Fact or Fiction: A tan is needed to show adequate absorption of vitamin D.

Written by Celeste Hilling, CEO, co-founder, and product formulator for Skin Authority

Fiction! Having a tan does not mean you are vitamin D sufficient. In fact, because pigment slows down the absorption of UVB, your natural tan is your body’s way of slowing the production of D.


Many researchers initially believed sunscreen was responsible for higher rates of D deficiency. However, only one in five people wears sunscreen on a daily basis and a majority of those only wear sunscreen on their face.1 With more than 1 billion people worldwide being D deficient, the statistics do not add up; it couldn’t be only sunscreen use that contributed to the epidemic of D deficiency.

With higher levels of deficiency occurring in women with darker skin – African-American, Latina, Mediterranean, and Asian women of childbearing age2 – researchers began to realize that heavier pigment in skin acted as a natural sunscreen. People with darker skin require much longer sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D. Seasonal variations (such as dreary weather), geographical location, and aging also reduce the skin’s ability to manufacture vitamin D from sunlight.

Vitamin D is of particular interest in a skin care professional’s work because it is made in the skin and functions like a hormone. With that said, it is challenging for skin to receive vital nutrients from food because less than one percent of the vitamins ingested make their way to the skin. To become D sufficient, apply vitamins topically in addition to healthy eating. There is promising new research showing that natural forms of D (vitamin D3, in particular) can safely be delivered through topical application of skin creams.3

Also, 10 to 15 minutes of walking in the sun with both the arms and legs unprotected between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will help produce vitamin D. However, it is prudent to limit exposure of skin to sunlight longer than 15 minutes in order to lower the risk for skin cancer. Always wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen with SPF of at least 15.


1 Saddick, N. (n.d.). The Myths of Daily Sunscreen - WSJ. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303772904577333590080007880

2 Weil, A., & Holick, M. F. (2014). The vitamin d solution: A 3-step strategy to cure our most common health problems. New York: Plume.

3 Topical Delivery of Vitamin D3: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976443/

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