Acne formation begins when the pores of your skin become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, and attract bacteria that feed on the substance, proliferating in the process and causing the immune system to respond, which leads to the formation of inflammatory skin lesions.
Now, while there are many available over-the-counter and prescription methods to control this inflammatory condition, it’s becoming common knowledge that acne usually occurs as a result of deeper imbalances and deficiencies in vital nutrients.
From many potential nutrient deficiencies, including zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, there has been an uptick in research looking into the possible effects of vitamin D on acne.
An essential component in the formation of healthy bones, it turns out that vitamin D can provide many other benefits for our body, and soothing inflammatory skin conditions may be one of them.
From its ability to soothe inflammation, control the skin cell cycle, and minimize the overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria, below, we will take a look at all the ways vitamin D can be an effective weapon in the treatment of acne.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble component and a blanket term for a family of compounds that includes vitamins D1, D2, and D3.
Now, while all members of the vitamin D family play one role or another in human health, D2 and D3 are especially important, as they are the types used by the body to perform various functions.
Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is the type produced by plants and fungi when exposed to sunlight and is often found in fortified foods like dairy products, including milk, cheese, and butter, as well as some vegan alternatives such as soy and nut milk, and their by-products.
On the other hand, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is produced in the human skin when exposed to sunlight, particularly UVB rays, which are strongest during summer, but it’s also found in animal products such as fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as egg yolks, and liver.
Both compounds are converted by the liver and kidneys into their active form, calcitriol, and are used to maintain our health, aiding our body in several beneficial functions, including bone health, immune function, cardiovascular health, and skin health.
How Does Vitamin D Help Prevent Acne Breakouts?
Vitamin D plays an important role in skin health, and growing evidence suggests that supplementing with this compound can help reduce acne in many people.
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that’s usually caused by several factors, including:
- Excess production of sebum.
- Too many skin cells.
- Bacterial overgrowth.
When there is too much sebum production, this sticky substance gets stuck inside the pores instead of traveling to the skin’s surface, where it acts as a thin layer of protection between the environment and our skin.
This clog will slow down the natural cell-shedding process as the cells traveling from the lower layer of the epidermis and toward the skin surface will get stuck to the sticky sebum and contribute to an even stiffer clog.
The cellular debris will then attract a certain strain of bacteria, known as C. acnes, that will use it as food to grow and proliferate, which will trigger the immune system into responding by sending white blood cells to the site of injury to fight the overgrowth, creating the result we see on the skin as a red, swollen, and often pus-filled pimple.
So, how does vitamin D help prevent pimples from forming?
Well, some research suggests that vitamin D may help regulate the process of cell division and proliferation. This means that, by attaching itself to its receptor inside the cell, vitamin D can slow the cell cycle, preventing cells from dividing too quickly and leading to a normal and functioning cycle.
Additionally, due to its antioxidant properties, vitamin D helps promote apoptosis, the process by which damaged cells self-destruct. By promoting the death of these cells, vitamin D helps maintain the balance of cells and prevents one part of the buildup inside the pores.
Finally, vitamin D is also anti-inflammatory and aids the immune system in fighting off bacteria, which means it will reduce the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria inside the pores and soothe the inflammation, which is the immune system’s reaction to the overgrowing pathogen.
This will result in reduced acne severity and calmed redness, swelling, and inflammation.
Furthermore, besides evidence suggesting that vitamin D can help manage inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, some studies have also found that those with vitamin D deficiency, which is becoming increasingly prevalent, are more likely to develop acne.
One example is a 2016 study that involved monitoring 80 participants with acne and 80 participants with healthy skin, which found that 49% of those with acne had low vitamin D levels compared to 23% of the participants who weren’t actively experiencing the inflammatory condition.
Another, more recent study from 2022 monitored 120 participants with moderate to severe acne treated with Accutane and showed that those who still experienced active symptoms after three months of treatment had lower vitamin D compared to those whose condition has improved due to the treatment.
These findings suggest that vitamin D can not only help manage and perhaps even eliminate acne but that it is essential for healthy skin that’s less prone to developing inflammatory conditions.
Vitamin D is Anti-Inflammatory
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to the increased production of cytokines, which are inflammatory molecules involved in the body’s immune response against diseases.
On the other hand, supplementing with vitamin D has been shown to reduce the number of these inflammatory components and soothe their activity.
This will, in turn, lower inflammation in the body, including skin struggling with inflammatory conditions such as acne.
Vitamin D is Antimicrobial
Vitamin D stimulates type I interferons, which are key contributors to effective antiviral responses, thus helping your body fight off bacteria and viruses, making it essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.
This includes protecting the skin from various pathogens, including bacterial and fungal infections that can manifest on the skin as pimples, rashes, and sores.
Vitamin D Helps Regulate Hormones
Maintaining healthy levels of vitamin D is crucial for the regulation of several hormones, including IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which plays a significant role in growth and development, and testosterone, which belongs to the male group of hormones responsible for muscle and bone mass and strength, as well as fat distribution and the production of red blood cells.
In fact, a deficiency in vitamin D can disrupt the balance and function of these hormones and has been linked to insulin resistance, impaired glucose sensitivity, and imbalanced testosterone levels.
These imbalances can contribute to many uncomfortable symptoms and conditions, including diabetes, obesity, compromised immune system, fatigue, mood swings, and inflammatory skin conditions such as acne.
What is The Optimal Vitamin D Level for Acne?
Because vitamin D isn’t necessarily a compound traditionally prescribed by professionals for the treatment of acne, due to more effective options being the preferred choice, there isn’t much information on the optimal intake to specifically address this inflammatory condition.
However, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has set a limit of 100mcg (4,000 IU) per day of vitamin D for teenage and adult men and women who are not pregnant or nursing.
On the other hand, children under nine should not exceed the daily recommended vitamin D intake of 75 mcg (3,000 IU), while toddlers under three should take even lower levels capping at 38 mcg (1,500 IU), regardless of gender.
What Are The Benefits of Vitamin D for Acne?
Vitamin D can help reduce acne in several different ways, including by:
- Regulating Skin Cell Growth: By binding itself to certain receptors in the skin cells, vitamin D can help regulate their growth and normalize their cycle, contributing to less pore-clogging and reducing the chances of acne.
- Controlling Sebum Production: Vitamin D can inhibit the secretion of sebum, which can help reduce its overproduction and prevent it from getting stuck inside the pores, thus preventing clogging and reducing acne.
- Soothing Inflammation: Vitamin D normalizes the overactivity of inflammatory components, thus reducing the inflammation that comes as a response to bacterial overgrowth.
- Reducing Bacterial Overgrowth: By improving the function of the immune system and helping it fight off pathogens more efficiently, vitamin D can help reduce the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria inside the pores, which will subside the symptoms of inflammation.
- Promoting Skin Repair: Due to its potent antioxidant properties, vitamin D can help purge the cells that are already damaged by free radical activity and promote the formation of new, healthy cells that will aid in skin repair, including fighting off pathogens and clearing imperfections.
- Strengthening the Skin Barrier: Due to its ability to regulate the formation of skin cells, as well as improve their health and function, vitamin D can help strengthen the skin barrier, which will help reduce inflammation and improve the skin’s ability to fight off pathogens. Additionally, a strong skin barrier means normal skin function, which will lead to visible improvement in tone and texture.
- Balancing Hormones: Vitamin D plays a role in mood regulation due to its ability to reduce stress levels, indirectly benefitting acne control due to soothing the inflammatory activity stress hormones such as cortisol can have on the body.
From all this, we can conclude that vitamin D can help reduce both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne.
Due to its ability to normalize the cell cycle and inhibit excess sebum production, vitamin D can prevent pore clogging and minimize the formation of blackheads and whiteheads, which are considered non-inflammatory acne and are usually the beginning stage of acne formation.
Additionally, due to its ability to help the immune system fight off bacteria while also reducing inflammation, vitamin D can also be fantastic for inflammatory acne, such as papules, pustules, and cysts.
In fact, a 2014 study that observed 43 participants with newly diagnosed cystic acne showed low vitamin D levels were prevalent in all participants dealing with the inflammatory condition, which makes the connection between the concern and the deficiency more than obvious.
Finally, and due to its ability to regulate hormones that may indirectly contribute to the formation of acne, vitamin D may be able to help reduce the severity of what we know as hormonal acne, a condition that’s caused by some hormonal imbalance due to a fluctuation of hormones, unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits, and the usage of certain medications.
What is The Best Way to Get Vitamin D for Your Skin?
The best way to get vitamin D for your skin is to consume foods that contain high levels of this component, along with making lifestyle changes, such as spending more time in the sun, as well as supplementing with vitamin D when necessary or when getting it naturally is not an option.
What Acne-Safe Foods Are High in Vitamin D?
Here are five vitamin D-rich foods you can safely incorporate into your daily menu without worrying they might exacerbate your acne:
- Fatty Fish: Herring, mackerel, salmon, trout, and sardines are just a few excellent options rich in vitamin D3 you can incorporate into your daily menu to soothe inflammation and boost your immune system. These fish are also rich in omega-3, which are essential fatty acids needed for a healthy skin barrier and reduced acne.
- Eggs: A serving of just two eggs contains over 80% of the daily recommended vitamin D intake, making them one of the easiest ways to add this vital vitamin into your diet.
- Orange Juice: A rich source of vitamins D and C, a few glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice a day can be a fantastic way to strengthen your immune system, reduce inflammation, and infuse your body with the antioxidants it needs to fight free radical damage.
- Dairy: While dairy products are high in calcium and can be beneficial for bone health, incorporating dairy-based products into your diet may increase your chances of experiencing acne. Dairy products can trigger your body to produce insulin, which can lead to hormonal imbalances and increased inflammation, and some dairy products are also processed with hormones, which may cause a disruption in your body and lead to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne.
- Beef Liver: Lastly, beef liver is another delicious option to incorporate into your daily menu when wanting to increase your vitamin D intake.
What Lifestyle Changes Will Help You Get More Vitamin D?
Certain lifestyle changes can help you get more vitamin D naturally and keep your skin healthy and vibrant. Therefore, consider spending at least 15 minutes in bright sunlight a day, as this can significantly increase your vitamin D intake naturally and help improve your immune system’s function in the long run and your mood immediately.
Plenty of studies have shown that getting enough vitamin D from sunlight has the ability to improve psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
On the other hand, if you live in a colder climate with long and harsh winters, chances are that you’re not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.
This is when you should consider investing in UV lamps, as these can help boost your vitamin D levels and improve your immune system and skin health in the long run.
What Other Supplements Should You Take With Vitamin D?
Vitamin D can be combined with many other supplements to address a particular health concern or improve another deficiency you might be dealing with.
Here are some of the best supplements you should take alongside vitamin D:
- K2: Vitamin K2 is necessary for bone health and also regulates normal blood clotting. When combined with vitamin D, both components ensure that calcium is absorbed easily and reaches the bone mass while preventing arterial calcification and helping to keep the bones healthy.
- Magnesium: This mineral helps activate the hormones that are essential for using vitamin D, so taking both supplements can be beneficial for ensuring maximum absorption.
- Fish Oil: This is one of the most important supplements to take alongside vitamin D, as it will help the latter absorb due to containing fats or oils. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble component that needs to be taken with a meal containing healthy fats or oils to ensure maximum absorption.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral with an important relationship with vitamin D, as studies have shown that reduced zinc levels in the blood could predict vitamin D deficiency. A cofactor for vitamin D functions, zinc can reduce inflammation in the body and can also induce the release of calcitriol, an active form of vitamin D. Together, zinc and vitamin D can maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system, soothe inflammation, and fight off skin conditions such as acne.
- Selenium: Selenium is another fantastic supplement to take alongside vitamin D, as this combo has been shown to reduce the effects of hyperthyroidism, a condition that occurs as a result of an overactive thyroid and includes symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, frequent bowel movement, hair loss, and tremors.
What Supplements Can Cause Acne Breakouts?
While supplements are generally taken to improve our health by providing us with essential vitamins and minerals, we don’t always get enough from food; not all come without potential side effects.
Many supplements on the market are known for causing adverse effects, from allergic reactions, constipation, and diarrhea, to inflammatory skin conditions such as acne.
Some supplements that are known for their potential to cause acne include B vitamins, which are often recommended for hair and nail growth, iodine, which is found in multivitamins and kelp supplements, Whey protein, due to its ability to trigger an overproduction of hormones and cause inflammation in the body, as well as pre-workouts containing sugar substitutes that can cause inflammation by increasing insulin levels.
Therefore, while taking supplements is generally safe, make sure to monitor your skin’s reaction when starting a new supplement regimen and see if any negative changes occur.
The Side Effects of Too Much Vitamin D On the Skin
Taking too much vitamin D might not necessarily cause serious skin issues, but it can make the skin dry, flaky, and sensitive to light, which may be mild symptoms of vitamin D toxicity.
Vitamin D toxicity occurs when too much of the vitamin is absorbed into the bloodstream due to misusing vitamin D supplements, particularly over-supplementing.
Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity include nausea, vomiting, weakness, confusion, increased thirst and urination, abdominal pain, and sudden weight loss.
In severe cases of vitamin D toxicity, it can cause calcium deposits in the kidneys and soft tissue calcification, affecting the cardiovascular system by increasing blood pressure.
Vitamin D plays a significant role in hormone regulation, particularly testosterone, and estrogen, as it facilitates the synthesis of these hormones, which can impact various bodily functions, including the production of sebum.
Therefore, a deficiency of vitamin D could potentially lead to an imbalance in testosterone and estrogen levels, which can result in increased or decreased oil production, and the conditions that follow, such as acne or dry, flaky skin.
Vitamin D may help reduce insulin resistance by reducing inflammation in the body and regulating blood glucose levels, which can be beneficial for those with diabetes.
Additionally, vitamin D also regulates the levels of calcium and phosphorus in the body, which are vital for various bodily functions, including the release of insulin.
Adults can supplement with up to 100mcg (4,000 IU) of vitamin D; however, overusing it can lead to adverse effects such as weakness, nausea, confusion, vomiting, and vitamin D toxicity.