Why did taking Vitamin D3 pills give me a rash instead of clearing my skin?

Disclaimer: Please consult your doctor before taking supplements or medications. All information below is for educational purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice.

Some people who attempt to use Vitamin D to cure their acne find that taking Vitamin D3 pills actually gives them rashes, skin problems and other negative reactions. There are potentially many reasons why this may have occurred, but one may be that you are allergic to the source of the vitamin.

Did you know that the source of Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) found in supplements can come from sheep’s wool or fish oil? Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol), the less often recommended form of Vitamin D is a synthetic drug created with sugars and yeasts. (Source: Vitamin D Council) If you are allergic to any one of these sources, you may have found the cause of your reaction!

Oily sheep's wool covered in lanolin, the source of Vitamin D3 in many supplements (source: CC Flickr MissBossy)
Oily sheep’s wool covered in lanolin, the source of Vitamin D3 in many supplements (image: CC Flickr MissBossy)

So what do you do if you are allergic to wool or fish? How do you know the source of your vitamin D supplement? You may have to contact the vitamin company and ask, especially if you have an allergy. Often times when Vitamin D is labeled Cholecaliciferol (or Vitamin D3) it comes from sheep’s wool, unless it specifically says (from fish oil) in brackets. But again, it’s better to be safe and contact the company who produces the supplement, or talk to your doctor.

If you are allergic to wool or certain fish you should change your vitamin D source to one that you are not allergic to. Hopefully you are not allergic to both fish and wool, or your best source of Vitamin D may be the sun.

Sometimes vegans like to take Vitamin D2 (a synthetic drug and not a natural form of Vitamin D). This form of Vitamin D is not recommended as the best form of Vitamin D by the Vitamin D council.


Why Does Vitamin D deficiency Cause Oily Skin?

More and more people are finding Vitamin D deficiency to be the cause of their acne. For some of these people, Vitamin D supplementation has been found to reduce oiliness of their skin resulting in clear, acne-free skin.

But does Vitamin D deficiency cause oily skin? And if so, why?

From My Experience….

There is not much information available on Vitamin D and skin oiliness, so I can only hypothesize based on my own personal results and the limited information provided. Vitamin D has reduced the oil on my skin to a great extent and cured my acne. I believe it is because the oil that is over-produced in my skin when I am Vitamin D deficient is an oily cholesterol that contains Vitamin D precursors. You could call it “Vitamin D Making Oil”. These precursors contained within this oil need to react with the sun to produce Vitamin D which your body can use. I believe when you are deficient in Vitamin D, your skin overproduces this “Vitamin D Making Oil” in an attempt to produce more useable Vitamin D. It then clogs your pores and causes acne.

How Humans Produce Vitamin D

Humans get their Vitamin D from the sun by producing a cholesterol that sits in the very top layer of our skin, the epidermis. The cholesterol then reacts with UV radiation to produce Vitamin D which then gets absorbed into our circulatory system and used by our bodies. (Source: Vitamin D and Skin Health) Cholesterol is described as a fatty and waxy substance. Is it possible that this is the substance clogging the pores of acne-sufferers? To answer that question I’ve researched how animals produce their Vitamin D.

How Animals Produce Vitamin D

Sheep’s wool covered in a Vitamin-D-containing oil called lanolin (image: CC Flickr MissBossy)

Many furry/hairy mammals cannot actually absorb vitamin D through their skin and instead produce Vitamin D in an oil that sits on top of their skin and in their fur. Because their fur blocks the re-absorption of the oil into their skin, they must then ingest the Vitamin D through grooming. To produce vitamin D, sheep create a yellowish waxy substance called lanolin (also known as “wool wax” or “wool grease”). Lanolin contains high amounts of vitamin D and is used to create many Vitamin D supplements!

A bird with an exposed uropigial gland

Birds also secrete oil onto their feathers in order to produce Vitamin D, although how they go about this is still debated. One compelling theory is that the uropygial gland (an oil-containing gland, found on most birds and used for preening) contains cholesterol Vitamin D precursors (among other substances) that the birds spread onto their feathers in order to produce Vitamin D through contact with UV rays. This gland is also believed to provide an oily water-proof coating for aquatic birds. (Source: The Oil Glands of Birds).

Interestingly enough these glands can sometimes get clogged, crust up and become infected, much like pores can get clogged with oil to produce acne infections. If this happens to a domesticated bird, the gland can be declogged using a warm compress. Kind of sounds like acne doesn’t it? Google “clogged uropygial gland” and you will find that they look an awful lot like a pimple.

Is “Vitamin D Producing Oil” what’s clogging our pores?

The key words here are oil and skin. Scientists have long attributed acne to an over-production of oil. However an explanation for this oil overproduction has never been found. I believe the culprit to be “Vitamin D Making Oil” in our skin.

My hypothesis is that the over-production of this oily Vitamin D producing substance in Vitamin D deficient people causes the oily cholesterol to accumulate in the skin, clogging the pores and then causing acne.

(Image: Creative Commons, Chi Tranter)

My Personal Acne and Vitamin D success story

Disclaimer: Please consult your doctor before taking supplements or medications. All information below is for educational purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice.

I decided to create this site as an informational resource for those suffering with acne. I suffered with cystic acne for 13 years before stumbling upon a lonely forum post online where a man who had tried everything found a cure for his acne in Vitamin D. I had tried so many things that a $10 bottle of vitamin D seemed very reasonable compared to some of the pricey procedures I tried. Two weeks later my acne was cured. It felt like a joke. I was ecstatic that I no longer had to suffer what felt like a life sentence of pain. I remember telling my mom, “wow, my skin is white and not red”. I could actually see what I looked like underneath the infection and inflammation. My face was no longer swollen and misshapen. I also felt ripped off and angry that I was simply vitamin D deficient and that was what was causing me to suffer for over a decade. I told my doctor who said, “who knew!?”. Well, no one apparently. But someone should know. I am writing this blog for personal closure of what was a painful condition, and in hopes that one day doctors won’t have to say “Who Knew?”. There are very little resources online for the Vitamin D and acne relationship and I want to change that.

Here is my story….

I am a 26 year old 120lb female and I live in Canada. I had cystic acne for 13 years that got worse as I was ovulating every month. It appeared to be hormonal acne. My skin and hair were also exceptionally greasy. When I wore makeup it would slide off after a few hours. My nose would look like someone put butter on it. My pores were large and wide open because of all the grease. I would have 4-5 cysts at a time with a nose full of black and white heads, and little bumps along my temples, cheeks, mouth and jaw line. My acne changed a lot over 13 years (when I was a teen I had a lot on my forehead and mostly clear everywhere else), however what remained the same was that is was always there. I never noticed if it would improve in the summer, but looking back on photos, I did have slightly better skin during sunny months.

What happened when I took Vitamin D3….

vitamin-d-acneThe main, noticeable effect that Vitamin D3 has on my skin is that it dries it out and reduces the oil on my skin. The first two weeks that I took it, my skin started peeling a lot. I loved it. The peeling made my hyperpigmentation go away faster and if there was a small bump, it would peel right off, rather than growing into a big infected cyst. Within those first two weeks I stopped having new breakouts. After about a month, the peeling slowed down, but my skin stayed clear. I now have clear skin, as long as I keep up my vitamin D intake. My hair is also not uncontrollably greasy anymore. I can wash it every 2 days now, where I used to have to wash it 1-2 times per day and it always looked terribly greasy before washes.

The specifics….

I take Vitamin D3 to prevent my skin from getting oily, which prevents me from having acne. I had to play around with the dosage a little bit because if I take too much, my skin gets too dry (especially my eyelids). If I don’t take enough, my skin gets oily and I break out. It’s actually a very fine balance for me. I also have to take into account that my skin is much oilier between the end of my period and the time I ovulate, so during that time, I take more Vitamin D3. I take 7000 IU of Vitamin D3 during my oily time of the month and I take 5000IU- 6000IU during my less greasy time of the month. I tried taking between 8000IU-10 000IU and that made my eye lids so dry they started flaking, no amount of moisturizer or vaseline could fix it. So 7000IU is my personal upper limit. At one point I had a doctor scare me that I was taking too much Vitamin D (doctors have a much lower daily recommendation than the Vitamin D Council) so I bumped my dosage down to 3000IU. After about 3-4 days of this lower amount I got two very large new pimples on my cheek. As you can imagine, I went back up to my old dosage after that. I have since gotten Vitamin D blood tests with my doctor which showed I had normal levels of Vitamin D in my blood. For more info on recommended Vitamin D intake level, read my Q&A page.

The Basics of using Vitamin D for your acne and oily skin

Disclaimer: Please consult your doctor before taking supplements or medications. All information below is for educational purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice.

Will Vitamin D cure my acne?
Maybe. Maybe not. Not all acne is caused by vitamin D deficiency but it’s definitely worth a try. Vitamin D is inexpensive and good for your health. There are currently only a few sources of medical literature supporting Vitamin D as a treatment for acne, but many individuals have reported Vitamin D to be a complete cure for their acne and oily skin.

How much Vitamin D should I take?
The Vitamin D Council (a nonprofit organization in California, United States, working to educate the public on vitamin D, sun exposure and health) recommends a daily dose of 5000 IU of Vitamin D3, with an upper daily limit of 10 000 IU. This is higher than what most doctors recommend, which can be a source of frustration for patients who are looking to use higher doses of vitamin D for health benefits. Patients may be told by their doctors that 5000IU of D3 per day is too much even when they are seeing therapeutic results from taking this amount. Vitamin D daily intake recommendations are constantly being debated with the Vitamin D council pushing for higher limits.

Can I overdose on Vitamin D?
Yes, you can overdose on Vitamin D by taking too many supplements. Your body has it’s own mechanism to limit vitamin D levels through sun exposure, but that mechanism is bypassed when you take supplements.

The following information about Vitamin D toxicity is taken from the Vitamin D Council website:

Possible symptoms of toxicity include:
feeling sick or being sick
poor appetite or loss of appetite
feeling very thirsty
passing urine often
constipation or diarrhea
abdominal pain
muscle weakness or pain
feeling confused
feeling tired

Very high levels of 25(OH)D can develop if you: Take more than 10,000 IU/day (but not equal to) everyday for 3 months or more. However, vitamin D toxicity is more likely to develop if you take 40,000 IU/day everyday for 3 months or more. Take more than 300,000 IU in a 24 hour period. For more information on Vitamin D toxicity, read the resource provided by the Vitamin D Council.

Other ways to prevent vitamin D overdose are to get your vitamin D source from than sun instead of from supplements, because your skin prevents you from overdosing on vitamin D from the sun. You can also get Vitamin D blood work done to make sure your levels are within safe limits.

What if Vitamin D3 is not curing my acne?
This could be for one these reasons:

  • Vitamin D deficiency is not the cause (or only cause) of your acne.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is the cause of your acne but you are not taking enough Vitamin D daily. (Be careful not to overdose)
  • Vitamin D deficiency is the cause of your acne but you have not taken it for a long enough period.
  • Vitamin D deficiency is the cause of your acne but you are not reacting well to the supplement. Your body may be having a negative reaction to the supplements or you may not be absorbing the vitamins if you have a digestive disease. If you are allergic to wool or fish, you may have a bad reaction to Vitamin D3 pills.
  • The supplements you are taking are expired or have lost their potency.

Should I take other supplements when taking Vitamin D3?
Yes, it is recommended that you take Vitamin K2 supplements while taking Vitamin D3. Together the Vitamin K2 works with the Vitamin D3 to move calcium into your bones. Without Vitamin K2, the Vitamin D3 may mobilize the calcium into your arteries where it gets deposited, instead of into your bones. This can cause serious health problems. For more information on Vitamin K2 and how much to take, the Mercola website is a good resource.