HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN D

As the sun is our main natural source, there are only a few months a year in which we can count on getting a healthy dose. Even then, we all need to be aware that the sun isn’t necessarily good for our skin – if you don’t yet use a facial SPF, this is your cue to start – so is basking in the UV rays really a good way to harvest the vital vitamin?

The science is pretty clear, and our skin requires UV rays to produce vitamin D. The most important thing is to expose yourself to those rays safely, and you’d be surprised at how little sun you need to get the benefits. Research from the University of Manchester has found that “daily sunlight exposure for 10-15 minutes between April and September provides sufficient year-round vitamin D while also minimising the risks of sunburn and skin cancer.”

Since the UK’s weather is unpredictable at best, it’s not always possible to get even 10 or 15 minutes of sun. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of people need to up their intake. “It has been established that almost one billion people worldwide have low levels of vitamin D,” says a 2023 study by medical tech company Vitall. “Approximately 20 per cent of the population in the UK have a vitamin D deficiency [and] 60 per cent of the population are considered as having insufficient levels.”

Thankfully, it is possible to get enough vitamin D through other avenues, too. According to the NHS, foods with high levels include oily fish like salmon or sardines, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods like butter and breakfast cereal. As with most vitamins, direct dietary supplements are also an option.

With countless factors to consider, it can be hard to work out what’s right for you, so we’ve pulled together some top tips for getting your vitamin D.

What are the benefits of vitamin D?

Its main job in the body is to help regulate the levels of calcium and phosphate, nutrients which are needed for bones, teeth and muscles, not to mention many other cellular functions in your body.

“Vitamin D plays different important roles in your body,” continues the Vitall report. “It promotes calcium absorption in the gastrointestinal tract, regulates your calcium and phosphate blood levels, acts on bone mineralization, growth, and remodelling, reduces inflammation, and modulates cell growth, neuromuscular function, and immunity.”

This also has an impact on your skin, with vitamin D helping to maintain a skin barrier through a strong immune function and helping to fend off inflammatory conditions like acne. In other words, vitamin D can do a lot.

What are the skin symptoms of low vitamin D?

“Whilst low vitamin D levels may not manifest themselves directly in the skin, it is an important vitamin for skin barrier function,” says Dr. Thivi Matuthappu, a qualified dermatologist and nutritionist, and author of cookbook SkinFood, which looks at the relationship between your diet and your skin. “Low levels can therefore contribute to dry, irritated skin, breakouts and acne, rosacea and conditions such as eczema and dandruff.”

Some even suggest adequate vitamin D levels can help to fend off skin cancer: “We can also extend it to skin cancers as patients that have a new melanoma diagnosis are more likely to have low vitamin D levels,” says Dr Angela Tewari, dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Studios.

What should you do if you have low vitamin D?

The good news is that it’s an easy problem to solve. “First of all, you need to do a blood test with a GP to confirm your deficiency and then depending on the level you will be recommended high strength supplements,” says Matuthappu. “For most of us, daily supplementation is adequate to meet our needs. If you have darker skin or don’t get much sun, I would recommend 1000IU (25mcg) daily throughout the year. If you have lighter skin and get a fair bit of summer sun, then 400IU (10mcg) daily should be adequate during winter.”

Or, you could look to natural sources, instead. “The best supplements are, of course, sunshine in moderation, but also foods high in vitamin D like so salmon, oily fish or cod liver oil. These are all extremely good for us,” says Tewari.

Matuthappu’s top tip? “Vitamin D is stored in the body, so you can actually take your weekly dose of vitamin D once a week instead – just make sure you take it with meals to improve absorption.”