New Research Says Taking This One Hour After Sun Exposure Can Soothe a Painful Sunburn

A bad sunburn can leave you looking like a lobster, or worse, make your entire body feel like it’s on fire, making it uncomfortable to do everyday things like wear clothes or sleep. Despite the constant warnings about the long-term effects of sun damage, many of us still linger too long in the sun and forget to reapply our sunscreen. Now, new research published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology finds that high doses of vitamin D taken an hour after overexposure in the sun can reduce the effects of a painful sunburn.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center gave 20 study participants either a placebo pill or 50,000, 100,000, or 200,000 IU of vitamin D one hour after creating a “sunburn” on their inner arm using a small UV lamp. They then collected skin biopsies from the participants 24, 48, and 72 hours and one week after the experiment. Those who consumed the highest doses of vitamin D had less redness, swelling and skin inflammation 48 hours after the burn and an increase in gene activity associated with skin barrier repair.

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“We hypothesize that vitamin D helps promote protective barriers in the skin by rapidly reducing inflammation,” said lead study author Dr. Kurt Lu. “What we did not expect was that at a certain dose, vitamin D not only was capable of suppressing inflammation, it was also activating skin repair genes.”

For New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD, the news that vitamin D has important skin benefits is nothing new. “For our patients with inflammatory immune conditions like psoriasis, we use prescription vitamin D ointments to help heal and control their psoriasis. It's a great steroid-sparing option for these patients,” says Dr. Day. “It doesn't surprise me that vitamin D would have benefits for other conditions like a sunburn, but it's also important to note that taking it by mouth after the burn is not as helpful as having adequate levels before exposure. Topical vitamin D is very difficult to formulate so you can’t just rub it from a capsule onto your skin and expect the same, or any, benefits.”

Although the results are promising, Dr. Lu cautions that people should not start taking vitamin D after a sunburn based solely on the results of this study. Dr. Day echoes this sentiment, adding that there are questions that still needs to be answered and explored: "For those who are not vitamin D deficient, is there any added benefit to taking vitamin D to help heal or avoid a burn? And does adding the vitamin topically provide any additional benefit?"

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