Topical Vitamin D for Skin Health and Beauty
I have written endlessly on the countless benefits of vitamin D, and this is no real surprise since it has been determined that vitamin D directly, or indirectly, controls more than 200 genes.
Lately, however, I have been experimenting with using our liquid Quick D product topically on my face and scalp. The idea is that it may protect my aging skin, and aid in reducing hair loss. As a result of this recent experiment (already showing some benefit), I thought I would dig into the subject a little, and share what I have discovered.
Medical Use of Topical Vitamin D
Topical vitamin D is approved by the US FDA for the treatment of several types of psoriasis, including scalp psoriasis. Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition of the skin with increased turnover of skin cells creating red, scaly patches of skin. Topical vitamin D works by slowing down excessive cell growth in the skin, thereby reducing the symptoms of skin irritation, and inflammation. (Source)
Vitamin D in topical form is also used by doctors and pharmacists to treat a variety of skin disorders, though when an analysis of medical studies was performed it was found to be only effective for a handful of serious conditions (most of them unpronounceable).
To quote from the conclusion: “A moderate to strong recommendation was given for the use of topical vitamin D in combination with corticosteroids and phototherapy in vitiligo and as monotherapy for various ichthyoses, morphea, pityriasis alba, prurigo nodularis, and polymorphous light eruption.” (Study)
However, the approach of this newsletter is to address less serious skin conditions, and general skin health. For example, vitamin D has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, thus there is some evidence that using topical vitamin D can reduce acne symptoms. (Though it is also important to ensure adequate blood levels of vitamin D when treating acne.) (Source)
Cosmetic Uses of Topical Vitamin D
In the skincare field, vitamin D is growing in popularity, though according to one company that sells topical vitamin D for cosmetic purposes, "We do not get the vitamin D for our body via skincare, however, vitamin D still plays a vital role in skincare."
According to Dr. Marko Lens, founder of Zelens, a cosmetic company, vitamin D, like vitamin C, has antioxidant properties which can protect the skin from environmental damage (UV light, pollutants, etc), and can also treat dry patches on the skin (by reinforcing the skin’s barrier, preventing dryness and moisture loss), as well as “impart a natural glow”. (Source)
And with its anti-inflammatory properties, topical vitamin D can also help to soothe red, irritated skin conditions of a nebulous nature.
As we saw with its benefits for treating acne, vitamin D on the skin has antimicrobial properties, which keeps in check superficial acne spots, whether induced internally or from external bacteria. This is confirmed by the fact that when we build vitamin D from sunlight, much of it is stored in the skin in an inactive form. It activates if the skin is violated (cuts, scratches), or attacked by bacteria and/or fungus.
Given its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties, more and more cosmetic companies are now adding vitamin D3 to products, ranging from moisturisers to anti-aging serums. And, since vitamin D is a fat-based nutrient, and the body is naturally programmed to make it from our own sebum, it is easily absorbed into the skin
Protection from Sun Damage
Dr Kemi Fabusiwa, a skin specialist and founder of Joyful Skin Clinic, in a recent article on topical use of vitamin D, pointed out that “studies have shown vitamin D to inhibit the effects of UV radiation when applied just before exposure to the sun, protecting the skin from fine lines and sun spots”.
Ultraviolet light from the sun (following excessive exposure) can lead to DNA damage, inflammatory responses, skin cell apoptosis (programmed cell death), skin aging, and skin cancer. Many studies, though mostly done with mice and cell cultures, have shown topically applied vitamin D3 to exhibit photoprotective effects. (Source)
On a related note, when one is using vitamin A topically, one of the best anti-aging compounds for the skin, it should be applied at night, as vitamin A can make the skin photosensitive. While there are a wide variety of retinol skin creams, I personally often simply pop open a vitamin A capsule and mix that oil into a few drops of Quick D liquid, as a night time treatment.
Blood Levels of Vitamin D
Now things get a little tricky. Above, I quoted Dr Marko Lens as stating, "We do not get the vitamin D for our body via skincare, however, vitamin D still plays a vital role in skincare". So I did a search of the PubMed database to see if topical vitamin D would raise blood levels of D.
One study “shows that vitamin D3 can safely be delivered through the dermal route. This route could be exploited in treating vitamin D deficiency.” However, this study was based on testing a new product (“Top-D”, an Aloe Vera-based Vitamin D3), one designed specifically to be transdermal, driving the vitamin D from the skin through to the blood. (Study)
My assumption is that the design of such a product occurs because other topical forms of vitamin D are unable to do this. But, you should not base your health on my assumptions, as excessively high amounts of vitamin D can increase calcium levels in the body, and lead to serious side effects.
However, further to my assumption, in this study while the “gel formulation exhibited significant quantity of vitamin D3 in stratum corneum at the end of 4 hours and the levels continued to penetrate in dermis and epidermis at the end of 24 hours...no such penetration was observed from cream‐based formulation”.
The study went on to suggest that in most topical forms of vitamin D, the “lipophilicity of vitamin D3 is hampering its transdermal penetration”. The study concluded that “topical use of vitamin D3 was appropriate for skin retention and more apt for the treatment of psoriasis where localization of the drug was required...It was concluded that vitamin D3 strongly tends to get retained in the dermis and epidermis layers of skin due to its higher lipophilicity...Further investigations are required to enhance penetration possibly by combination of penetration enhancers and suitable carrier system. Clinical studies have to be carried out to produce substantial evidence of transdermal absorption of vitamin D3.” (Study)
I have included all this technical material in order to support the thesis that using vitamin D3 oil, in a base of sunflower oil, will most likely not elevate blood levels of vitamin D. That being said, I would suggest that when using vitamin D topically, one only use around 5 drops (containing 5,000 IU) of Quick D, and perhaps, on those days, take only a couple of drops internally. And, as with most supplements, as usual I recommend abstaining from using vitamin D, both orally and topically, a couple of days each week. This will serve as a safety valve, allowing the body time to use up any excess of this nutrient that may be present.
Since I am promoting the topical use of Quick D, I thought I should also briefly address the carrier oil used in that product, which is organic sunflower oil.
Sunflower oil is the base of many natural cosmetics, and is so gentle it is often found in infant products. It is naturally high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and vitamins A and E, and being a light oil, is easily absorbed into the skin without blocking the pores. When applied to the skin, sunflower oil is an effective moisturizer, as well as helping to treat red, irritated skin, acne, eczema, and even scarring.
Some beauty experts also suggest sunflower oil is beneficial for the hair, recommending it can be used as a deep conditioner by massaging it into the scalp once a week (then, comb through the hair to the ends, leaving it on for at least an hour, or overnight). This, they claim, will moisturize the scalp and hair shaft, smooth the cuticle preventing breakage, and invigorate the hair follicles (possibly helping to prevent hair loss).
I believe it is a safe, and potentially effective, treatment to apply our liquid vitamin D3 product, Quick D, to the skin and or scalp, up to five times per week. I do this myself, and while it is a little early for me to make any claims, I do find it is helping with some minor skin and scalp issues that I have. I would like to hear feedback from any readers who try this experiment, and I will share this information (positive or negative) in future newsletters.