Does Vitamin D Help Treat Acne?
Vitamin D is a powerful molecule for the maintenance of healthy skin and might have a role in the treatment of acne
There is little direct research regarding the treatment of acne with vitamin D. There is, however, much evidence that vitamin D is crucial to skin health in general, and there is indirect evidence suggesting that it might play a role in treating acne.
Vitamin D serves several functions in keeping skin healthy, including killing harmful bacteria, reducing inflammation, helping to heal wounds, and contributing to the development of new, healthy cells. All of these might help with acne in some way.
Ensuring Your Levels are Adequate: We get vitamin D through sun exposure. If you are light skinned, you need approximately 20 minutes of unprotected exposure per day to get the vitamin D you need. Darker skin requires more, with people who have the darkest skin requiring upwards of 2 hours per day. If you are not getting regular sun exposure, ask your doctor for a simple vitamin D blood test and if your levels are low, you may want to supplement.
While scientists have yet to look directly at the impact of vitamin D on acne, there is considerable evidence that vitamin D is essential to overall skin health, and there is indirect evidence indicating that it might play a role in the treatment of acne, so it makes sense to ensure that your vitamin D levels are where they need to be.
Vitamin D Is Essential for Healthy Skin
Even though we don't know yet exactly how vitamin D impacts acne, we do know that it is vitally important to the health of the skin. The human body produces vitamin D in the skin, and vitamin D helps regulate the biological processes of the skin.1,2
So now we know vitamin D is produced in the skin, but why is vitamin D so important? Because after it is produced in the skin, it then goes on to bind to all other skin cells and all immune cells, where it has different beneficial effects, depending on which type of cell it binds to, many of which are potentially directly related to acne, including:
- Killing harmful bacteria that contribute to acne and other skin diseases, such as psoriasis. Acne is in part a bacterial disease, and killing bacteria can reduce the redness, pain, and swelling in acne lesions.
- Decreasing inflammatory responses in certain immune cells and in skin oil cells. Acne is at its core an inflammatory disease, so less inflammatory responses could mean less acne.
- Helping the immune system heal wounds. Medically speaking, acne lesions are small wounds.
- Regulating the growth and development of various types of skin cells, including skin oil cells. Acne develops in part because of an overgrowth of skin cells that clog skin pores, as well as overproduction of skin oil from overly active skin oil cells. Regulating these cells could calm acne symptoms.
Let's have a look at each of these effects now 1 by 1 and see how an argument can be made that vitamin D may be important when it comes to acne.
Vitamin D has antimicrobial (anti-bacterial) effects, which suggests that it might have potential for treating acne. It acts on bacteria directly, by slowing down bacterial growth or killing the bacteria entirely, and indirectly, by helping the immune system produce molecules called antimicrobial peptides that kill bacteria. As noted in a 2011 article in Dermato-Endocrinology, "In the presence of…[vitamin D], [various types of bacteria] were killed or demonstrated marked growth inhibition."3
The same 2011 article in Dermato-Endocrinology noted that "[v]itamin D and its analogues via these [antimicrobial] mechanisms are playing an increasing role in the management of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, vitiligo, acne and rosacea."3
Even though this article didn't look directly at the effects of vitamin D on acne bacteria (P. acnes), the fact that vitamin D has antimicrobial effects on a variety of different bacteria, and on other skin diseases, points to the possibility that it might have similar effects on P. acnes, which could lead to less severe acne.
As scientists have researched acne over the decades, it has become clear that at its root, acne is an inflammatory disease. Vitamin D also has anti-inflammatory properties, which have already been proven to help treat inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. The fact that vitamin D is beneficial in other inflammatory skin conditions suggests that it might be helpful in treating acne as well.
How does it lessen inflammation? When vitamin D binds to immune cells, it helps to calm the immune system by decreasing the production of molecules within immune cells that cause skin inflammation, called macrophages. It does the same thing when it binds to skin oil cells (sebocytes).1,4,5
Wound healing is an important component of acne treatment because the process of healing acne lesions is similar to healing other types of wounds. Vitamin D plays an important role in the wound healing process by helping drive the development wound-repairing cells. It was found that without vitamin D, the process of developing new cells to replace damaged cells slows down, and thus wound healing is impaired.6,7 Additionally, scientists have found that the antimicrobial peptides that vitamin D causes immune cells to produce can further help with wound repair.3 Finally, vitamin D may be crucial to the formation of the skin's barrier. In other words, it may help bring the skin back to normal after trauma.8
Since vitamin D plays a crucial role in healing wounds, it is reasonable to infer that vitamin D might help to heal acne lesions in the same way that it helps to heal other types of wounds.
Vitamin D in Acne Development and Treatment
It is still unclear whether vitamin D affects the development of acne, but there is some evidence that vitamin D deficiency might contribute to the severity of acne. As stated in a small 2014 study in Dermato-Endocrinology, "The patients with [severe] acne had relatively low [blood] vitamin D levels compared with the subjects in the control group. The findings from this study suggest that there is a connection between low vitamin D levels and acne."9
Another study, published in 2009 in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, found that vitamin D could potentially help in acne treatment by targeting skin oil glands, and the authors mentioned that vitamin D compounds "represent promising compounds for the treatment of sebaceous gland disorders, especially for acne."10
Of Particular Concern: Patients Treated with Isotretinoin (Accutane)
Isotretinoin, often referred to by its original brand name, Accutane, is a common treatment for severe acne. In a 2011 study in Dermatologic Therapy, researchers investigated the effect of isotretinoin treatment on vitamin D levels. This study, which looked at 50 acne patients who were treated with isotretinoin for three months, found that "vitamin D…levels decreased significantly."11 This result suggests that people taking isotretinoin might be wise to take a vitamin D supplement in order to prevent vitamin D deficiency.
How to Check Your Vitamin D Level:
You can ask your doctor for a routine and simple blood test to determine if you have adequate vitamin D levels. This is especially important if you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun exposure or other disorders that interfere with vitamin D absorption. If your vitamin D levels are low, taking an oral supplement might be a good idea. Check with your doctor to determine an appropriate dosage for you, but 800 - 1000 IU (international units) per day of vitamin D is a common guideline.
The Experts at Acne.org
Our team of medical doctors, biology & chemistry PhDs, and acne experts work hand-in-hand with Dan (Acne.org founder) to provide the most complete information on all things acne. If you find any errors in this article, kindly use this Feedback Form and let us know.
- Reichrath, J. Vitamin D and the skin: an ancient friend, revisited. Exp Dermatol 16, 618 - 625 (2007).
- Norval, M. The mechanisms and consequences of ultraviolet-induced immunosuppression. Prog Biophys Mol Biol 92, 108 - 118 (2006).
- Youssef, D. A. et al. Antimicrobial implications of vitamin D. Dermatoendocrinol 3, 220 - 229 (2011).
- Lee, W. J., Choi, Y. H., Sohn, M. Y., Lee, S. J. & Kim, D. W. Expression of Inflammatory Biomarkers from Cultured Sebocytes was Influenced by Treatment with Vitamin D. Indian J Dermatol 58, 327 (2013).
- Agak, G. W. et al. Propionibacterium acnes Induces an IL-17 Response in Acne Vulgaris that Is Regulated by Vitamin A and Vitamin D. J Invest Dermatol 134, 366 - 373 (2014).
- Oda, Y., Tu, C. L., Menendez, A., Nguyen, T. & Bikle, D. D. Vitamin D and calcium regulation of epidermal wound healing. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 164, 379 - 385 (2016).
- Xie, Z. et al. Lack of the vitamin D receptor is associated with reduced epidermal differentiation and hair follicle growth. J Invest Dermatol 118, 11 - 16 (2002).
- Oda, Y. et al. Vitamin D receptor and coactivators SRC2 and 3 regulate epidermis-specific sphingolipid production and permeability barrier formation. J Invest Dermatol 129, 1367 - 1378 (2009).
- Yildizgoren, M. T. & Togral, A. K. Preliminary evidence for vitamin D deficiency in nodulocystic acne. Dermatoendocrinol 6, e983687 (2014).
- Kramer, C. et al. Characterization of the vitamin D endocrine system in human sebocytes in vitro. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 113, 9 - 16 (2009).
- Ertugrul, D. T., Karadag, A. S., Tutal, E. & Akin, K. O. Therapeutic hotline. Does isotretinoin have effect on vitamin D physiology and bone metabolism in acne patients? Dermatol Ther 24, 291 - 295 (2011).
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