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 what should you do? We asked a dermatologist.
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 (aka calcitriol) that can positively impact bone health and calcium levels. 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.
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. 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.
Though it’s virtually impossible to get all your necessary vitamin D via nutrition, eating vitamin D-rich foods can play a significant role. Think eggs, beef liver and fatty fish (like salmon and tuna) as well as fortified milks, cereals and other foods.
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.
Ready to give topical vitamin D a shot? Check out our favorites below.
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.
Vitamin Plus Creme is a lightweight, balancing cream for normal and oily skin types. Aloe vera gel moisturizes skin while calming and healing irritation. Hazelnut oil, along with vitamins A, C, D and E, protect against environmental and free radical damage while nourishing and promoting resiliency. Horse chestnut evens skin tone while Korean ginseng stimulates microcirculation. Oat flour controls oil without drying the skin, creating a healthy, matte finish. This skin is nourished, comfortable, calm and shine-free.
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.