How Vitamin D Effects Skin Pigmentation
by Richard Dean
Skin care advice regarding sun exposure is getting pretty confusing these days. On one hand, dozens of studies suggest that people aren’t getting enough vitamin D, a substance produced by your skin’s reaction to sunlight which is vital to the health of our bones, immune system, and emotional stability. On the other hand, dermatologists warn that prolonged exposure to sunlight increases your chances of developing skin cancer tenfold. So who do you listen to? The short answer is your own skin, but the long answer to this question takes us through skin science, evolution, and how sun exposure factors into modern day lifestyles.
The current complexity of our relationship with sunlight is tied to UVB, a type of electromagnetic radiation that filters through our atmosphere. UVB is essential to the skin’s ability to produce vitamin D, the aforementioned wonder-supplement. On top of building strong bones and a healthy immune system, vitamin D has been proven to help people lose weight, manage the symptoms of depression, and it even lowers your chances of getting many forms of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Scientists estimate that 100 million Americans and 70% of all children suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, the effects of which can range from decreased energy to the crippling Rickets disease. However, being a form of radiation, over-exposure to UVB rays can cause nasty sun burns, permanent damage to DNA, and skin cancer, which is diagnosed in over 2 million Americans each year. It’s hard to reconcile the disparity between the beneficial and dangerous effects of UVB at a glance, but if we take a look back at the history of the human race, things start to make a bit more sense.
In the bestselling book, Skin: A Natural History, author Nina Jablonski makes a compelling case that the amount of pigmentation in our skin directly relates to the UVB levels measured where our ancestors lived. Our current understanding of evolution places Homo sapiens’ first appearance in Africa, one of the continents with the highest concentration of UVB rich sunlight due to its location relative to the equator. To reap the benefits of UVB without irradiating ourselves Jablonski believes evolution favored extra melanin in our skin. This dark pigment served as a natural sunscreen, giving absorbing the brunt of UVB while allowing a small amount in for its helpful effects. This system worked great, that is until humans began to migrate.
Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis sunlight filters through more of our atmosphere the further away from the equator one travels. Not only does moving towards the North Pole or South Pole make things a little chillier, but it also cuts down on the amount of UVB that makes it to through the atmosphere. According to Jablonski, people who settled in northern latitudes had difficulty absorbing UVB, and those with paler complexions that allowed more vitamin D production were favored. Thus, the rainbow of human skin color from deep brown to a creamy white is rooted entirely in our dependence on UVB. It’s a fun history lesson, but how does this knowledge apply to modern times?
Part of our problem with sunlight, vitamin D, and skin damage has to with the fact that people don’t live where their ancestors lived. A person of weak pigmentation can move to a city near the equator and severely damage their skin with minimal sun exposure while a strongly pigmented person can dwell at higher latitudes and struggle to produce enough vitamin D from large doses of daily sunlight. Things get more complicated when you consider that the majority of people live and work in artificially lit buildings and that dermatologists have spent the last thirty years drilling into our heads that high SPF sunscreen must be applied equally by everyone before all outdoor activities.
Luckily, doctors and dermatologists are beginning to catch on to the reality of our sun conundrum. You can now find skin pigmentation charts which recommend specific SPF sunscreens for different skin types and lengths of outdoor activity. For those who don’t want the trouble of calculating their sun exposure, you can now buy special fluorescent bulbs classified “D/UV-F” and soak up a safer version of UV-B indoors. Many dermatologists also advocate cutting out the sunny middleman entirely and opting for D-vitamin rich foods like fish, eggs, and mushrooms or gel capsules of D3 oils.
However you choose to get your recommended dose of vitamin D, be kind to your skin! Even the darkest skin can be subject to serious sun damage, and sunscreen of some kind is always a good idea. Consult a skin specialist about the amount of sunlight and strength of sunscreen recommended for your skin type and keep track of your time outdoors. If you’re interested in skincare treatments or advice, contact us today! Our Healthy Skin Representatives can schedule you a free consultation with a skincare clinic near you!
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The Future of Dermatology Procedures 2017 Scholarship – Healthy Skin Portal
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3D Printing Could Replace Skin Grafts
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Consume Fruit for Radiant Skin
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