There’s a beauty writer that once inferred that “Skin pigmentation was incompatible to modern living”
As a darker complected person, of course this raised my eye brow, and piqued my interest.
“What exactly is this writer trying to say?” I had asked myself.
Was she trying to say that the browner you are, the less compatible to modern living you are?
It may surprise you to learn that the skin of early humans was pinkish and covered with black fur, similar to the skin and hair of a chimpanzee.
This fur served as a sunscreen but eventually was lost so people could remain active without overheating.
At this point, skin developed a permanent pigmentation that was darker to accommodate exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.
According to scientists, these changes in skin color are examples of natural selection designed to protect skin from sun damage.
It took thousands of years for humans to develop the darker skin color caused by the pigment melanin. For nearly two million years, melanin has been helping humans manage their exposure to sunlight.
Melanin permits enough UV radiation for the creation of vitamin D, which assists with calcium absorption. At the same time, it protects skin from the harsh UV radiation that can destroy folate that is essential for the division of cells.
If that’s all true, then how come there are people with no pigmentation?
As some people moved away from areas near the equator to places where UV rays are less intense, their skin lost pigmentation, hence the diversity that you see today.
Nowadays, people move around much more than their ancestors did.
In addition, most people reside in cities that have limited sun exposure, as well as working indoors. Some of us, if we’re lucky get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D, when we take a vacation to a faraway sunny land, or get the chance to spend time on the beach…
When our bodies do not receive enough sunlight or our skin pigmentation does not correspond with the amount of UV radiation we receive, a vitamin D shortage can result.
What happens when we don’t get enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin crucial to preventing soft bones (called rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults). While foods like oily fish, eggs, margarine and milk provide a teeny bit of your daily vitamin D, 90 per cent of it is made in your skin.
When the sun’s UV rays strike your skin they react with a compound called 7-dehydrocholesterol, a “cousin” of healthy cholesterol, which becomes activated and helps your body produce vitamin D.
As well as entering your bloodstream, vitamin D enters your tummy, where it absorbs the bone-building minerals calcium and phosphate.
Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise worldwide, and statistics show that low vitamin D levels are no longer simply a risk for people who have dark skin, cover up for cultural reasons or are bed-bound, such as the elderly in care.
In a sun-kissed country like Australia, it would appear really strange that anyone would have an ailment related to sun deficiency. Australians are actually traditional sun worshippers, but they started to pack away the baby oil once they became “SunSmart” in 1981, courtesy of a campaign starring Sid the Seagull who ordered them to “slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat”, and not to “sizzle like a sausage” because “skin cancer isn’t so hot”.
Apart from causing osteoporosis, a lack of vitamin D has been linked to life-threatening diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
“We now know from studies that vitamin D deficiency is linked to cancer of the prostate, breast and, in particular, to bowel cancer – though it’s not yet clear why,” says Professor Ian Oliver, CEO of Australia’s Cancer Council.
Studies reveal that adequate or higher levels of vitamin D help the immune system fight illness and viruses like the common cold more effectively, improve lung function in people with asthma and help protect against stroke and depression.
“Mounting evidence shows that vitamin D has protective effects against many health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes,” says Professor Bruce Armstrong, chair of the NSW Skin Cancer Prevention Advisory Committee and professor of public health at University of Sydney.
A 2011 study at Westmead Hospital found that 40 per cent of a group of pregnant women with gestational diabetes were found to be vitamin D deficient.
How to know if you are Vitamin D deficient?
One of the issues with vitamin D deficiency is there are no obvious signs to look out for.
This was the case for Sydney psychologist Danielle Byers, 36. When her once silky hair became brittle and started falling out in clumps in July 2010, she initially blamed stress from working long hours. “But after a year I suspected something else was not right because I was chronically exhausted,” she recalls. “Getting through the day felt like a marathon, even though I was eating a good diet and exercising. I was also taking much longer to recover from colds and scratches on my skin – so my immunity was clearly low.”
Byers had a blood test, which showed she was severely vitamin D deficient. Her problem? Skimping on sun. For years she’d been leaving for work and getting home in the dark, wearing sunblock every day and rarely getting out at lunchtime.
Increasing sun exposure will make up for the shortfall but it can increase risk of skin cancer.
So are Vitamin D supplements the answer?
Though a quick way to boost levels, they should be used with caution. “Vitamin D from supplements appears to be as effective as vitamin D from the sun,” says Professor Armstrong.
“However, your body switches on an internal control to ensure you don’t get too much vitamin D from the sun and with supplements this control doesn’t work. This does create a risk, though low, of getting too much vitamin D through overuse of supplements. In excess, vitamin D can cause complications ranging from vomiting to serious issues like kidney problems and high blood pressure.”
It also lasts half the time in the body as does vitamin D from the sun, according to Dr Michael Holick, author of The Vitamin D Solution.
But; Is it possible to get too much of a good thing?
Although vitamin D is essential for health, a vitamin D overdose can threaten your health.
What happens when we “overdose” on Vitamin D?
It causes Hypervitaminosis D, a potentially serious condition that results from toxic levels of this vitamin in the body. As with any supplement, consultation with a physician before self treatment is critical.
High dietary intakes of vitamin D from food sources have also been proven to contain concentrations of vitamin D that are too low to cause an overdose (with the exception of cod liver oil).
The most likely cause of a vitamin D overdose is from an excessive intake of supplements.
The body does not have a mechanism to shutdown the absorption of large amounts of vitamin D from supplemental vitamin preparations. As such, it builds up to toxic levels, causing Hypervitaminosis D.
Such incidents are most closely associated with prescription supplements of vitamin D.
People most vulnerable to an overdose are often those who suffer from rickets or some other disease or condition that is caused by vitamin D deficiency.
Health Risks of Overdosing on Vitamin D
Elevated levels of calcium in the blood, resulting from an increase in the absorption of calcium in the intestinal tract
Abnormally large deposition of amounts of phosphate and calcium in soft tissue such as the lungs, heart and kidneys. These deposits can cause irreversible organ malfunction.
Nausea, vomiting, poor appetite and loss of weight
High blood pressure, heart rhythm irregularities and increased risk of heart disease
Kidney stones and renal failure
Excessive production of urine
An overdose of Vitamin D in pregnant women can cause mental or physical retardation in babies.
Other symptoms include:
- Bone pain and even bone loss
- Muscular weakness and fatigue
- Nervousness and irritability
- Excessive thirst, dehydration
- Severe headache
- Itchy skin
So what can we do?
The body’s daily requirement for vitamin D is relatively low. It naturally produces its daily supply from exposure to sunlight, the primary source of vitamin D.
As little as 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine, at least three times a week, is enough to manufacture your body’s vitamin D requirement.
This natural production process is safe and will not result in an overdose, because once the body’s requirements have been met, further production of this vitamin is shutdown.
The take-home point is simple – aim for between six and 10 minutes of daily sun in summer and 20 minutes in winter.
To produce enough vitamin D, this sunlight should be directly felt on face, arms and hands or the equivalent area of skin, without sunblock.
“However, sun exposure should come outside peak UV times in the morning, before 11am, or the afternoon, after 2pm, when the sun is not at its hottest,” warns Professor Oliver.
The really ironic thing is that, studies have linked low levels of vitamin D to melanoma. However, it’s really not as black and white as we would all hope.
“Although vitamin D may help the body better combat cancer when people develop it, there is no doubt that the sun contributes to the development of skin cancers – so again the message needs to be about short, balanced exposure being of benefit, and sunburn and suntans being avoided,” states Mason.
Those of us who opt for more sunshine should apply skin protection products such as sunscreen before heading outdoors. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, after swimming, or after sweating excessively. After returning indoors and showering, hydration body lotion should be applied to lock in moisture so skin will not flake or peel.
According to Professor Rebecca Mason, deputy director of the Bosch Institute at the University of Sydney: “Short sun exposures, preferably on as much area of skin as possible, are much more efficient [than longer ones] for making vitamin D.”
Here’s why: your skin can repair small amounts of sun damage far more effectively than it can repair damage from longer periods spent tanning“If you have fair skin, once your exposure goes longer than 10 minutes or so on a hot day, your body starts to break down the vitamin D you have produced in order to protect your skin,” explains Professor Mason.
“Stay too long and you risk depleting the very vitamin D that the sun just helped your body make.”
Scientists continue to study the way human skin adapts to level of sun exposure. People who spend excessive time in the sun frequently develop “age” spots, which are caused by UV rays. Use of an anti aging facial cream can lighten these areas and may even make them disappear. Regular use of sunscreen may prevent additional sun damage and reduces risk of skin cancer.
Remember: When in doubt, check with your doctor, and a dermatologist to see if you are indeed having some sort of Vitamin D deficiency.
BUT As long as you wear your sunscreen, maintain the “beauty basics” skincare regiment, and stay stress free, you’ll be fine!
If you have any questions, queries or requests simply send a message to: thatbeautyword(at)gmail(dot)com and I will get back to your email *should you mark it confidential, or reply in a post!Stay beautiful!