Vitamin D: The Benefits of Sunshine on the Skin
I’m sure I’m not the only one to find headlines around sunshine and skin confusing. One minute, exposure to the sun’s UV rays is significantly increasing our risk of getting skin cancer, the next vitamin D is being hailed as the saviour to solve our skin woes. So, what’s the truth?
Sunlight is often perceived as a threat to our health because it’s held responsible for wrinkles, premature ageing and, most significantly, skin cancer. But, research suggests gradual exposure to sunlight may actually benefit us in small doses.
Back in March, I began work on a rather exciting project. As part of my cruelty-free skincare range, I wanted to develop a natural sunscreen that not only offers strong protection from harmful UV rays, but simultaneously ensures we are still reaping the benefits that come with exposure to sunlight – namely vitamin D.
I learned so much throughout this project. Did you know, the SPF rating on a sun cream is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B (UVB) protection a lotion offers? UVB is the kind of radiation that causes sunburn, damages skin, and can contribute to skin cancer.
If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15, for example, would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer).
As I see it, it’s important to wear this protection, but equally important to ensure you are still benefiting from adequate levels of vitamin D.
Vitamin D Deficiency
In 2017, a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association made headlines when it suggested that sunscreens were partially to blame for widespread vitamin D deficiency. The research raised questions, given that consistently wearing sunscreen is one of the most common pieces of advice told to us by health professionals.
Whilst it’s fair to say that sunscreen might inhibit the body’s production of vitamin D, as a practical matter, very few of us put on enough sunscreen to block all UVB light. It could also be said that we use sunscreen so irregularly, rendering its impact minimal and unimportant. With cases of skin cancer on the rise, doctors suggest that preventing melanoma should take priority over becoming overly concerned with vitamin D deficiency.
Although needlessly overexposing our skin to sunlight is not advisable, obtaining enough vitamin D if you’re struggling with a skin condition is extra important.
Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to chronic, inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis. Whilst a deficiency doesn’t seem to cause the condition, it may well impair the body’s ability to keep skin cells healthy. This can increase itchiness, redness and flaking during flares.
Vitamin D and Psoriasis
When it comes to the positive impact of adequate vitamin D levels on skin disease, the results look good. A 2011 study found that naturally absorbing vitamin D or taking it as a supplement can strengthen the immune system. Because psoriasis is an autoimmune response, this effect could help treat the condition internally.
Vitamin D has also been shown to slow the growth of new skin cells, so synthetic vitamin D creams and oils are sometimes prescribed for plaque psoriasis by dermatologists. Designed to be applied directly to the psoriasis patch, these can help thin the flaking and reduce overactive cell production.
A more recent study by The University of Edinburgh last year focused on how vitamin D affects a mechanism in our immune system’s ability to activate T-cells. In healthy people, T-cells play a crucial role in helping to fight infections. In those of us with autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, these cells can start to attack the body’s own healthy tissues. Researchers found vitamin D caused cells to produce more of a specific molecule that, in turn, hindered this over-activation of T-cells.
Vitamin D and Eczema
Vitamin D and its impact on eczema looks equally interesting. Observational studies have indicated a link between vitamin D and eczema outcomes, including a correlation demonstrating lower vitamin D levels result in increased instances and severity of eczema symptoms.
Furthermore, a new study has identified that exposure to sunlight can alleviate symptoms of eczema by triggering the release of a compound in the skin responsible for dampening chronic inflammation.
The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that exposing a small patch of skin on healthy volunteers to UV light triggered nitric oxide to be released into the bloodstream. This chemical activated specialised immune cells, which dampened the ongoing inflammatory immune response.
For Better or Worse?
As is often the case when it comes to skin conditions, how we respond to sunshine as individuals varies greatly. Speaking personally, sunshine and natural exposure to vitamin D is most definitely beneficial for my skin. I’ve always struggled less with flare ups during summer months. Winter weather and a lack of sunlight dry and tighten my skin. For lots of people I speak to though, they find sun exposure reddens and causes further inflammation. We have to make a choice as individuals and, of course, sun safety is paramount.
Under the right circumstances, 15 minutes of sun exposure per day is usually enough to generate all the Vitamin D we need. However, this timeframe can vary widely due to factors such as skin colour, where we live, pollution levels and time of day.
It’s important to choose a natural sunscreen, which is not only kinder to the oceans, but also stops us adding further chemical irritants to sensitive skin. And consider using my Vitamin D Boosting Cream to help skin absorb and metabolise adequate levels of vitamin D throughout the year.
Use code BALANCE10 for your 10% discount at www.HannaSillitoe.com
Skin Healing Expert: Your 5 pillar plan for calm, clear skin by Hanna Sillitoe, published by Kyle Books, is available to buy now!
Hanna Sillitoe began sharing her personal battle with skin health through an online food blog, which eventually led to her best-selling book Radiant – Recipes to Heal Skin from Within. Hanna’s book has sold over 25,000 copies around the world and it’s the 28-day plan within this book that many of her online followers credit as having cured their skin complaints.