Alonafoto/ShutterstockVitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because your body needs sunlight to synthesize this vital nutrient. It’s essential for healthy bones and joints, boosts mood, and may protect against autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. But wait—there’s more: New research suggests the sunshine vitamin can help prevent sunburn. Could this be yet another reason to take vitamin D supplements?
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University gave 20 volunteers a small sunburn on their inner arm using UV lamp. (Ouch.) An hour later, the volunteers got large doses of vitamin D—50,000, 100,000 or 200,000 IU—or a placebo pill. Then the researchers tracked the damage and took skin biopsies for three consecutive days, and again a week after the experiment.
Remarkably, volunteers who got the highest doses of the vitamin had long-lasting benefits, including greater sunburn relief, and less redness, swelling, and inflammation, according to the results published May 30 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
“We found benefits… were dose-dependent,” says Kurt Lu, MD, told ScienceDaily. “We hypothesize that vitamin D helps promote protective barriers in the skin by rapidly reducing inflammation. What we did not expect was that at a certain dose, [the vitamin] not only was capable of suppressing inflammation, it was also activating skin repair genes,” says Dr. Lu, senior author on the study and assistant professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
According to the findings, the vitamin increases skin levels of an anti-inflammatory enzyme, arginase-1, which enhances tissue repair and helps activate other anti-inflammatory proteins. (You can also boost your vitamin D levels with foods, such as eggs, salmon and fortified milk.)
The results of the trial—the first to describe acute anti-inflammatory benefits from taking this vitamin—are promising, but don’t rush to stockpile supplements just yet. The high doses tested far exceed the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allowances of 400 IU for adults. “I would not recommend at this moment that people start taking vitamin D after sunburn based on this study alone,” says Dr. Lu. “But the results are promising and worthy of further study.”
If you want to know more about how to get rid of sunburn, here are 11 more sunburn remedies that actually work.