Vitamin D lowers insulin levels, constrains the immune system, may increase glutathione output, and from my experience, leads to a glowing skin tone with no apparent mechanism to explain why…
…and in this day and age we absolutely need to inspect and correct our vitamin D levels more than ever. For example, compare our current way of living to a caveman’s. A prehistoric man would spend the entire day roaming the plains or the savannah hunting game, picking berries, pulling up roots, spying on enemy tribes, exercising, exploring, etc.
He would only retreat to his cave or maybe primitive wooden hut at night. Even 100 years ago, men laboured all day building ships in docks or constructing bridges in rapidly developing west coast cities like San Francisco.
Nowadays though, we’re far more likely to be sitting in a dark office where the only faint glimmer of sunlight comes through a window which blocks the UVB and thus any vitamin D stimulation. At the weekends we’re stuck inside watching TV.
For those reasons, most acne patients should get more vitamin D. Luckily, over the last twenty years, the knowledge that vitamin D is fantastic for many areas of health has slowly worked its way out of medical journals and finally entered the minds of the public at large.
It’s so widely known that big corporations are adding vitamin D to their cereals and milk, possibly to get more caring reputations, possibly because the government is forcing them to, or possibly because they really do care about our health.
However, what hasn’t yet become common knowledge is that vitamin D3, not vitamin D2, the commonly prescribed form by doctors, is the greatest form for human health.
That’s what we’re going to discuss below; why you should never take vitamin D2 for clearing acne, and why the greatest, most shocking enrichment of your skin will always come from D3.
D2 is poorly converted and absorbed
D2 is less than two thirds as potent at improving health according to one study. Both D2 and D3 remain on supplement store shelves to this day, so this is one rookie mistake you don’t want to make. First of all, you need to know the difference between vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).
Ordinarily in human beings, vitamin D is generated by a reaction stimulated when UVB radiation in sunlight comes into contact with our skin. This is the ideal way to get vitamin D and it’s the perfect form for us to use.
All other animals generate D3 through exposure to sunlight as well. Then there’s D2. Vitamin D2 is again generated by sunlight, but there’s a key difference. Vitamin D2 is manufactured by plants; by fungi and algae in response to ultraviolet light from sun.
Today, synthetic vitamin D2 is manufactured by exposing fungal strains to sunlight in a lab and isolating the D2 produced. Through that process, vitamin D2 is widely sold as a supplemental form called Drisdol, but because it’s not the form generated by human skin, it is not the form our bodies ideally want to use.
For instance, vitamin D3 is not the exact form manufactured by humans when exposed to sunlight; that honour goes to 25-hydroxy-vitamin D. However, it is far closer than D2. Hence, while both supplemental forms must be converted by the kidneys to the bioactive vitamin D form, vitamin D3’s conversion is up to 500% more efficient.
Vitamin D2 also has a noticeably shorter shelf life, and furthermore, its all-important metabolites bind to the vitamin D protein receptors very poorly, making it hard to exert its acne-clearing effects. Some scientists even believe that vitamin D2 depletes vitamin D3 levels in the bloodstream, making it a net negative supplement for acne.
Vitamin D3 is arguably most famous among the public these days for aiding calcium absorption and preventing osteoporosis in the elderly. Hence, lots of older women take D3 combined with calcium nowadays instead of simply calcium by itself. However, compared to D3 where there’s an avalanche of studies with great evidence of it preventing bone fractures, no such studies exist for vitamin D2.
There are less beneficial studies for heart disease and for brain health. Many studies, as you’ll find out in the next section, show that D2 is less potent in the body; while D3 lowers the death rate by 6% in elderly women, D2 increased it by 2%.
What matters for us is that most of the beneficial studies for acne, on regulating insulin levels, keeping the immune system in check, and increasing serotonin levels, were all performed on vitamin D3. Basically, there’s no evidence that vitamin D2 even helps acne, so avoid it at all costs!
So if vitamin D2 is so ineffective compared to D3, then why do so many family doctors default towards it in their prescriptions? It’s simply because the medical establishment is so slow to change its long established practices in the face of new evidence. We’ve seen that elsewhere with worldwide health bodies ignoring evidence that very high-carbohydrate diets cause diabetes and that saturated fat is healthy for the heart after all.
D2 gained prominence because it was the first to be discovered. Vitamin D2 was discovered in 1914 while vitamin D3 was first isolated in 1925. Most importantly, D2 was the first to be produced on a mass industrial scale; scientists discovered that irradiating plants and fungi with ultraviolet light led to D2 being created.
The process was sold to the pharmaceutical industry, and combined with evidence that higher serum vitamin D levels (not from supplements, but from sunlight) were associated with lower disease rates, the vitamin D industry was born. Vitamin D was sold on masse to doctors or directly to the public. Vitamin D2 was the favourite form.
The first doubts crept in around 1930 when scientists observed that vitamin D2 was not very effective for treating rickets, bone decay from extreme vitamin D deficiency. The old fashioned vitamin D3 source cod liver oil, which contains natural D3, vitamin A, and omega 3s in abundance and is still popular among the paleo crowd today, was far more effective.
There was a glimmer of hope, but then extra studies on D2 and rickets yielded mixed results, and the World Health Organisation stepped in in 1949 and declared vitamin D2 and D3 to have only “minimal” differences. Hence, D2 remained the default for many years.
Until now! D2 remains the prominent form of vitamin D used by doctors in the US; Drisdol is the standard prescription. However, times may be changing, as the public slowly realises the truth and more evidence trickles in.
The food industry is realising as well; go to a supermarket, check the cereal and milk and it’ll be more likely to read “vitamin D3” than ever. It turns out that while D2 and D3 are not especially different in their benefits for rickets, they are very different for nearly every other disease, whether heart disease, diabetes, depression, or acne.
Basically, always buy a vitamin D3 supplement for acne, not D2. D2 will possibly have some effect on your skin, but its conversion is so poor that you’re not getting good value for money.
The kidneys perform the bulk of the conversion, and there vitamin D3 is 500% better converted. Other cells throughout the body can convert vitamin D, but they stash it for themselves; only the kidney distributes it though the blood where it’s needed to clear acne.
Studies – vitamin D2 is inferior for acne
Firstly we have a big review and meta-analysis from 2011 which analysed 50 different randomized control trials with a total of 94,000 participants which used both forms of vitamin D and assessed their impact on mortality. 32 of the studies examined (with 74,000 participants) used vitamin D3 while 12 (18,000 participants) used vitamin D2.
Overall, there was a 6% relative reduction in the risk of mortality when taking vitamin D3 supplements, but a 2% increase from supplementation with D2 among elderly women. Furthermore, the participants took the vitamin D supplements for a median average of two years, thus providing plenty of time for the benefits to exert themselves.
Overall, the scientists commented that “when the different forms of vitamin D were assessed separately, only vitamin D3 decreased mortality significantly whereas vitamin D2 did not”.
Secondly, we have an especially interesting individual study, where a scientist called Dr Laura A.G. Armas set out to compare the potency of D2 and D3 thorough a controlled experiment. Dr Armas and her team gathered 30 Nebraskan men aged between 20 and 61, all of whom were in good general health but exposed to sunlight for just 10 hours per week. The men also had a relatively low level of milk consumption (milk contains added vitamin D) of below 16 ounces per day.
The men were separated into three test groups; 1) a ten-man group which received no supplement, 2) a ten-man group which received one 50,000IU tablet of vitamin D2 per week, and 3) a group which received 10 tablets of 5000IU vitamin D3 per week. Their serum (blood) vitamin D levels were measured every day for 30 days and were adjusted to take into account weather variations.
The results produced were some of the most telling and interesting I’ve yet seen. For the first few days, vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 were virtually equal, both achieving a 7-8% rise in blood vitamin D on the second day and a 11-12% rise on the third.
But after the fifth day, something went wrong. Vitamin D3 continued to trundle onwards to success, achieving a 16% increase by day 6. However, vitamin D2 decreased levels back down to 7% above the baseline from day 0.
Thereafter the trend only amplified further; by day 12 vitamin D3 was 17% above baseline while D2 was 2% above. By day 21, vitamin D2 had dramatically worsened serum vitamin D2 levels, sending them into free fall down to 4% below baseline. When the final results came in after 30 days of the study, vitamin D levels were 15% above baseline for vitamin D3, but 5% below baseline for vitamin D2.
In other words, vitamin D2 can actually WORSEN your acne. Somehow, vitamin D2 works well in the short term, but then triggers a depletion in blood levels after about four days. This fits in with one common theory that’s gaining traction, that vitamin D2 is so poorly utilised that it actually decreases blood levels of vitamin D3.
In conclusion the scientists commented that vitamin D2 was less than one third as potent as vitamin D3, and that “physicians resorting to use of vitamin D2 should be aware of its markedly lower potency and shorter duration of action relative to vitamin D”.
Finally, a 2010 single blind randomised trial gathered 33 participants, and again gave them either vitamin D2 or vitamin D3, in the form of one 50,000IU capsule weekly, this time for 12 weeks. The scientists measured serum levels of vitamin D, but also fat cell vitamin D levels in order to assess the stored vitamin D. That’s important for acne because unlike vitamin C, for instance, vitamin D works similarly to minerals like magnesium and zinc where your body can keep a reserve supply for weeks and even months.
From the results obtained they concluded that vitamin D3 was 87% more effective at raising blood vitamin D levels than D2. Furthermore, D3 led to 2-3 times greater long term storage of vitamin D. Hence they concluded that “given its greater potency and lower cost, D3 should be the preferred treatment option when correcting vitamin D deficiency”.
Conclusion – the best vitamin D supplement
If you’ve identified that you might suffer from vitamin D deficiency, whether because you work in an office, live in a high latitude country like Scotland, live in a polluted city, or are too old to manufacture as much, never make the mistake of taking vitamin D2!
To recap, vitamin D helps acne by lowering insulin levels and reducing your skin’s oiliness. It can lower stress hormones by increasing the happiness neurotransmitter serotonin. Vitamin D can constrain the immune system, and may accelerate your body’s conveyer belt of indigenous antioxidants.
If you want to learn more about why vitamin D is important for acne then read this article.
My experiences with vitamin D have always been stellar, but by sheer luck, the first supplement I ever took when I was a newbie to natural health and proper scientific education happened to be D3. Unlike zinc, which I had previously taken and enjoyed a good reduction in small red pimples from, vitamin D gave me a glowing and radiant skin tone.
Currently it is winter so I take 3750IU per day; two 2500IU pills one day and one pill the next. It’s smart to take similar amounts if your circumstances make you deficient.
For a proper vitamin D supplement, which means D3 and free from chemical fillers and binders, you have two choices.
Firstly, you can take this super spruced-up Nature’s Plus Source of Life Garden Vitamin D3 that comes with an extra prebiotic blend to enrich your gut bacteria (great for acne). The supplement is derived from a variety of mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, cordyceps, and wood-ear, so if you’re a vegan and have heard that all D3 is derived from lanolin from sheep wool, don’t worry.
Additionally, the mushrooms will contain their own vitamins; in fact mushrooms are very healthy foods for acne. I personally use this supplement daily.
Secondly, if you want to save money and simply buy bare-bones vitamin D3, this Seeking Health High Potency Liquid Vitamin D3 is a great option, as it contains 900 pure drops of 2000IU each and will thus last for over a year.
Thanks for reading!