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Vitamin D: Any help for dry skin?

Posted on: December 25, 2012   by  John Cannell, MD

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A researcher at Johnson and Johnson Inc. has conducted a study that may pave the way for Johnson and Johnson to start putting vitamin D in their skin care products; in particular, their products for dry skin or xerosis.

Dry skin, which often occurs during the winter, is commonly treated with emollients and/or moisturizers. Xerosis occurs most commonly on the scalp, lower legs, arms, the knuckles, the sides of the abdomen and thighs. When severe, symptoms can include peeling of the outer skin layer and cracking.

Activated vitamin D analogs have been shown to increase expression of a protein called filaggrin in the skin. Filaggrin is intimately involved with keeping the skin moist and those without the gene for filaggrin often have very severe eczema.

Dr Meghan Russell of Johnson and Johnson wanted to know if plain nutritional vitamin D had an effect on dry skin, and investigated a few things.

Russell M. Assessing the Relationship between Vitamin D(3) and Stratum Corneum Hydration for the Treatment of Xerotic Skin. Nutrients. 2012 Sep;4(9):1213-8

First, she took 83 subjects likely to have dry skin and measured their vitamin D levels. Sure enough, she found that the lower the vitamin D levels, the drier the skin.

Second, she added plain vitamin D3 to skin moisturizers in half of 61 subjects and compared that group to a placebo group that only got the moisturizers. That is, in her second study, vitamin D was applied directly to the skin. Sure enough, she found less dry skin in the group treated with topical vitamin D than with the usual moisturizers.

Although she did not make the topical dosage of vitamin D clear, it appeared that the vitamin D group only put 400 IU on their lower legs every day for three weeks, so her results probably were not due to raising vitamin D blood levels. Rather, there may have been some kind of direct action working locally on the skin. Still, her first study suggested that higher vitamin D levels would mean less dry skin.

The question still remains if vitamin D can be absorbed topically. I am unable to find any studies that tested the idea that topical vitamin D is absorbed through the skin. I suspect some is, but the outer layer of the skin can be difficult to penetrate. I also suspect you will find your dry skin is much better by simply taking 5,000 IU per day by mouth than messing around with topical applications of vitamin D, though we still need more research to clarify these issues.

5 Responses to Vitamin D: Any help for dry skin?

  1. hlahore@gmail.com

    I added liquid vitamin D to Penetrix – which is absorbed into the skin. Penetrix, which is commercially available, is sort of a modern day DMSO. Penetrix appeared to bring the vitamin D into the body. No data, but seems promising. Had added about 50,000 IU of vitamin D to a 1 ounce of penetrix – which was used up in about 2 weeks. Did it for my wife. It seemed to help my psoriasis as well. We have been using it for years without vitamin D. Amazon has it – and there are >900 positive comments on the stuff.

  2. Ian

    What on earth is penetrix.

    When I googled this, all I got was “sex toys”.

    Anway, I think I can attest to the value of 5000IU daily vaitmin D for reducing skin dryness. My father and I both have/had severe winter dermatitis. Since taking the vitamin D at that dosage we have both had a very significant change in this problem. My father (78yrs) was worse than me with his hands often bandaged over the winter. Now he has mild dryness. My problem was mostly hands and calves but both are now “normal” and I hardly ever use lotions. However we do have to avoid detergent exposure.

  3. Jim Larsen

    See Holick’s research on topical vitamin D.

  4. Rita and Misty

    Two weeks ago, I had the misfortune of having Misty pull me down while we were out for our run. I broke my fall (on asphalt) with the palm of my hand, and scraped it badly.

    I applied a Vitamin D cream twice-a-day (supposedly containing 1,000 i.u. per pump). Cream also contains Tyrosine, Acetyl Cysteine and Magnesium.

    The healing process was remarkably expedited..imo….

  5. wraywhyte

    Anecdotal, but I experimented with myself and two strengths of vitamin D cream which we made up. I was not taking any vitamin D supplements, and had my first test done. This showed 34ng/ml. After 7 months of using 2000iu vitamin D3 in one millilitre of cream, the next test showed an increase of 5ng/ml, ie the result was 39ng/ml. We then made a 5000iu/ml vitamin D3 cream. Another test 7 months later showed a further increase of 10ng/ml. The level now showing 49ng/ml. I work indoors on my computer, rarely going in the sun. I didn’t change this pattern while doing the experiment. The skin does absorb substances readily, as evidenced by the topical application of hormones, ie progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone. All having the same 4 ring molecular structure as vitamin D, see Role of transepidermal and transfollicular routes in percutaneous absorption of steroids: in vitro studies on human skin. Also here and here. Wray

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