Maintain Youthful Skin with Vitamin D
Now that the autumnal equinox has come and gone, the days are getting noticeably shorter and cooler. The sun’s declination means that the time has come to doff the wide-brimmed sun hat and don a woolly sweater. Although I urge you to keep protecting your face and neck with a natural sun screen, the lack of sunshine starting this time of year can lead to a deficiency in vitamin D, aka, the “sunshine vitamin.”
Most nutrition-savvy people know of the health benefits of vitamin D (strong bones and teeth, immunity, etc.), but are unaware of its crucial role in maintaining the health, beauty and youthfulness of the largest organ — the skin.
It’s been pounded into our heads by the medical and beauty industries that we must shun sunlight like a vampire in order to avoid skin cancer and premature skin aging, but this extreme approach can actually bring on dull, sallow, saggy, parchment-like skin — ironically, just like a vampire’s! While it’s true that excessive exposure to ultraviolet light can accelerate skin aging, you need the sun’s rays — UVB in particular — on your skin in order to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D, as I’ve written before, promotes skin cell development and repair, battles free radical formation and is indispensable to maintaining smooth, supple, youthful skin.
What is vitamin D?
Strictly speaking, vitamin D functions more like a hormone than a vitamin. Unlike a true vitamin, which is defined as a substance that is needed by an organism to function that cannot be internally synthesized, vitamin D is manufactured by the body through the interaction of UVB rays with cholesterol found in the epidermis. Your skin can manufacture as much as 10,000 IU of vitamin D after 20–30 minutes of summer sun.
Hormones, as you may know, are chemical messengers that bind to specific receptors to trigger a biological response. The active form of vitamin D (calcitriol) is a fat-soluble hormone precursor; all of the main steroid hormones are dependent on it for synthesis. Maintaining healthy hormone balance is critical to preserving one’s youthful complexion and overall vitality.
How vitamin D benefits the skin
Calcitriol contributes to skin cell growth, regeneration and metabolism. It also strengthens the skin’s immune system’s ability to fight skin-aging free radicals. Vitamin D receptors regulate cell proliferation and differentiation. The constant loss of skin cells is continuously offset by a vitamin D-dependent process that occurs in specialized skin cells called keratinocytes, which provide new cells to replenish the epidermis. Keratinocytes also reinforce the underlying dermal matrix, the structural component of the dermis composed of collagen and elastin that gives the skin its firmness and elasticity. Vitamin D deficiency can retard the process of cellular renewal, leading to thinner, more fragile skin that’s prone to sagging and wrinkles.
Vitamin D skin care
New York dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross observed that many of his patients who sought to avoid premature aging and skin cancer by staying out of the sun and using sun block had a “sallow and dull appearance” to their skin, indicative of low vitamin D levels. Gross created his Active Vitamin D Serum-Oil to resuscitate his patients’ complexions. According to Gross, restoring sufficient vitamin D levels minimizes acne, stimulates collagen production and reduces lines and dark spots.
To give your skin an extra vitamin D boost, I also recommend One Love Organics Vitamin D Active Moisture Time Release Mist. This 100 percent natural moisturizing mist is made with shitake mushrooms, an excellent source of vitamin D.
If you’re concerned about your hands betraying your age, try Mario Badescu Skin Care Fruit and Vitamin A&D Hand Cream (SPF 10). This cream is enriched with vitamin A and D oil, in addition to orange extract and salicylic acid, to keep your hands well-moisturized and wrinkle-free.
Best sources of vitamin D
As Coco Chanel famously quipped, “the best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.” Vitamin D obtained from sunshine falls into the former category (Chanel nail polish belongs to the latter). Sunlight levels in the Northern Hemisphere makes maintaining optimal vitamin levels difficult from late fall through early spring, so I suggest adding vitamin D rich foods such as wild salmon, pastured eggs, mushrooms and cod liver oil to your diet without delay.
The best way to determine your vitamin D levels is with the 25(OH)D Test; if you fall below the optimal range between 50-70 nanograms per milliliter, then taking a good vitamin D supplement is highly recommended. Consult your medical care provider for the best dosage for your needs. Your vitamin D requirements depend on a number of factors, including your skin tone, age and body mass index.
International vitamin D expert Dr. Michael F. Holick recommends carefully monitored time under a low-pressure sun lamp to promote vitamin D production during the winter months. Low-pressure sun lamps emit more UVB rays and fewer of the deeper penetrating and more damaging UVA rays. If you choose to try this, use eye protection and exercise caution—never let yourself burn and keep in mind that your goal is not to get a tan but to produce vitamin D. You should not exceed half the recommended maximum dose of sun lamp exposure.
My best advice, of course, is to make a break for sunnier climes during the depths of winter; there’s nothing like sunshine to lift one’s spirits and vitamin D levels to get that healthy glow. A bit of sunbathing is just what the doctor ordered—just don’t forget to pack a wide-brimmed hat.