Emerging research suggests that vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, may alleviate eczema symptoms. Eczema, often due to atopic dermatitis, is a common inflammatory skin condition causing dry, itchy patches of skin. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in skin health as it's involved in the production of antimicrobial peptides, regulation of the immune system, and the growth and differentiation of skin cells. A widespread deficiency in vitamin D globally is believed to exacerbate eczema severity, with supplementation shown to improve these symptoms.
Are you ready to D-minish your complaints of eczema once and for all?
As shocking as it may sound, a simple vitamin D supplement may suppress the flare-ups of your dermatitis for months or even years.
Phototherapy via direct sunlight and UVB rays has been used for ages to manage various skin health problems, including atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Now scientists realize the increase in vitamin D synthesis may be the mediator of these benefits.
Want to know more? Keep reading, and you will learn all about the effects vitamin D can have on your skin and how proper supplementation can alleviate your eczema symptoms.
Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition. In the majority of the cases, its underlying cause is atopic dermatitis (AD).
Usually, AD first occurs before the age of 5 and affects about 20% of all children (1). About 15% of the cases persist throughout adulthood.
The most common complaints you may experience related to atopic dermatitis are reddish, dry, and itchy patches of skin. These symptoms can cause various levels of discomfort depending on the severity of your condition.
The affected skin sites are usually located inside the bend of the elbows and knees, as well as other parts of your arms, legs, neck, upper chest, or eyelids.
The disorder is associated with improper skin barrier function and over-activity of your immune system.
Having an allergy may also play a role in its development. In fact, atopic dermatitis often goes hand in hand with bronchial asthma and hay fever.
However, the exact underlying cause of why you may develop AD remains unknown. Thus, there is currently no effective prevention or cure for the conditions.
Several medications and over-the-counter remedies are most effective in reducing the severity of symptoms or inducing a remission that in some cases lasts for several years.
Apart from atopic dermatitis, less common causes of eczema may include:
- contact dermatitis - when in contact with allergens
- dyshidrotic eczema - blisters caused by certain irritants
- neurodermatitis - due to prolonged itching and scratching
- nummular eczema - due to insect bites
- stasis dermatitis - due to blood circulation problems
- seborrheic dermatitis - due to dandruff-causing yeasts
What’s the Role of Vitamin D in Healthy Skin?
Vitamin D is the only vitamin your body can synthesize, which means food is not the only natural source.
Your body produces provitamin D that’s transported and stored in your skin. Once your skin is exposed to direct sunlight, the UV rays break down provitamin D and turn it into previtamin D.
The latter transforms spontaneously to active vitamin D3. The sunshine vitamin is then carried to all organs and tissues in your body.
Almost every human cell has a receptor (VDR) for it, including the tissues in your skin (2). There, vitamin D stimulates your skin cells to produce more antimicrobial peptides such as cathelicidin. That’s a natural antibiotic that protects your skin from bacteria (3).
What is more, the sunshine vitamin regulates the activity of your immune system in your skin and may reduce the risk of autoimmune reactions.
Triggering the VDR also stimulates the growth, proliferation, and differentiation of skin cells (4). This process helps the skin repair itself and boosts its protective role as a mechanical barrier against irritants and pathogens.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is extremely widespread. Research suggests that up to 77% of Americans are either deficient or insufficient in vitamin D (5).
Therefore, medical doctors and scientists all agree that the best way to prevent vitamin D deficiency is to supplement (8).
How does vitamin D deficiency affect eczema and atopic dermatitis?
According to the Endocrine Society, you have vitamin D deficiency if your serum levels are under 20 ng/ml (8).
However, scientists suggest that levels above 30 ng/ml can provide further benefits for your overall health, and values below this setpoint are considered a vitamin D insufficiency.
If you have vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, this may increase the severity of your eczema. According to the scientific literature, low vitamin D levels correlate negatively with the severity of eczema related to atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis (9).
In the study, patients with vitamin D deficiency were much more likely to experience worse symptoms, including itchy skin and flare-ups than those with sufficient levels.
What is more, one meta-analysis also found that patients with atopic dermatitis had significantly lower vitamin D levels compared to healthy controls (10).
Supplementation was also found to improve the severity of the condition but it did not cure it.
Thus, keep in mind vitamin D deficiency is not the likely underlying cause of eczema, despite its significant role in skin health.
Make sure to always consult with a doctor before attempting to self-treat or self-medicate for any condition.
Can vitamin D help other skin conditions?
Vitamin D and its metabolites are successfully employed in the therapy of several skin conditions such as psoriasis. The disease causes itchy, scaly, and dry skin.
The effects of the sunshine vitamin on the condition were first documented in 1985 when a patient with psoriasis improved significantly after taking a vitamin D supplement for six months (11).
Later, extensive studies showed that topical use of vitamin D3 for eight weeks was equally effective as the classic ditralin ointment (12).
Currently, a medication called calcipotriol, also known as calcipotriene, is safely and effectively used for the long-term management of psoriasis. That’s a synthetic derivative of the active form of vitamin D3 (calcitriol).
The scientists suggested that by reducing the rate of DNA damage and stimulating DNA repair in skin cells, vitamin D may prevent premature skin aging and even lower the risk for skin cancer.
Vitamin D for Eczema and Atopic dermatitis
Vitamin D supplementation appears to be a safe and effective method to reduce the severity of eczema due to atopic or contact dermatitis.
A meta-analysis of clinical studies with almost 600 patients reported that oral vitamin D supplementation could significantly improve symptoms of AD (14).
What is more, taking a vitamin D supplement appears to be highly effective regardless of the severity of the condition.
One trial investigated the benefits of 1600 IU vitamin D per day in 60 patients with AD. The researchers found out that the symptoms improved in all patients including mild, moderate, and severe atopic dermatitis (15).
Vitamin D also appears to enhance the effectiveness of standard therapies for eczema such as topical corticosteroids.
For example, 12 weeks of combined therapy with 1600 IU of vitamin D per day was much more effective in reducing symptom severity than hydrocortisone therapy alone in 86 patients with atopic dermatitis (16).
Supplementation may also help other conditions that accompany AD, such as seasonal allergy and asthma. According to evidence, the vitamin may reduce the severity of asthma attacks (17).
Evidence on seasonal allergy is less robust, but vitamin D deficiency is quite common amongst those affected by hay fever.
What is the optimal vitamin D dosage for atopic dermatitis?
Currently, there is no consensus on the optimal dose of vitamin D for skin health.
Yet, one of the biggest meta-analyses so far which included 11 studies in total, reported that the average dose of the sunshine vitamin shown as effective was 1600 IU (18).
Another study using higher daily doses of vitamin D (5000 IU) for 12 weeks reported that all patients who achieved serum levels of 25(OH)D ≥ 20 ng/ml experienced a significant reduction in symptoms (19).
Therefore achieving adequate blood vitamin D levels is a better predictor for the overall effect of the supplementation rather than the exact dose.
What is more, vitamin D dosage should be individually determined since the response to the supplement depends on multiple factors.
For example, one of the most important factors influencing the effectiveness of supplementation is body composition.
Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it gets easily stored in your adipose tissues which reduces its bioavailability and your blood levels drop.
For example, a study with more than 17 000 people reported that overweight patients need about 50% higher doses of vitamin D supplements than those with average body weight to achieve recommended blood levels (21).
Furthermore, obese patients may need up to 250% of the dose recommended for those with a healthy weight.
The type of vitamin D you are taking also plays a role in your response to supplementation. The two forms found in food products and supplements are vitamin D2 and D3.
Vitamin D3 is produced in the human body, as well as in most animals and algae. Good dietary sources include fatty fish and egg yolks. In comparison, vitamin D2 is produced and contained only in plants. The best dietary source for vitamin D2 is mushrooms.
According to research, vitamin D3 is much more effective than vitamin D2 in increasing blood vitamin D levels in patients (22).
Furthermore, it’s likely more stable as a compound and has a longer shelf life as a supplement compared to D2 (23). Therefore, it’s generally considered best to supplement with D3.
Other factors that may affect your response to vitamin D supplementation include genetics, lifestyle, and whether you take certain medications.
How to pick up the best supplement for skin health?
Although vitamin D3 can provide numerous benefits for your overall and skin health, there are several things to consider when choosing a supplement.
First of all, taking vitamin D3 alone will increase your calcium levels, but it will not necessarily ensure that the mineral will go into your bones.
There is always a risk that calcium may go into your blood vessels instead, which speeds up the process of atherosclerosis and may increase your risk of heart disease in the long term.
Thankfully, there is a simple solution - adding vitamin K2 to the supplement. According to studies, a combination of vitamin D3 and K2 may have a synergistic effect on your calcium metabolism (24).
While vitamin D boosts calcium absorption, vitamin K ensures that the mineral is deposited in your bones and not anywhere else, which minimizes the risk for adverse reactions and side effects.
One of the best products made in the US that contain both fat-soluble vitamins is Vitamin D3 + K2 Complex by Nutririse.
Nutririse provides an optimal amount of vitamin D per single dose - 5 000 IU. The vitamin is combined with 100 mcg of vitamin K2, 210 mg of calcium, and 5 mg of black pepper extract (Bioperine).
Vitamin K is also a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a major role in controlling blood coagulation. The Bioperine content ensures that the product has the best absorption as the extract is known to boost the bioavailability of supplements.
The black pepper extract works by regulating liver metabolism, which reduces the neutralization and excretion of the vitamins and prolongs the time during which the vitamins are exposed to uptake and absorption in your gastrointestinal tract (25, 26).
Note: This article is for informational purposes only, and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.