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Skin Needs Sun Protection and Sun Exposure in Moderation

The Power of Vitamin D For Skin

The Power of Vitamin D For Boosting Healthier Skin
by Morag Currin

The human skin needs both sun protection and sun exposure in moderation.  The skin can have both without incurring sun damage or nutritional deficiency.

The main source of vitamin D is the sun. The effect of UV radiation on vitamin D synthesis depends to some extent on the initial vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is an important nutrient for maintaining a healthy skeleton as it forms an integral part of the bone metabolism, calcium and phosphor homeostasis. There are indications that vitamin D may have several other health benefits such as prevention or mitigation of cancer and autoimmune diseases, reduction in hypertension, and prevention of influenza. 

Anti-carcinogenic effects have been demonstrated in laboratory studies on animals at high doses, but evidence of causality has not been shown in humans, possibly due to too low vitamin D levels in the human population to produce a statistically significant effect. Overall, vitamin D seems to have a positive regulatory effect on the immune system. 

Recent research indicates that vitamin D stimulates antimicrobial activity and thus may mitigate certain types of infections. There are vitamin D receptors in many organs, and long-term vitamin D deficiency may induce a wide range of harmful biological effects.


When assessing your client’s skin these indicators suggest your client may need more vitamin D.

  1. People with lots of pigment in their skin (Fitzpatrick VI) can produce six-times less vitamin than people with very little pigment (Fitzpatrick 1) in their skin. 
  2. Overweight individuals have a reduced capacity of vitamin D synthesis.
  3. Elderly people have thinner skin, and as a result these skins are less capable of synthesizing vitamin D.
  4. People who frequent sun beds regularly that emit UVB radiation are likely to have higher bone mineral densities. Is this a consideration for massage modifications?

Cold climates where clients are all bundled up in clothing – exposure to UV radiation is usually on the face only which is not sufficient for vitamin D synthesis

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A single-center retrospective cohort study done in 2020 indicates that the COVID-19 risk increased among people with lots of pigment in their skin (Fitzpatrick VI) with the vitamin D level at less than 40 ng/Ml.  These clients need to increase their vitamin D levels. New evidence needs to be monitored as it is peer-reviewed and published, and will include results from several clinical trials on vitamin D and COVID-19 outcomes that are currently underway.

When assessing your clients with a genetic predisposition, a history of- or a high risk for developing melanoma – these clients need to have exposure to sun for approximately 20 minutes of sun at midday – quite to the contrary of what is being promoted today. A low vitamin D status is shown to be associated with melanoma and a worse prognosis. 

The human skin makes a large amount of vitamin D naturally between 10.30am and 3pm and evidence does show that people with thicker, or higher stage melanomas have lower vitamin D status compared to those with thinner tumors. So, as salon/spa professionals, we should be recommending to this targeted group of people that they must ensure they get sufficient sun exposure during these hours in the middle of the day. This would ensure sufficient Vitamin D levels for prevention.

  1. People with lots of pigment in their skin (Fitzpatrick VI) produce less Vitamin D, so they need to be outside for longer and more often.  15-30 minutes.
  2. If your client has little pigment in the skin (Fitzpatrick 1) recommend 10-20 minutes outside in the midday sun with minimal clothing and no sunscreen – this should give them enough UV radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of the vitamin.
  3. Elderly people produce less vitamin D, and many people do not get enough of the nutrient from dietary sources like fatty fish and fortified milk so, they need to be outside for longer and more often, to get the same effect. 15-30 minutes.

Vitamin D deficiencies are more common in people with acne than in healthy controls. One 2016 study showed that people with acne had lower levels of vitamin D, but low vitamin D did not mean worse acne.  Vitamin D affects the proliferation and differentiation of the skin, either directly or through its interaction with calcium.  Many in vitro studies have shown a dose-dependent effect of vitamin D on keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation. Sebocytes have been identified as responsive target cells, indicating that vitamin D may be effective in the treatment of acne.

Low vitamin D does not cause acne and vitamin D blocks P. acnes from affecting skin cells.  People with acne should be tested for vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency.  A random study indicates that supplementation with oral vitamin D produced a significant improvement in acne inflammation.

Testing for vitamin D levels is done with blood testing. Readings from a blood test indicate:

-30 ng/mL Deficient (supplementation required)
30-50 ng/mL Insufficient
50-70 ng/mL Optimal
70-100 ng/mL Cancer + Heart disease therapy
125+ ng/mL Excess

Sunscreens that do work are formulated with chemicals that may not be in the best interests of our skin, nor our environment. The game currently appears to be that manufacturers are trying to outdo each other by ‘upping’ the SPF numbers game. The natural SPF that protects people with more pigment in their skin (Fitzpatrick VI) from common skin cancers is about 12-14 and we know that a product with an SPF 8 provides protection – so why apply more chemicals than necessary? Skincancer.org suggests  Broad spectrum SPF 15 or higher; SPF 30 or higher for a day outdoors.

To summarise: This article provides some key skin/sun assessment questions to help determine sufficient vitamin D levels for skin health.  As salon/spa professionals, we should be asking our clients about their vitamin D levels especially people considered high risk for a true deficiency such as people:

  • with anorexia nervosa
  • who have had gastric bypass surgeries
  • who suffer from other malabsorption syndromes like celiac sprue, 
  • clients through cultural background that wear total skin covering (and thus absorb less sunlight)
  • perimenopausal women
  • who have been diagnosed with osteopenia (reduced bone density, but not osteoporosis) 
  • osteoporosis or other skeletal disorders
  • pregnant and lactating women
Morag Currin

About Morag

As a leader in our industry, Morag has spent over 27 years in the aesthetic/skin care industry, researching and constantly updating her knowledge on cancer and other diseases and how treatment affects the services we offer; plus she still offers services such as reflexology, aromatherapy and electrodessication. Morag pioneered Oncology Esthetics® training back in 2007. It was her concept that has driven change to our industry that others have followed. She consults globally with industry leaders by educating them how to include the cancer community. Besides making time for written articles and webinars she offers equine facilitated learning and activity sessions for the cancer community and veterans since there is a prevalence of significant psychological distress within these communities.

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