Read The Label: All Your Vitamin D Questions Answered
Vital for the skin and body, maintaining vitamin D levels isn’t as simple as bathing in sunshine. Here’s what the experts have to say on this anti-inflammatory workhorse.
Feel like you need a dictionary every time you look at the ingredient list of a beauty product? Still unsure of the difference between retinol and retinoids? What about the unique benefits of vitamins B, C, and E? Are alpha and beta hydroxy acids the same thing? The skincare aisle can be overwhelming, but you don’t need a PhD in cosmetic chemistry to navigate it. With expert help, The AEDITION is demystifying and simplifying the beauty industry — one label at a time.
The gifts of sunlight are abundant, but, when it comes to the skin, ultraviolet (UV) rays are bountiful in harmful side effects – skin cancer, premature signs of aging, sunburns are just a few. Vitamin D is often considered to be sourced from the sun, yet it’s a vitamin that can also be found in food, supplements, and topical products. Working as an antioxidant in skincare and an immunity-booster in supplement form, the ingredient can be a benefit to many beauty and wellness regimens. To fully understand the powers of this essential vitamin in both skincare and ingestible form, who it's best for, and how to add it to your routine, we spoke with the experts.
What Is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a naturally occurring vitamin that is “either made via sunlight in the skin (vitamin D3) or synthesis by diet in the gut (vitamins D2 and D3),” says Morgan Rabach, MD, a board certified dermatologist at LM Medical in New York City. In your diet, the vitamin “actually functions like a hormone and every single cell in your body has a receptor for it,” explains Jules Miller, founder of The Nue Co. Vitamin D can be found in foods, like fatty fish and fortified dairy products, though it's “very difficult to get enough from diet alone,” she adds.
The Benefits of Vitamin D
“Vitamin D in the skin helps regulate skin turnover, works with the immune cells to form the skin barrier, and works as an anti-inflammatory powerhouse in the skin,” explains Dr. Rabach. The gentle boost for cell turnover and reduction in inflammation helps patients with skin concerns such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema. It’s antioxidant benefits are what make it a keeper for Celeste Hilling, the founder and CEO of Skin Authority. “[Vitamin D] produces a protein which protects against free radical and oxidative damage, creates an antimicrobial protein to promote wound healing, keeps the skin moist and glowing, and reduces photo-aging and sun damage,” she shares. There may even be a link between adequate consumption of vitamin D and skin cancer prevention, though it is still being researched.
Because we know that beauty is beyond skin deep, supplements should also be considered as part of a good skincare routine. “Vitamin D is important for maintaining good bone density because it works with calcium to form strong bones,” Dr. Rabach explains. “It also helps improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and help insulin sensitivity.”
The Best Candidates for Vitamin D
As the ingredient is naturally sourced through food or sunlight, many individuals can be lacking in vitamin D. “It is estimated that one billion people globally have low levels of vitamin D in their blood,” Miller explains. “Most of us don’t get enough of it, and we all need it for essential functions. From helping calcium absorb to supporting the nervous system, brain, and immune function, vitamin D makes everything you’re already doing work harder.” Being deficient can result in a weakened immune system and a weakened skin barrier.
Those most at risk for vitamin D deficiency are people with darker skin. A 2011 study found that 41.6 percent of adults in the United States are deficient. The figure goes up to nearly 70 percent in the Latinx population and 82 percent in the Black community. “Having said that, the benefits of vitamin D upon the body are so extensive that we would go as far as to say a vitamin D supplement should be a part of everyone’s supplement routine,” Miller notes. One reason? Production slows with age. “When UVB rays hit our skin, it chemically interacts with the natural D present in our skin to make more Vitamin D,” she explains. “Our level of vitamin D in the skin diminishes as we age because it acts more like a hormone than a vitamin.”
Now, before you declare yourself vitamin D deficient, it is important to speak with a board certified provider to rule out any other conditions and ensure a supplement regimen is right for you. “Most chronic skin conditions can benefit from the use of vitamin D such as eczema, psoriasis, diabetic skin conditions, etc.,” Hilling says. “However, D is a fatty molecule, and, while most skincare formulations on the market do not penetrate the bloodstream, I always recommend that anyone with kidney failure or kidney disease talk with their physician.” Dr. Rabach agrees that the vitamin’s ability to boost cell turnover makes it ideal for patients with skin concerns such as psoriasis. “This is where we prescribe it the most,” she notes.
Finding The Right Vitamin D Product
While it is often listed as ‘vitamin D’ on the label, there are multiple forms of the ingredient to get familiar with. The most commonly found variations are vitamin D2 (a.k.a. ergocalciferol) and D3 (also listed as cholecalciferol). Here’s how to find the right product.
Whatever format suits your routine is fine, according to Dr. Rabach, and the beauty of this ingredient is that it can be found in a variety of forms. Whether it’s in a cream (we like the Mario Badescu Vitamin A-D-E Neck Cream) or lightweight serum (Skin Authority VitaD Fortified Topical Elixir is an editor favorite), there are many ways to incorporate it into your regimen.
The ingredient is such a great team player in skincare that Skin Authority has a line of products dedicated to it — all of which are formulated with maximum benefits in mind. “While D2 is plant-based and offers some antioxidant benefits when derived from food sources, it has not been shown to elevate levels of D in the blood as effectively as D3, the human source of vitamin D made in the skin,” Hilling shares. “D3 has proven more effective in clinical testing for visible skin improvement, so it is why we utilize D3 in our formulas.”
Those who find their diet to be lacking vitamin D can find it in supplement form. If you’re looking for a multivitamin, Hush & Hush TimeCapsule can do the trick. If a quick fix is in order, The Nue Co. has an oral spray — aptly named Vitamin D — that delivers a dose in a matter of seconds. “As a sublingual spray, our vitamin D does not go through the digestive system, so it doesn’t need to be taken with food to be absorbed into the body,” Miller explains. “In this way, it can be used any time of the day.”
How To Add Vitamin D Into Your Routine
Ready to add vitamin D to your routine? Here’s how:
Into Your Skincare Routine
Dr. Rabach notes that topical vitamin D can be beneficial in both morning and evening routines, though it is likely to not work when paired with alpha hydroxy acids or beta hydroxy acids. She explains that, when used together, the chemical exfoliators “acidify and inactivate vitamin D.” For those looking to get the most out of the ingredient in their skincare, Hilling recommends daily nighttime use. “The skin needs D to make more D,” she says. “Priming the pump a little at night helps when we get light exposure during the day, and it helps with protecting us from other environmental stressors that can damage skin, especially pollution.”
Into Your Diet
As we mentioned, vitamin D is naturally occurring in fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna), egg yolks, mushrooms, and fortified foods (like cereal, orange juice, and soy milk). Those looking to up their vitamin D intake have supplemental options as well — and not just in capsule form. “Vitamin D absorption through sublingual sprays is up to 2.6 times higher than capsules,” Miller notes.
The Nue Co. uses vitamin D3, specifically, because it is “widely considered to be the best source of vitamin D to supplement with,” she says. While D2 is generally considered to be less expensive to produce and used to fortify cereals and other foods, “it’s not as well metabolized by the body,” she cautions. Her Vitamin D spray provides 375 percent of your daily value at 3,000 IU (the recommended intake of vitamin D 400 to 800 IU per day). While this may seem like a more than adequate amount, “some studies suggest that a higher daily intake of 1,000 to 4,000 IU is needed to maintain optimal blood levels,” Miller says.
While a short stroll in the sun (with adequate sun protection, of course) can provide a healthy dose of vitamin D, it’s not reliable for fulfilling your body’s overall needs – nor should it be. Depending on your preferences, vitamin D can be added to your skincare and wellness routine in topical, ingestible, and prescription form (from a board certified dermatologist) to strengthen bones, treat skin concerns, and provide antioxidant-like protection.
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