Vitamin D for Acne – The #1 Acne Vitamin

Vitamin D and Acne | Get Some Sun

Get some sun – natural Vitamin D helps acne by reducing inflammation.

If you’re still struggling with acne, it might be because you’re not getting enough Vitamin D.

Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” plays a major role in healing and preventing acne, and chances are that you’re not getting enough of it.

In fact,  Vitamin D levels have been steadily declining over a number of decades, and 75% of American adults are clinically deficient.*

Are you at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

You might be, if…

  • You work indoors
  • You live in a gray, rainy climate
  • It’s winter
  • You don’t get sunshine on your bare skin at least 3 times per week
  • You have darker skin (anything other than “fair”)

How does Vitamin D help acne?

Vitamin D:

  • Reduces wrinkles and makes your skin soft, strong, and smooth (the “glow”)
  • Benefits/prevents diabetes by controlling your insulin response (also improving acne)
  • Cools inflammation, reducing acne
  • Boosts your immune system, often fighting off flu infections as effectively as flu shots (recent studies confirm this)
  • Improves mood and eases depression
  • Allows you to absorb calcium, preventing osteoporosis (in fact, you really can’t absorb calcium without Vitamin D!)
  • Fights cancer by taming the wild reproduction of cancer cells
  • Reduces respiratory infections
  • Relieves body aches by reducing muscle spasms

In short, you must get enough of this vitamin, for your health and longevity, and especially for your acne.

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Get Vitamin D from sun first, then take pills as a backup

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Your body makes all the Vitamin D it needs for a few days in just 10-15 minutes of full-body sun exposure (think swimsuit), depending on your latitude and skin pigmentation. The darker your skin, and further away from the equator you live, the longer you’ll need to stay in the sun.

Avoid most sunscreens, as they prevent your skin from producing Vitamin D (if your skin doesn’t get any sun, how can you make Vitamin D?), they poison your skin with parabens, chemicals and preservatives, and they clog your pores.

I only use sunscreen after I’ve been in the sun long enough to get my maximum Vitamin D dose for the day (well before sunburn), and I only use oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreens, with no parabens or other harmful chemicals.

They’re more expensive, but they lessen the toxic load on your body, allowing your body to focus more on repairing itself (and your acne).

You can check out the EWG’s list of recommended safe sunscreenswe like and use this one, since the spray is not as thick and pasty as most mineral sunscreens.

On any day that you don’t get sunshine – which for most people will be the majority of days – take a Vitamin D supplement. I don’t recommend taking a ton of supplements to clear acne, as eating an anti-inflammatory diet is much more effective, long-lasting, and deep-reaching than taking a bunch of pills.

Vitamin D is just too critical to your health to skimp on.

Too many people live in rainy, cloudy climates for much of the year where they are unable to get enough Vitamin D naturally (take it from me – I grew up in Seattle, grey and rainy capital of the States!) or they work indoors or sit inside at the computer instead of going outside and getting some sunshine. 75% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D! That’s seriously bad news for acne.

(An important exception to this supplementation recommendation is for people who are prone to getting milia, those tiny, hard bumps under the skin. Supplementing with vitamin D can worsen or trigger milia, whereas getting natural sun exposure may help reduce it.***)

“Vitamin D Enriched” foods do not provide enough Vitamin D

Despite what the FDA says, you cannot get enough Vitamin D from “Vitamin D enriched” foods, such as Vitamin D milk. (Plus, milk is probably the #1 most potent acne-causing food – read why here.) The FDA guidelines are horribly out of date and haven’t caught up with the latest research. See why in the next section.

Take up to 5,000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day

Look for Vitamin D3 at around a 5,000 IU concentration per pill, and take one per day.

As of 2011, the FDA’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin D is a criminally low 600 IU (International Units). The latest research shows that this is not even close to your body’s actual need, and there are groups of concerned scientists – most notably, the Vitamin D Council – trying to lobby the FDA to raise its recommended intake to cure the near-nationwide-epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency.**

Case in point: in just 10-15 minutes of sun exposure, your skin produces 10,000 IU of Vitamin D, so logically, the paltry recommendation of 600 IU per day is not going to give you near enough of this precious nutrient if you don’t have access to sun!

5,000 IU – 10,000 IU per day is instead the target you want to shoot for. (And you don’t have to worry much about toxicity, because you’d probably need to take over 50,000 IU per day for several months before approaching toxic levels – but let’s stay well below that, ok?)

It’s absolutely critical that you take the right type of Vitamin D – for example, Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is commonly found in drugstores, but the majority of current research suggests that D2 is not nearly as effective as natural sun-derived Vitamin D.

Instead, make sure you’re getting cholecalciferol, also known as Vitamin D3, which precisely mimics the natural Vitamin D your skin makes from direct sun.

If you can’t find D3 in 5,000 IU amounts, you can buy pills with less D and stack them (e.g. take 5 capsules daily with 1,000 IU D3). As another option, this brand is an affordable choice that doesn’t include any vegetable oils or other problematic ingredients.

When you should take less Vitamin D

As they say, the dose makes the poison – and more is not always better. Taking a 5,000 IU D3 pill might not be the best thing for every single one of our dear readers, so listen carefully.

Unless directed by a qualified health professional, you can (and should) take less D if:

  • You’re taking other supplements that include vitamin D (such as cod liver oil with added D, or a multivitamin). Read supplement labels to find out how much D you’re getting from those, and adjust accordingly.
  • You’re getting some sun exposure on a regular basis. How much to reduce is a bit of a guessing game, but use our sun exposure guidelines above to estimate how close you are to getting 100% of your D from the sun, and supplement the remaining percentage.
  • You don’t have robust sources of vitamin A in your diet, such as fermented cod liver oil or liver. Vitamins A and D work together in the body and need to be in balance. So if you’re not supplementing with fermented cod liver oil, or eating a quarter pound of liver weekly, we suggest taking only 2,000-3,000 IU of D3 daily.

If you fall into one of these categories, this is a good, super-cheap 2,000 IU D3 supplement, and here’s the 1,000 IU version.

FAQ - What about vitamin K2? Do I need to supplement that too?

Vitamins A, D, and K work together in the body, and it’s important to keep them relatively in balance. We know that vitamins A and D have strong implications for healthy, acne-free skin, but there’s not much research that connects acne and vitamin K (that we know of), so we haven’t emphasized it much.That said, if you’re boosting your intake of vitamins D and/or A, it’s a great idea to evaluate how much K you’re getting in your diet. Foods like egg yolks, livers, leafy greens, and fermented vegetables are great sources of K2, so if you’re eating lots of these, you probably don’t need to worry about another supplement.However, if you’re not sure, it wouldn’t hurt to supplement around 100mcg per day (MK-7 recommended), especially as there’s no evidence of any harm from “overdosing” K2. We keep this K supplement in our cupboard, and pop one occasionally when we think we might need a boost!

Summary – Why Vitamin D is the #1 Acne Vitamin

Vitamin D:

  • Cools inflammation (reducing redness and swelling of acne)
  • Boosts your immune system (allowing your skin to get rid of toxins better, and making it easier to fight off acne bacteria)
  • Improves your mood (reducing stress, lowering your cortisol levels, and improving acne)

Of course, if you’re eating a pro-inflammatory diet, not getting enough sleep, and not living a balanced lifestyle, no amount of vitamin D is going to produce these effects… much less cure your acne.

For most of us, simply taking a supplement – even a powerful one like Vitamin D – isn’t going to be enough to heal our acne completely.

That’s why we wrote the book on how you can cure your acne with diet and lifestyle – check that out here!

Get sun on your bare skin almost every day, or take up to 5,000 IU of Vitamin D per day, especially if you work indoors and/or live in a gray, rainy climate. By getting the sunshine vitamin as part of a clear-skin diet and lifestyle, you’ll notice improved overall health and a big improvement in your acne.

Ready for the Clear Skin Challenge?

You can have clear skin too. Stay and read for a while, and/or grab a copy of our book, and we’ll walk you through the whole process!

I (Devin) have cured acne for myself with a sustainable, all-natural diet+lifestyle method, and I want to share this with as many people as I can.

If you find valuable tips on this site, please share it with a friend who struggles with acne. You’d want them to share it with you, right? 🙂

Sources:

*Scientific American: “Vitamin D deficiency soars in the US, study says”

**Vitamin D Council: About Vitamin D

***Curing The Blistering Skin Condition Known As Milia: Treating Adult Onset Milia

Sources (click to expand)

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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