Most people now know that they must have adequate levels of vitamin D for their overall health. However, most people don’t know just how powerful vitamin D is and how many different parts of the body it affects. One of those parts is the skin, the largest organ in the body.
Unfortunately, vitamin D is very complex. Our body naturally produces it when the skin is exposed to sun. However, when you do that, the skin ages more quickly and there is a higher risk of skin cancer. Plus, the vitamin D that is produced is used by every organ in the body, not just the skin.
What Is Vitamin D?
Technically, it isn’t a vitamin but a prohormone because our body can synthesize it. After 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure, the body can manufacture up to 10,000 IUs. Exact amounts vary depending on the time of year and day, your geographical location, your ethnicity, your age, whether you are obese and more.
Vitamin D and Cell Replacement and Growth
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. When it turns into calcitriol, it can go through the phospholipid membranes, migrating to the nucleus. In the nucleus, it binds with special protein receptors, which regulate how certain genes react, turning the functions of certain cells on and off. Some of the genes we know vitamin D is involved with have to do with immune function, cell differentiation, and cell proliferation. Every minute, our body loses between 30,000 and 40,000 cells, while at the same time protecting our body from foreign invaders.
As the skin loses cells from its surface, vitamin D has to tell more specialized cells (keratinocytes) to create new ones. Keratinocytes made up around 95% of the cells in your skin. They are unique in that they can actively divide and they can differentiate. They constantly provide your body with new cells, so that the surface of your skin stays strong and healthy.
What research has shown is that the rates of cell differentiation and division are triggered by various molecules that are controlled by vitamin D. What this means is that if you have a vitamin D deficiency, you will also have problems with your skin. Most notably, your skin will become more fragile, thinner, dryer and wrinkly.
Protecting the Skin with Vitamin D
• Vitamin D is vital to protect and rejuvenate the skin.
• The active form of vitamin D is calcitriol, which helps the cells grow and also supports their repair and metabolism. It ensures the immune system of the skin is in top condition.
• Too much sun exposure may be good for levels of vitamin D, it is not good for the skin.
• Many factors influence whether or not you are likely to have sufficient vitamin D. Since 60% of people in this country now have a deficiency, it is very likely that your levels should increase as well.
• By the time you reach 70, your skin will have lost around 75% of its vitamin D3 production abilities.
• Applying vitamin D topically seems to be an excellent way to protect the skin.
Skin Protection and Repair
We talk about the “immune system”, but that actually refers to two different things. First, there is the adaptive immune system, which protects our body by producing and storing antibodies to various infections, bacteria and viruses. But then, there is also the innate immune system, and that is the skin. The skin’s role is to stop any foreign invaders from even getting into the body in the first place.
The keratinocytes in the skin metabolize vitamin D, while at the same time, skin cells start to produce receptors for the vitamin. Inside the skin, vitamin D and the various receptors create a barrier that is almost unbreakable, and that is the innate immune system. This has been demonstrated time and time again in various scientific studies.
Understanding the Skin and Production of Vitamin D
Firstly, you have to understand how the skin is made up, which is actually a five-layered organ (from inner to outer):
1. Stratum basale
2. Stratum spinosum
3. Stratum granulosum
4. Stratum lucidum
5. Stratum corneum
It is the two most inner layers that are most important in terms of vitamin D. This is where you will find the highest concentrations of 7-dehydrocholesterol, which is what can absorb the UVB rays of the sun. It is from these points that vitamin D is synthesized and then transported all over the body to get to work on the various organs and cells.
It is clear, therefore, that the skin and vitamin D are intricately related. However, it isn’t just about the fact that the skin is responsible for the absorption of vitamin D. The vitamin also protects the skin in many different ways.
Vitamin D and Fighting Free Radicals
Free radicals are present all over our body, unfortunately. We live in highly polluted environments, are constantly exposed to stress and don’t eat a healthy diet anymore. As a result, some cells simply don’t know what to do anymore and become free radicals. Because of their very nature, these cells can do untold damage to our body, including causing cancer. Various studies have now shown that vitamin D is the best vitamin in our body to help protect us against free radicals. Because the skin loses so much of its ability to produce vitamin D3, however, you need to supplement it. This can also be done by applying a topical cream.
Vitamin D and Acne
Vitamin D has a number of very important roles to play in terms of protecting your skin from acne. These include:
• Making your skin glow by making it smooth, strong and soft and by reducing wrinkles
• Helping to control your insulin response, thereby not just preventing diabetes, but also protecting against acne
• Helping to bring down inflammation, of which acne is one.
• Improving your immune system, fighting infections as strong as flu. In fact, studies have shown it is as effective as the flu vaccine. Acne spots often become infected.
• Easing depression and improving mood. Many people with acne suffer from a low mood.
• Helping to prevent osteoporosis by absorbing calcium.
• Fighting cancer by reducing free radical damage.
• Reducing infections of the respiratory tract.
• Relieving aches and pains.
Vitamin D and Eczema
We have already mentioned that vitamin D is part of the immune system. Eczema is a condition that happens when your immune system isn’t working properly. People who have eczema have consistently shown that they also have lower vitamin D levels. Additionally, those with lower vitamin D levels are also more likely to have more serious issues.
The skin is one of the most important organs in terms of our immune system. It is solely responsible for the innate immune system. It creates antimicrobial defenses and lowers inflammation, thereby also soothing the symptoms of eczema. Perhaps more importantly, it helps to fight any infections that happen as a result of eczema.
However, a word of caution is required with regards to eczema. There are also some studies that have shown that people who have much higher than normal levels of vitamin D are also more at risk of suffering from allergic skin diseases, eczema being one of these. As such, it is important that you actually get the right levels of vitamin D in your body. There have been a number of key findings linking vitamin D and eczema:
• Most people with eczema also have vitamin D deficiency.
• Vitamin D can strengthen the barriers of the skin and reduce inflammation by supporting the immune system.
• If you have both eczema and a vitamin D deficiency, you are more likely to get infections as well.
• Boosting your vitamin D levels to normal rates may help make the symptoms of eczema less bad.
• It is not yet known whether taking vitamin D supplements helps with eczema. At present, improvements have been noted through topical treatments.
Vitamin D and Skin Cancer
Vitamin D is absorbed by the skin through sun exposure. Unfortunately, sun exposure can lead to skin cancer as well. Some people are now suggesting that vitamin D can also protect against skin cancer. However, this is not true. The Institute of Medicine in Washington, DC, has completed a review of 1,000 different studies and they could find no evidence that the increase in various cancers, diabetes and heart disease is in any way linked to vitamin D deficiencies.
Most people have a good understanding of the fact that it is incredibly important to have adequate levels of vitamin D in the blood. However, the ‘sunshine vitamin’ is still most strongly associated with healthy teeth and bones. In reality, vitamin D does a lot more than simply enabling our body to absorb phosphorus and calcium, which supports our bone and teeth development. In fact, over 1,000 individual parts of our body use vitamin D and virtually every single cell in our body has a receptor for it. The skin, which is the largest organ in our body, therefore, inevitably also needs it for a variety of protective purposes.
Resources and References:
Effects of Vitamin D and Skin’s Physiology Examined – Impact of vitamin D on skin. (Science Daily)
Vitamin D and Skin Health – Effect of vitamin D on skin health. (Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center)
Vitamin D and Your Health: Breaking Old Rules, Raising New Hopes – Vitamin D and men’s health. (Harvard Health Publications)
Vitamin D and the Skin: Focus on a Complex Relationship: A Review – Link between vitamin D and the skin. (Science Direct)
Vitamin D, the Evidence – Benefits from vitamin D. (Mayo Clinic)