm. Participants were instructed to maintain their normal lives and not to change their dietary habits and or sunlight exposure.

Patients in the study group were given 1g, 5000 IU Topical Vitamin-D3 gel to apply daily on the skin.

The control group was given 1 g of Aloe vera gel to be applied every day. All the participants in both groups had no knowledge whether they were given Vitamin D or Aloe Vera.

After 4 months the Vitamin D users showed elevated vitaminD3 which was above the threshold of 30 ng/mL.

So, yes, it could be of great importance to use over the counter Vitamin D creams if you have acne, eczema and obviously psoriasis but If you don’t have inflammatory conditions, I’d probably won’t go out of my way to add it to my skincare routine. 

So the question is: should you expose yourself to sun to produce vitamin D or not? Well the short answer is no, you shouldn’t! You should always apply sunscreen and protect yourself from UV radiation. Let’s say you really don’t go out because of Covid, then you can supplement through nutrition or over the counter supplements. That’s the more productive way of getting your vitamin D. The truth is, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to begin with. Check this video out where I demonstrate what an adequate amount of sunscreen should look like and ask yourself if that’s you on everyday basis. 

It’s worth mentioning that researches show Caucasian and Asian individuals have significantly higher levels of D3 vs African American or East Indian individuals. There is 2-9 times higher prevalence of low vitamin D in the African American population compared to Caucasians.

That’s because melanin blocks a certain amount of UV right? That means skin pigmentation and serum vitamin D3 levels are inversely related. The darker you are, the less your vitamin D levels. So those of us who are rich in melanin would have to hang out in the sun longer than Caucasian individuals to cook vitamin D. 

So, it’s probably a good idea to shift focus to nutritional sources of D3 than the sun or use supplements. You guys, this is not an exhaustive information because there are a lot more medical conditions that might make you produce less vitamin D or absorb it. My focus is on the skin aspect here so I want to be clear about that. 

If you decide it’s for you and want to use it just make sure you don’t combine it with low PH products such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid or salicylic acid, because the acidic pH has been shown to inactivate topical vitamin D. 



Bubshait, Dalal A., Dakheel A. Al-Dakheel, and Fawaz M. Alanii. "Topical vitamin D3: A randomized controlled trial (RCT)." Clinical nutrition ESPEN 27 (2018): 16-19.

Devaux, S., et al. "Topical vitamin D analogues alone or in association with topical steroids for psoriasis: a systematic review." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology 26 (2012): 52-60.

Lehmann, Bodo. "Role of the vitamin D3 pathway in healthy and diseased skin–facts, contradictions and hypotheses." Experimental dermatology 18.2 (2009): 97-108. 

Norval, M., and Hans Chr Wulf. "Does chronic sunscreen use reduce vitamin D production to insufficient levels?." British Journal of Dermatology 161.4 (2009): 732-736.

Sigmon, Justin R., Brad A. Yentzer, and Steven R. Feldman. "Calcitriol ointment: a review of a topical vitamin D analog for psoriasis." Journal of dermatological treatment 20.4 (2009): 208-212.

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