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Fact vs. fiction: Vitamin D and acne

Research suggests there may be a link between breakouts and the “sunshine vitamin.”

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Curology Team
Jan 04, 2023 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Of all the vitamins’ nicknames, vitamin D’s is arguably the cheeriest. Many know it as the “sunshine vitamin,” thanks to the fact that the human body naturally produces the stuff just by being in the sun’s rays.¹ (Spoiler alert: There are safer ways to get your daily dose of D that don’t involve exposing yourself to harmful UV rays. More on those in a bit). 

But what does vitamin D have to do with acne? Or, better yet, what does a lack of vitamin D have to do with it? The relationship between vitamin D and acne is still being studied, but early research suggests that people with vitamin D deficiencies may be more susceptible to breakouts. Here we’ll explain what the experts know so far.

Vitamin D benefits 101

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s essential to the growth and development of bones and teeth. It helps the human body fight off illnesses, regulates calcium and phosphorus, and plays a role in immune system function. In short, vitamin D does a lot.

The human body naturally produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately, ultraviolet UV rays from the sun or tanning beds are one of the leading causes of skin cancer and premature aging. Thankfully, you don’t have to sit out in the sun to get it. It’s also found in fortified dairy products, oily fish, and many supplements.² 

From mineral absorption to cell health, vitamin D plays a vital role in how the human body functions. When taken orally, vitamin D has a range of impressive benefits:

  • It boosts calcium metabolism: Vitamin D helps regulate your body’s absorption of calcium, a mineral that helps strengthen bones.

  • It has antimicrobial properties: Vitamin D may help kill or stop the growth of certain microorganisms, and it also may help reduce the risk of infection caused by bacteria.³ 

  • It has anti-inflammatory properties: Research shows that vitamin D regulates the production of inflammatory cytokines in the body, which inhibits the growth of pro-inflammatory cells. Vitamin D may also help boost clinical responses to acute infections,⁴ and its anti-inflammatory properties may also help to reduce symptoms often associated with acne.⁵ 

  • It may help regulate mood: Low vitamin D levels have been identified as a risk factor for depression and anxiety. One 2020 study found that vitamin D supplements improved symptoms in people experiencing negative emotions.⁶

  • It may help fight disease: Research has linked vitamin D to a potentially reduced risk of multiple sclerosis and a potentially decreased chance of heart disease. Inadequate vitamin D levels may increase the risk of infections and autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.⁷,⁸,⁹

  • It may help with atopic dermatitis symptoms: A study shows that vitamin D supplementation may be considered a safe, well-tolerated form of therapy for the clinical signs of this condition.¹⁰

woman holding fish oil omega pill

Where to get vitamin D

The best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is not by sitting out in the sun but by regularly enjoying healthy foods rich in it. You can also take supplements. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) recommends 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day for children, teenagers, and adults. Your vitamin D intake should not exceed 4,000 IUs per day.¹¹ Some supplements go beyond the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, but vitamin D toxicity is rare. Along with supplements, the following foods are good sources of vitamin D:¹²

  • Tuna 

  • Salmon 

  • Sardines

  • Trout

  • Mushrooms (white and portabella)

  • Cod liver oil 

  • Beef liver 

  • Egg yolks

  • Fortified foods, like cereals, milk, orange juice, and yogurt 

Does vitamin D help acne?

Researchers are currently working on studies to establish a more concrete link between vitamin D and acne, but here’s what we know so far: A 2015 study found that people with cystic acne who had low vitamin D levels were at risk of developing more severe symptoms.¹³ Another study found that when people with acne took oral vitamin D supplements, their symptoms improved significantly.¹⁴ In other words, people with a vitamin D deficiency may be more likely to develop acne.

While topical vitamin D3 has been proven to increase the body’s vitamin D levels,¹⁵ evidence to know whether it works as an effective acne treatment is currently lacking. There is evidence, however, that suggests topical vitamin D may help relieve the scaling and redness associated with psoriasis.¹⁶ 

Topical vitamin D is also found in some skincare products, but if you’re considering vitamin D’s uses on the skin, it’s important to keep in mind we still have much to learn. If you’d like to try incorporating vitamin D into your skincare routine, our dermatology providers recommend the following: 

Possible vitamin D side effects 

Because the body regulates the amount of vitamin D it produces in response to UV rays, vitamin D toxicity is rare. It usually occurs by ingesting extremely high doses of vitamin D for a prolonged period. Consuming too much vitamin D can result in experiencing the following symptoms:¹⁷

  • Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood)

  • Constipation 

  • Polydipsia (increased thirst) 

  • Polyuria (increased urine output)

  • Confusion

How Curology can help

Curology was founded in 2014 by dermatologists whose mission is to offer accessible customized dermatology services to all for skin concerns like acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, and the signs of aging. We help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by using effective, high-quality ingredients like tretinoin, azelaic acid, and clindamycin, which have been clinically researched and proven to work.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Not a member? Getting started is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap a few selfies to help us get to know your skin. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers. They’ll work with you to discuss your skin goals and create a personalized prescription formula for your specific skin concerns. They’ll also be there to answer any skincare questions you may have along your journey. 

Our full line of skincare products, designed by dermatology providers to be non-comedogenic, dye-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic, will complete your routine. They’re made to keep your skin looking and feeling happier and healthier. 

Ready to get started? You can sign up for Curology here.

FAQs

Where to get vitamin D?

The best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D is not by sitting out in the sun but by regularly enjoying healthy foods rich in it.

  • Tuna 

  • Salmon 

  • Sardines

  • Trout

  • Mushrooms (white and portabella)

  • Cod liver oil 

  • Beef liver 

  • Egg yolks

  • Fortified foods, like cereals, milk, orange juice, and yogurt

Does vitamin D help acne?

A 2015 study found that people with cystic acne who had low vitamin D levels were at risk of developing more severe symptoms. Another study found that when people with acne took oral vitamin D supplements, their symptoms improved significantly. In other words, people with a vitamin D deficiency may be more likely to develop acne.

Possible vitamin D side effects?

Because the body regulates the amount of vitamin D it produces in response to UV rays, vitamin D toxicity is rare. It usually occurs by ingesting extremely high doses of vitamin D for a prolonged period. Consuming too much vitamin D can result in experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood)

  • Constipation 

  • Polydipsia (increased thirst) 

  • Polyuria (increased urine output)

  • Confusion

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Chauhan K, Shahrokhi M, Huecker MR. Vitamin D. StatPearls. (2022 September 9).

  2. Chauhan K, Shahrokhi M, Huecker MR. Vitamin D. Ibid.

  3. Youssef DA, Miller CW, El-Abbassi AM, Cutchins DC, Cutchins C, Grant WB, Peiris AN. Antimicrobial implications of vitamin D. Dermatoendocrinol. (2011).

  4. Yin K, Agrawal DK. Vitamin D and inflammatory diseases. J Inflamm Res. (2014).

  5. Lim SK, Ha JM, Lee YH, Lee Y, Seo YJ, Kim CD, Lee JH, Im M. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. (2016).

  6. Cheng YC, Huang YC, Huang WL. The effect of vitamin D supplement on negative emotions: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Depress Anxiety. (2020).

  7. Sintzel MB, Rametta M, Reder AT. Vitamin D and Multiple Sclerosis: A Comprehensive Review. Neurol Ther. (2018).

  8. Saponaro F, Marcocci C, Zucchi R. Vitamin D status and cardiovascular outcome. J Endocrinol Invest. (2019).

  9. Martens PJ, Gysemans C, Verstuyf A, Mathieu AC. Vitamin D's Effect on Immune Function. Nutrients. (2020).

  10. Samochocki, Z., et al, Vitamin D effects in atopic dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2013).

  11. Vitamin D stats and facts. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Ibid.

  12. Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. (2022).

  13. Yildizgören MT, Togral AK. Preliminary evidence for vitamin D deficiency in nodulocystic acne. Dermatoendocrinol. (2015).

  14. Lim SK, Ha JM, Lee YH, Lee Y, Seo YJ, Kim CD, Lee JH, Im M. Comparison of Vitamin D Levels in Patients with and without Acne: A Case-Control Study Combined with a Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. Ibid.

  15. Sadat-Ali M, Bubshait DA, Al-Turki HA, Al-Dakheel DA, Al-Olayani WS. Topical delivery of vitamin d3: a randomized controlled pilot study. Int J Biomed Sci. (2014).

  16. Chauhan K, Shahrokhi M, Huecker MR. Vitamin D. Ibid.

  17. Chauhan K, Shahrokhi M, Huecker MR. Vitamin D. Ibid.

Kristen Jokela is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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