If you’ve been burned a time or two, you know that protocol for treating sun overexposure usually involves aloe vera and an anti-inflammatory. You slather on the former, ingest the latter, and then you wait for your body to repair your red, damaged skin. But that takes time, and sunburns are uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at worst—not to mention that they’re not exactly aesthetically pleasing.
Now, thanks to a revelatory study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, you might not have to wait as long for your sun-scorched skin to get relief. The researchers found that taking a vitamin D supplement immediately after sun exposure lessened swelling, inflammation, and redness associated with sunburn. In other words, they found that vitamin D might be the secret to healing sunburn more quickly.
The researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine utilized a small UV lamp to give participants small sunburns. Then they were given a pill—either a placebo pill or 50,000, 100,000, or 200,000 IU of vitamin D. Finally, a skin biopsy was taken 24, 48, and 72 hours after the initial burn. They discovered that the participants who had taken 200,000 IU of vitamin D were further along in the healing process after 48 hours post-burn. Plus, in these same participants, researchers measured an increase in gene activity associated with skin repair.
Before you head to the pharmacy to buy all the vitamin D supplements, know that 200,000 IU is an incredibly large amount—according to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult only needs about 600 IU per day. In conversation with Allure, Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of clinical and cosmetic research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City cautioned against relying on this strategy on a regular basis. “Overdosage of vitamin D is associated with accumulation of calcium in the body and can be harmful to your health,” he explains. “But this comes from chronic use rather than a single dose.” In other words, taking this much vitamin D rarely, only on occasion of uncomfortable sunburn, is likely fine for your health. Just be sure not to overdo it—you don’t need this much vitamin D on the daily (or even weekly or monthly for that matter).
As always, prevention is key. Stock up on SPF first, and you won’t even need to think about taking vitamin D.
Scott JF, Das LM, Ahsanuddin S, et al. Oral Vitamin D Rapidly Attenuates Inflammation from Sunburn: An Interventional Study. J Invest Dermatol. 2017;137(10):2078-2086. doi:10.1016/j.jid.2017.04.040
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Vitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.
Mackenzie, Macaela. “This Effective Sunburn Relief May Already Be in Your Medicine Cabinet.” Allure, Allure, 10 July 2017.