Vitamin D levels and sunscreen

Dr. I, Elta MD has been my preferred sunscreen for years. I also have had a vitamin D deficiency noted during my annual blood work a few times. What is the best way to replace it, and could it be added to my sunscreen. TIA, Kelly

Hi Kelly – I changed your question just a bit to not mention a specific product as a solution because we don’t want to promote unproven skincare products on the site.  Great question though.

Many, many of us who live a ways from the equator have vitamin D deficiencies. Skin color evolved as a protective measure from the sun.  Those who’s ancestors (talking 10,000 years plus) migrated to sunnier areas, and areas closer to the equator developed more melanin.  More melanin in skin means darker skin.  Melanin protects us from the sun and is a “natural” sunscreen.

Problem is …then many of our ancestors migrated or were taken (slavery) to very different parts of the globe. Darker skin and less sun meant less vitamin D production.  Northern indigenous peoples have, like native Alaskans, or say ..Swedes, have dealt with this by eating a lot of fish oils which are high in Vitamin D.

Climate change

Now, with the thinning of the ozone layer, increased UV radiation from light and sun, and pale people living in sunny areas (think areas like Florida, Texas, Australia, etc), skin cancer rates are skyrocketing.  We need to wear sunscreen and protective clothing if we are at risk!

What you can do to replace vitamin D?

  • If you can, have your primary care doctor or dermatologist check a Vitamin D level for you like Kelly did.
  • If it’s low, start on Vitamin D capsules, prescription or non prescription as recommended by your doctor.
  • Fish oil may be helpful also.
  • The general consensus right now in the medical community is that we are aiming for levels about 40-70.  Too high can cause other problems.
  • Be skeptical of combination products that put Vitamin D into a sunscreen.  Usually the Vitamin D isn’t enough and the sunscreen is inferior.  The best sunscreens contain 8-20% zinc depending on how much you are outdoors.  If you’re a professional surfer, for example, wear the 20% and protective clothing!
  • For example, in the Northwest here (cold and not sunny in the winter), most of us need 1,000-2,000 iu a day to stay in range.
  • The amount of sun that you can tolerate and still be healthy is very individual, so discuss with your doctor.
  • If you don’t want to age prematurely, develop brown spots or wrinkle, wear a hat, sunscreen with zinc every morning and reapply for sports and outdoor work.
Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
Founder, SkinTour
Director, Madison Skin & Laser Center
Follow my skin tips and travels on Instagram!
Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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