No doubt about it: Vitamin D is no ordinary vitamin. While most vitamins are found in food, vitamin D is produced by the body itself with proper sun exposure. It then converts to a powerful hormone, calcitriol, that can positively impact bone health and calcium levels. And it doesn’t stop there: New research also shows that sufficient vitamin D levels can keep dry skin and eczema at bay, along with a laundry list of other health benefits (from improved fertility to better immune function).
It’s increasingly clear that getting that vitamin D fix does a body good. But here’s the catch-22: While exposing your bare skin to sunlight is a surefire way to ramp up vitamin D levels, doing so could heighten your risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging.
So how can you strike a happy—and safe—medium? Follow these savvy tips and tricks for getting your vitamin D levels up to speed.
While some studies suggest that liberal application of sunscreen prohibits the body’s production of vitamin D (because UVB rays are what kick-start the process inside the body), most dermatologists are still adamant about the use of sunscreen to protect yourself from the cancer-causing consequences of sun exposure. Instead of skipping sunscreen, some recommend 5 to 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a few times per week.
“That’s all you need to maintain healthy vitamin-D levels,” says Laguna Beach-based, board-certified dermatologist Bobby Awadalla. “Anything beyond that could cause excessive sun damage.”
But while Awadalla provides a good general guideline, finding an effective approach isn’t necessarily one size fits all. Factors like skin type and location can help determine a more exact formula for how much time in the sun is enough. For instance, fair-skinned types produce vitamin D more easily than those with dark skin, so they require a fraction of the time needed to soak in the sun’s UVB rays. Geography also plays a role. The closer you live to the equator, the easier it is to produce vitamin D from sun exposure. Good news for Floridians—not so much for Canadians.
To figure out what works best for you, Vitamin D Council suggests another approach: Get only half the amount of sun exposure it takes for your skin to turn pink and begin to burn. This could be just 15 minutes for a very fair skinned person, yet a couple of hours or more for a dark-skinned person.
Though it’s virtually impossible to get all your necessary vitamin D via nutrition, eating vitamin D–rich foods can play a significant role. Foods high in vitamin D are eggs, beef liver and fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) as well as fortified milks, cereals and other foods.
Because the amount of vitamin D a person receives from the sun is inconsistent and increases the risk of skin cancer, some experts recommend getting your supply of vitamin D from oral supplements. But how much vitamin D should you really take?
Based on currently available scientific evidence that supports a key role of calcium and vitamin D in skeletal health, the IOM Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is:
When supplementing, be sure to take vitamin D-3 rather than D-2, since that’s the same kind naturally produced by the body. If you have a hard time absorbing supplements, you can also consider a sublingual tablet.
Supplements also don’t necessarily have to be oral. Topical vitamin D creams have also made their way onto shelves. Along with their use as a psoriasis treatment, vitamin-D creams are now being used to address vitamin-D deficiency, in light of recent research showing their safety and effectiveness. In a 2014 study published by the International Journal of Biomedical Sciences, participants applied a cream delivering 5,000 IU of vitamin D to their skin daily for a period of three months; at the trial’s end, their average vitamin D level had risen.
Featuring ingredients like shiitake mushroom, a natural source of vitamin D, and antioxidant-rich Alpine rose, this multitasking formula nourishes and defends your skin against damaging free radicals as it provides continuous, long-lasting hydration. Use after cleansing as a toner, or spritz throughout the day to refresh and rehydrate skin.
Dr. Brandt Power Dose D harvests the power of the sun to bring you a potent formula that mimics the effects of skin-loving vitamin D. The weightless oil absorbs into skin, delivering an instant boost of radiance with a unique formula that improves your skin’s barrier function. Just like sitting out in the sun, this oil stimulates the production of vitamin D to improve elasticity and keep your skin smooth, soft and youthful.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Glow Moisture hydrates, protects and rejuvenates your complexion. Vitamin D boosts elasticity and helps prevent sun damage. Microencapsulated DHA technology enhances the skin’s natural radiance for a beautiful finish without visible fine lines, wrinkles and large pores. Features a light peach scent.
Sanitas Skincare Vita-Rich Serum helps repair and prevent the visible signs of aging while firming and toning your complexion. Squalane delivers light moisture deep into your skin while vitamin A accelerates cell renewal to improve texture. Vitamin C, D and E work synergistically to help defend your skin from free radicals and help repair photodamage. Vitamin K and essential fatty acids help to alleviate irritation and inflammation.