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Topical Vitamin D: A Superhero Solution for Skin, Immunity, and Health


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While vitamin D has long been known as a powerful ingredient for health and wellbeing, the pandemic has brought it to the forefront due to research that has found a correlation between high levels of vitamin D and a lower the risk of COVID-19 infection. But that’s just one aspect of its many benefits. When applied topically, vitamin D is also helpful in promoting overall health, and it’s known to be a potent ingredient for skin. For all of these reasons and more, it’s in the running for the year’s most coveted—and powerful—ingredient for health, wellbeing, and beauty.

Vitamin D & Immunity 

Interestingly, vitamin D acts less like a vitamin and more like a hormone in that it impacts almost any cell it comes in contact with, according to Ralph Esposito, a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, and functional medicine practitioner specializing in integrative urology and endocrinology and medical advisor to Athletic Greens. “With such far-reaching effects and its ability to bind to specific vitamin D receptors (VDR) in the cell, it can influence the effectiveness of our macrophages, a type of immune white blood cell,” he explains. “In order for our macrophages to identify and engulf foreign pathogens, it must first recognize them, swallow them, and then release molecules to kill the foreigner—viruses, bacteria, etc. In order to do all of this, our immune cells absolutely need vitamin D to finish the job and be able to produce these bactericidal and antimicrobial molecules. Without vitamin D, our immune cells can’t build a robust response.” 

Additionally, Esposito says vitamin D helps keep our immune cells from overreacting and allows them to react appropriately to certain foreigners. “When our body is prepped and ready to release these inflammatory molecules called cytokines to kill a foreigner, vitamin D helps them elicit an appropriate and non-excessive response,” he says. “In short, vitamin D prevents overreactions of our adaptive immune system.”

Also, when we talk beneficial vitamin D, we generally mean vitamin D3, which is the primary source of D made in the skin and utilized by the body for healthy functions, according to Celeste Hilling, founder and CEO of Skin Authority and a longtime researcher on vitamin D and skincare. She also points out that D3 is more effective at raising blood levels of D in the body for sufficiency.

Vitamin D & Skin

While the immunity boosting benefits of vitamin D are impressive, the skincare solutions it provides are equally inspiring. According to Hilling, it has a rather significant impact on skin health. It controls epidermal cell proliferation, which is essential for growth, healing, and barrier function. It creates a protein that protects against free-radical and oxidative damage as well as an antimicrobial protein that promotes wound healing and reduces inflammation. It also regulates the growth cycle of mature hair follicles and strengthens keratin levels. 

As for its role in beauty, Hilling says vitamin D is truly a game-changer. It keeps skin moist and glowing, reduces photo aging and sun damage, protects from environmental damage, and encourages growth of hair and nails.

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Vitamin D Deficiency

With such blissful benefits, it’s unfortunate to note that most people (some reports claim up to 70 percent of the population) are deficient in vitamin D. Hilling says there are number of reasons for this, including hormonal decline, skin pigmentation, seasonality, and less outdoor exposure. “The skin needs D to make D,” she explains. “Vitamin D production initiates in the skin when the skin is exposed to UVB rays. The rays interact with the D present in the skin, causing a chemical reaction that produces vitamin D. Because D is more of a hormone than a vitamin, levels of D in our skin decrease as we age, making it harder to produce D naturally (even when exposed to the sun). As our population lives longer, this becomes more important to address.”

Hilling also points out that more than 60 percent of our population has darker skin types and that pigment in skin acts like an SPF, slowing penetration of UVB into the skin and thus slowing vitamin D production. As such, Hispanic, African American, and Middle Eastern populations are among the most D deficient. 

Another issue? Lack of sun, whether it is shorter exposure to daylight, either seasonally or in areas that are cloudy most of the time, or people simply not spending much time outside. Reduced sun exposure and its natural ability to stimulate vitamin D production also contributes to the issue. 

While some foods like mushrooms, salmon, sardines, liver, egg yolk, and cod liver oil are very rich in vitamin D, they are not so common in most people’s diets, yet another factor that leads to vitamin D deficiency, according to Esposito.

As for ingestible vitamin D? Hilling suggests what she calls a “nutrition sandwich” and encourages her clients eat vitamin D-rich foods, take a daily supplement with at least 600 IUs of vitamin D, and apply it topically for the most benefits. “Because less than 1 percent of what we ingest actually makes its way to the skin, you also want to apply it topically, in the same way that we now understand the power of applying vitamin C topically,” she says. “The real power of topical vitamin D is in its anti-inflammatory properties, which address many persistent skin conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea. Because it also contains a microprotein that can neutralize pollution effects, it helps with contact dermatitis and skin allergies. Finally, it is key to building skin immunity to defend against environmental damage as it strengthens the skin barrier, repairs, and regenerates cell function.”

While incorporating vitamin D-infused products into a skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, Hilling does have a word of caution and a suggestion to do your research. “It is important to note that the type of D, the level of D, the formulation efficacy, and added carriers with D are critically important to creating a vitamin D product that can produce noticeable skin improvement,” she says. “Just adding D to a product does not mean it will produce results.” 

Ready to bring topical vitamin D into your daily routine? Here are some products to consider. (Please note that a few are currently sold out due to the popularity of vitamin D products, but there are waitlists for notification when they are back in stock.)

Amp Human D+ Lotion ($25)

Powered by proprietary technology, this topical lotion contains 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 and delivers it directly to the body by applying it to the skin. In two clinical trials, D+ Lotion was shown to triple vitamin D levels after 90 to 120 days of consistent use. Users can improve their vitamin D levels and boost their immune systems with daily application of two pumps of the fast-drying formula to the inner forearms.

Murad Multi-Vitamin Infusion Oil ($73)

This treatment oil is powered by six key vitamins, A through F, that synergistically target signs of aging, boost hydration, brighten skin, and defend from free radicals for a more youthful-looking complexion. The light formula absorbs quickly for an instant dose of radiance while helping balance skin for a healthy, vibrant glow.

One Love Organics Vitamin D Moisture Mist ($39)

Part lightweight moisturizer, part toner, this botanical mist infuses the skin with emollient oils and botanical vitamin E via a delayed time-release delivery system. Shiitake mushroom, a natural and vegan source of botanical vitamin D, helps tone and balance. The result? Long-lasting hydration and efficacy that boosts the effectiveness of your entire skincare regimen. Adding this step to a beauty routine preps and hydrates the skin so that facial oil, serum, or moisturizer can perform at its best

Skin Authority VitaD Fortified Topical Elixir ($59)

Dubbed a “topical HEPA filter” from heat, light, and pollution, this elixir supports the skin’s natural immune defense and protective frame. The multi-action, lightweight formula incorporates vitamin D and helps brighten and firm the appearance of skin. Suitable for most skin types, it has an oil-free, dry finish that absorbs quickly, leaves skin silky to the touch, and is ideal for layering with other products

Zelens Power D ($147)

This potent provitamin D3 concentrate is enriched with replenishing lipids structurally similar to those found in the skin. Infused with a proprietary complex of botanicals rich in plant sterols, this fortifying and restoring treatment helps to strengthen skin’s natural barrier, build its resilience, and protects it against environmental aggressors and stressed conditions. It leaves skin supple, plumper, and looking healthy.

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About The Author

Julie is the co-founder of Well Defined and a longtime influencer and advocate in the wellness world. Along with her work at Well Defined, she is an executive recruiter and marketing specialist for Hutchinson Consulting. She is also a consultant and content strategist for numerous wellness brands. She is the former editor-in-chief and publisher of American Spa and was named a 2019 Folio Top Woman in Media in the Industry Trailblazers category and a 2018 winner of ISPA’s Innovate Award. She is also a seasoned journalist, specializing in spa, travel, health, fitness, wellness, sustainability, and beauty. She has been published in Departures,, E! Online,, Insider’s Guide to Spas, Luxury Travel Advisor, Marin Magazine, Ocean Home, Smart Meetings, Spa Asia, and Travel Agent.