Researchers are establishing a firmer link between vitamin D levels and acne. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone that’s found in fatty fish, dairy, and fortified food products. Vitamin D is also called “the sunshine vitamin” because you can get vitamin D from exposure to sunshine.
Acne (clinically known as acne vulgaris) is a skin condition where your pores become blocked or clogged, causing red bumps or blackheads to form on your skin. Acne can be caused by changes in hormone levels, bacteria, oils, and more. If you have acne, a vitamin D deficiency may be part of what’s causing symptoms or making them worse.
Is vitamin D deficiency a risk factor for acne?
In 2006, researchers estimated that over 41 percent of the U.S. population was deficient in the hormone called vitamin D. Vitamin D is not listed as an official risk factor for acne, according to the Mayo Clinic. But researchers are starting to explore how vitamin D regulates the immune system. This immune system link might explain the relationship between vitamin D levels and skin health.
In a 2014 study, people who had nodulocystic acne were at risk for more severe symptoms if they had low levels of vitamin D. In another study, people with acne experienced significantly improved symptoms when they took oral vitamin D supplements.
Benefits of using vitamin D for acne
Vitamin D has antimicrobial properties. If the acne you have is caused by bacterial overgrowth, using topical vitamin D might calm your symptoms. More studies are needed to confirm how this could work.
Vitamin D also has an anti-inflammatory property. Having adequate levels of vitamin D in your system may help address the inflammatory symptoms of acne. Taking vitamin D supplements could also be an alternative way of treating recurrent acne that appears red and inflamed.
How to use vitamin D for acne
If you’re deficient in vitamin D, sitting out in the sun won’t fix your acne. Doctors agree that prolonged exposure to sunshine is not the best way to get vitamin D. Exposure to the sun without using a protective sunscreen can put you at risk for skin cancer. Taking dietary supplements and consuming foods rich in vitamin D are the best ways to increase your vitamin D levels to help treat acne.
There are few foods naturally rich in vitamin D. Dairy products, like milk and cheese, are a great source of the vitamin, but have been found in some studies to make acne symptoms worse. If you’re lactose intolerant, you may already be considering taking a vitamin D supplement. People who don’t consume milk regularly are at a higher risk of being deficient in vitamin D.
If you do use a vitamin D oral supplement, keep an eye on the dosage. Make sure that other supplements you’re taking, such as a calcium supplement or prenatal vitamin, aren’t putting you over the recommended amount of 100 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day. And since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, it can build up in your system. Vitamin D supplements are best taken with a meal.
Topical application of vitamin D3 has been found to be an efficient way to get vitamin D levels up with fewer side effects than oral supplements, but more research is needed.
Potential side effects and risks
Taking too much vitamin D can result in serious side effects. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has set a limit of 100 mcg per day of vitamin D for men and women who are not pregnant or nursing.
The most common side effect of vitamin D toxicity is a buildup of calcium in your blood, called hypercalcemia. Hypercalcelmia can cause nausea and vomiting. Taking too much vitamin D over time can result in heart arrhythmias, tissue calcification, kidney stones, and organ damage.
Vitamin D levels can also be decreased when taking corticosteroid medication.
If you have recurrent acne that hasn’t resolved with other kinds of treatment, you may have a vitamin D deficiency. Speak to your doctor or dermatologist about having your blood tested for vitamin D levels. Since vitamin D deficiency can put you at risk for other health conditions, finding out if you are one of the 4 in 10 Americans living with vitamin D deficiency could be an important step to taking care of your body.