Got itchy, dry, cracked skin from eczema? You may need more of the sunshine vitamin, aka vitamin D. We’re digging into the connection between vitamin D and eczema, why it can help, and some of the best ways to get more of it.
Eczema (aka atopic dermatitis) is the most common skin condition worldwide. It affects around 20 percent of children and 5 percent of adults, causing symptoms that can range from an occasional annoyance to a major bummer that impacts your confidence.
Meds are often used to combat discomfort, but there’s also a growing interest in natural ways to help with symptoms, and vitamin D could be part of the solution.
Vitamin D supplements and direct sun exposure are linked to improved eczema symptoms, likely thanks to its ability to support your skin barrier and immune system.
Researchers noticed the connection between vitamin D and eczema when they found that people living in areas with less sunlight had higher rates of eczema and vitamin D deficiency.
One study found that when kids spent more time in the sun, their symptoms improved compared to kids who stayed in a colder, darker environment. More recently, a meta-analysis (a high quality review of a group of studies on vitamin D and eczema) concluded that vitamin D significantly improved the severity of eczema symptoms across the studies they included.
Several studies on adults found that taking vitamin D for 2 months lessened the severity of eczema. Combining vitamin D with other skin-supportive nutrients like vitamin E or taking it along with eczema medications could lead to even better results, especially for severe symptoms.
How exactly can vitamin D help ease eczema symptoms?
- It may boost the part of your immune system that controls the health of your skin barrier. This barrier acts as the first line of defense against the outside world. People with eczema have abnormal skin barrier function, but vitamin D receptors help regulate specific proteins that strengthen your skin barrier.
- Vitamin D helps combat inflammation. Eczema is considered an inflammatory condition, so Vitamin D helps by bumping up molecules that cool down inflammation.
- Another plus for vitamin D is that it supports your bones. One of the not-so-great side effects of steroid medications commonly given for eczema is they can adversely affect bone health over time. People with eczema may have a higher risk of developing fractures, and vitamin D could help build stronger bones.
Vitamin D deficiency is pretty common in the U.S. today.
Some studies link lower vitamin D levels with increased rates of eczema, especially in children. Kids with moderate to severe eczema are more likely to have lower vitamin D levels than those without skin conditions, especially if they have lighter complexions.
So making sure you aren’t vitamin D deficient could help with your symptoms and reduce the risk of eczema in the first place.
Sunshine is the primary way to increase vitamin D levels, but you can’t control the weather. Realistically, supplements are necessary for many people, at least for part of the year.
Even when the sun is out, wearing protective sun clothing and sunscreen it can block UV rays and prevent vitamin D production.
Even your skin color can impact vitamin D production. Darker skin has more melanin, a pigment that can interfere with how much vitamin D you produce.
Another important source of vitamin D is food, but there aren’t very many foods that naturally contain vitamin D (unless they’re fortified). Foods that have some vitamin D include:
- cod liver oil
- fortified drinks (like milk and juice)
But since these sources don’t provide very much, vitamin D supplements are usually recommended, especially if you’re deficient.
If you’re not sure whether you need a vitamin D supplement, ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels. This involves a blood draw, but it’s the only way to know for sure what your levels are.
Keep in mind that vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so any extra gets stored in your body. Taking very high doses without a prescription from your doctor could have potentially serious side effects.
If you can’t get a lab draw, it’s worth noting that the meta-analysis mentioned earlier concluded that vitamin D dosages ranging from 1,000 to 1,600 IU a day were effective. This dosage is slightly more than the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 600 IU for adults but still doesn’t exceed the upper limit (the amount you shouldn’t exceed without talking with your doctor) of 4000 IU a day.
Studies on folks who are nursing have found that increased sunlight exposure and vitamin D supplementation can increase your little one’s vitamin D status. Still, it’s usually recommended to supplement with infant vitamin D at 400 IU a day (but always check with your doctor).
If you’re looking for other holistic options to support your symptoms, here are a few more options:
- Probiotics. Bump up your fermented foods and fiber intake, or consider probiotic supplements. Healthy bacteria help turn down immune reactions that could flare up your symptoms, while an imbalance of “bad” bacteria in the gut is associated with worsening eczema. One meta-analysis also found that taking probiotics while pregnant or breastfeeding reduces the risk of eczema in children.
- Zinc. Adding more zinc to your diet may be helpful for people who have a zinc deficiency. Low levels are associated with an increased risk of eczema, so supplementing with zinc, especially for kiddos with zinc deficiencies, may help.
- Omega-3. Fish oil could be another way to help eczema because it fights back against inflammation. Fatty fish like salmon or sardines contain omega-3’s, but supplements are an option if you don’t eat fish or just want a higher dose.
- Vitamin E. As your read earlier, one study found that taking vitamin E with vitamin D helped reduce eczema symptoms. You’ve probably seen vitamin E added to your face creams or lotions, but taking vitamin E orally could help with itchy symptoms and just help you feel better overall.
Vitamin D can help with eczema symptoms, especially for people with a vitamin D deficiency. You can get vitamin D from the sun and a little bit from food, but supplements are a safe and easy way to make sure you get enough.
You may need to experiment with dosages or consider combining vitamin D with other natural therapies or medications, but relief from the itchy, uncomfortable symptoms is absolutely possible.