Should You Be Using Vitamin D Skin-Care Products?

Channel the sun with these dermatologist-approved picks for the best vitamin D skin-care products, plus other ways to get your daily dose.

person stretching blissfully in the sunlight
Photo: Westend61/Getty

You've probably heard this before, but your body needs vitamin D for healthy skin and bones. Whether the weather (looking at you, winter blues!) has you trapped indoors or you're working in an office space with limited natural light, your lack of direct sunlight could have you wondering if you're at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

If your levels have fallen low, you're probably on the hunt for ways to increase your exposure — whether through supplements, changing up your diet, or simply opening the windows and curtains when you're stuck inside. And since vitamin C and vitamin E have both become popular skin-care ingredients in recent years, you've likely come across serums and creams boasting vitamin D too.

Wondering why this is and if you need to slather it on your skin? Here, experts discuss what's up with the sunshine vitamin. Think: How to get enough vitamin D for optimal health, how it benefits your skin, and their picks for the best vitamin D skin-care products to add to your beauty arsenal.

How to Get Enough Vitamin D

Yes, getting enough of it can sometimes be a struggle, but here are a few ways you can get your daily dose.

From Sun Exposure

Getting a hit of vitamin D is as easy as stepping outside — seriously. Your skin can actually produce a form of vitamin D in response to exposure to ultraviolet radiation (or sunshine!), says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a New York–based dermatologist and fellow at the American Academy of Dermatology.

But how exactly does this work? UV light interacts with proteins in the skin, converting it into vitamin D3 (the active form of vitamin D), explains Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. Not to get too science-y, but once those proteins in the skin are converted to vitamin D precursors, they circulate throughout the body and are converted to the active (i.e. immediately useful) form by the kidneys, adds Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

If you've recently succumbed to a more indoor lifestyle (due to the weather or a change in work settings, perhaps), the good news is that you only need minimal amounts of daily sunlight exposure for more than enough vitamin D, notes Dr. Gohara. So, no, you actually don't have to sunbathe or spend hours outdoors to produce adequate vitamin D levels, adds Dr. Zeichner. Believe it or not, 10 minutes in the sun at midday is all you need.

If you're venturing outside for the first time in a while, don't think that you can just forgo SPF in order to soak in as much of that oh-so-needed sunlight as possible. Sunscreen doesn't block 100 percent of UVB rays, so you'll still get enough exposure even when safely lathered up, explains Dr. Zeichner. That being said, you should also still be applying SPF if you're staying inside and working from home, especially if your setup is next to a sunny window. "While UV light does penetrate through window glass, it is UVA rays (those that cause premature skin aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and sun spots) that penetrate glass, not UVB (those that cause sunburn and potentially skin cancer). You would only be exposed to UVB rays if you opened your window," points out Dr. Zeichner.

Also important to note: If you have brown skin, you are more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency, says Dr. Gohara. This is because of your built-in melanin (or natural skin pigment), which lowers the skin's ability to make vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure. While it's nothing to stress about, consider taking particular care in checking your levels each year with your doctor, recommends Dr. Gohara.

Through Your Diet

Another way you can ensure that you're getting enough vitamin D is through what you're putting into your body. Take a look at your diet and make sure you're consuming vitamin D–fortified foods eggs salmon, eggs, milk, and orange juice, suggest both Dr. Nazarian and Dr. Gohara. It's not exactly clear how much vitamin D each person needs — it varies with diet, skin color, climate, and time of year — but the average non-deficient adult should aim for 600 International Units (IUs) per day in their diet, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Via a Supplement

You can also consider vitamin D supplements if your levels are less than desirable. Speak with your doctor before trying anything, and if a medical expert gives you the green light, be sure to take the supplement with a fatty meal for best absorption (as vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin), advises Dr. Zeichner. If you've recently had a physical exam and learned that you're vitamin D deficient, it could also be credited to not eating a well-balanced diet, and a multivitamin with vitamin D could be a good solution, he adds.

How Vitamin D Benefits Your Skin

While vitamin D is essential to your immune system and overall health, a deficiency could have a negative impact on your skin as well. If you've been searching for ways to up your vitamin D intake — no matter the reason — you may have come across topical vitamin D treatments claiming to offer a solution. But does it work?

The most studied role for topical vitamin D is as an anti-inflammatory, specifically used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, points out Dr. Gohara. It also has antioxidant and anti-aging benefits, helping improve cell turnover and neutralize free radical damage, adds Dr. Nazarian. However, topical serums, oils, and creams are not enough to supplement systemic levels of vitamin D, agree both Dr. Gohara and Dr. Nazarian. Meaning, no matter how many vitamin D–infused products you add to your skin-care routine, it is not an appropriate or efficient way to improve low vitamin D blood levels. Topical vitamin D products might have skin benefits, but they don't extend to the full body. You would need to take supplements or increase the amount of vitamin D in your diet for this, notes Dr. Gohara.

The Best Derm-Approved Vitamin D Beauty Products

If you're prone to low levels of vitamin D to begin with, being stuck indoors for such an extended period of time might be an issue — just as levels typically fall in the wintertime, says Dr. Nazarian. While topical products wouldn't be your best bet (again, you'd want to discuss oral supplements or a change in diet with your doctor), vitamin D–packed skin-care products still offer big-time benefits when it comes to skin aging and its effects, she adds. So if you're in the market to brighten up your skin-care routine, check out these expert-picked vitamin D beauty products that'll help protect against skin damage, reduce puffiness, and quell inflammation.

various skin-care products including vitamin D, product photo collage
Amazon, Zelens, Dermstore, Herbivore Botanicals
  • Murad Multi-Vitamin Infusion Oil (Buy It, $79, This vitamin D oil for skin is a top pick for hydration. "In addition to vitamin D, this product contains soothing natural oils and fatty acids to protect and hydrate the outer skin layer," says Dr. Zeichner. To use, cleanse the skin and pat dry, and follow up by applying a thin layer of this lightweight oil to your face, neck, and chest.
  • Mario Badescu Vitamin A-D-E Neck Cream (Buy It, $14, Dr. Nazarian's pick, this moisturizer combines hydrating hyaluronic acid with cocoa butter and vitamins — including vitamin D. While it's meant for the neck, your face can also benefit from its powerful formula since it helps soften and minimize fine lines and wrinkles, she points out.
  • One Love Organics Vitamin D Moisture Mist (Buy It, $39, This mist gets its vitamin D from shiitake mushroom extract, which helps enhance cell turnover, soothe inflammation, and boost the skin's moisture barrier, explains Dr. Zeichner. Spritz once or twice before applying your face oils, serums, and moisturizers, so that they better penetrate the skin.
  • Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops (Buy It, $36, Delivering a bronzy glow, this serum also protects against pollution and free radicals. Plus, it contains chronocyclin, a peptide (translation: a type of protein that helps cells communicate and influences gene behavior) that basically mimics the antioxidant benefits of vitamin D. How? It operates similarly to enzymes in the skin that convert sunlight to vitamin D during the day, and then support cell renewal at night, explains Dr. Nazarian.
  • Herbivore Botanicals Emerald Deep Moisture Glow Oil (Buy It, $48, This moisturizing vitamin D oil for skin targets dryness, dullness, and redness, and is safe for all skin types — especially acne-prone. Hemp seed and squalane soften the outer skin layer and fill in cracks between skin cells, while shiitake mushroom extract helps deliver soothing vitamin D, notes Dr. Zeichner.
  • Zelens Power D Fortifying & Restoring Vitamin D Concentrate (Buy It, $163, Dr. Nazarian is also a fan of this serum since it's lightweight and comes with a dropper for easy application. While the price tag is definitely a splurge, this product plumps skin and protects against free radicals.
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