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By Caroline Shannon-Karasik and Kayla Greaves
Updated Jun 30, 2020 @ 7:30 pm
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Credit: Jamie Grill Atlas/Stocksy

If dull or thinning hair and less-than-glowing skin has you reevaluating your everyday beauty routine, a lack of vitamin D may be the source of your frustration.

It’s true: Research shows that the nutrient plays a hefty role in overall health. But what are the benefits of vitamin D when it comes to hair and skin?

To help you learn more about how it plays a part in skin and hair health, we reached out to a few dermatologists to find out everything you need to know about vitamin D.

What Is Vitamin D?

Here’s the gist: vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is necessary for the proper function of our hair and skin, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

In fact, vitamin D promotes proper calcium absorption in your gut, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This means the vitamin keep your bones from becoming thin and brittle, and — along with calcium — fights against osteoporosis. Zeichner says the nutrient is even involved in cell turnover, which ultimately improves the appearance of skin.

How Does Vitamin D Affect My Hair and Skin?

In addition to brittle bones and muscle weakness, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to changes in your mood, exhaustion, chronic pain, and unexplained infertility, according to Medical News Today. But it also affects the skin and hair.

"From a basic science perspective, studies show vitamin D plays a role in the normal maturation of the skin barrier, the skin's immune system, wound healing, and the hair growth cycle," says Dr. Elyse Love, a New York City-based board certified dermatologist. "Clinically, decreased vitamin D levels have been associated with dry skin, delayed wound healing, psoriasis, and hair loss."

Dr. Love's findings are consistent with a study published in Dermatology and Therapy, which linked a lack of vitamin D to stress-related thinning hair (telogen effluvium), and even alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss after the immune system attacks hair follicles.

A 2018 study published in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology showed that a lack of vitamin D can lead to certain skin conditions, including psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

Dr. Zeichner says prescription vitamin D creams — popular ones include Calcitrene, Dovonex, and Sorilux — are often used to treat conditions like psoriasis.

What's the Best Source of Vitamin D?

Sunlight plays a major role in helping your body to generate vitamin D, but not in the way you might think. In fact, doctors are quick to assure patients that obtaining vitamin D from sunlight does not mean laying out in the sun or using a tanning bed.

"Sunlight starts a biochemical reaction in the skin that eventually leads to the production of active vitamin D," Dr. Love explains.

However there are several food sources that are rich in the nutrient you can consume as an alternative. "Egg yolk, certain fishes (salmon, sardines, tuna), and foods enriched with vitamin D are dietary sources," Dr. Love adds. "Since unprotected sunlight exposure comes with the risk of skin cancer, and the number of foods naturally rich in vitamin D are limited, most dermatologists recommend supplementation to maintain adequate vitamin D levels."

According to NIH, everyone from age one to 70 requires 600 IUs (10 micrograms) of vitamin D per day.

However, if you suspect a vitamin D deficiency might be the culprit behind your drab hair or skin, talk to a healthcare professional before making any dietary changes or taking a supplement.

Can Your Skin Tone Affect How Much Vitamin D You Absorb from the Sun?

Believe it or not, yes. But regardless of your skin tone, it's important to note that everyone has to wear sunscreen daily.

"In the spring and summer, it takes approximately 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure for a lighter skin person to produce the recommended daily amount of vitamin D," Dr. Love explains. "It is more difficult to produce the recommended amount of vitamin D in the fall and winter. The exact amount of time required is not known. It is difficult for darker skin to create enough vitamin D year round, and vitamin D deficiency is not uncommon in this population. Vitamin D is readily absorbed in the gut, so supplementation is an easy alternative."